Throughout Covid-19, children have had decreased opportunities to spend time in the natural environment. Being outdoors in play is vital for childhood development and offers building of social interaction skills with their peers, use of imagination, motor development, endurance, and more. This Fall 2022, you may notice some of our patients immersing themselves in nature through the art of gardening and nature-based activities to address their therapeutic goals. This student-led project aims to increase opportunities for children to spend time outside, engage with the natural environment, and target some of the setbacks to occupational participation due to Covid-19.
Improves Motor Development
Manipulating small items helps to build muscles in the hands whether using leaves, soil, rocks, or sticks which is important for skill building in children with special needs who often experience difficulty with tasks such as dressing themselves, brushing their teeth or hair, and with handwriting in school. Nature activities at home can include digging in soil to plant seeds, scavenger hunting for items outside, or even crafts using leaves and plant life. In addition, climbing, jumping, and running outdoors improves gross motor skills that affect coordination and balance needed to navigate their environment safely and independently whether at home, at school, or in the community.
Address Sensory Regulation
Many children with disabilities experience sensory sensitivities causing them to experience the world differently than others. Nature offers a multisensory environment that challenges their self-regulation skills when exposed and helps to build connections in the brain along sensory pathways that allow children to engage in daily activities and complex tasks. These skills are important for understanding themselves, how to remain calm in an uncomfortable state, and develops the ability to tolerate experiences like showering, dressing, and playing. Nature play is a great way to stimulate all the senses and has been shown to increase focus and attention for longer periods of time, which is important for participation in school as we catch up on learning missed during quarantine!
Improved overall well-being
Research has shown that immersing oneself in nature provides the benefit of healing for both mental and physical health in addition to the increase of positive emotional responses. Think about those who enjoy hikes, trips to the beach, or skiing in the mountains as their chosen vacation. In nature, our bodies enter a calming and relaxed state where stress is reduced, and blood pressure regulates. Nature in pediatric therapy allows the continuation of skill building while also increasing confidence, focus, and emotional stability. The increase of well-being is vital for children with disabilities to participate in all the activities that are most meaningful to them as they learn and grow!
Adding nature into play can be a challenging and fun way for children to continue building skills addressed in therapy. There are tons of ideas online and on websites such as Pinterest or… get creative and create your own crafts and games at home!