Spring Into Outdoor Play!

by Samantha Bagnato, MOT OTR/L

Finally, springtime has sprung! The flowers are blooming, the birds are singing, and the sun is shining bright. As the weather gets warmer and our kiddos can get outside more often, it’s a wonderful opportunity to incorporate fun outdoor activities that support the skills that they are gaining in the clinic! Outdoor play is associated with important physical, cognitive, and social emotional benefits that positively impact a child’s development.

Play is a critical part of learning and exploring for children of all ages! Play helps stimulate the development of a variety of age level skills, including fine motor, gross motor, social-emotional, and communication skills. It also helps expose children to developing specific interests and leads to more physical movement, which further develops a child’s physical strength and body awareness.

This post is dedicated to ideas, suggestions, and inspiration for getting creative in the great outdoors this spring and as summer break quickly approaches. There is a certain magic to the novelty of working on the skills we typically do inside to the great outside! Below are some ideas for targeting creativity, open-ended play, and school readiness all in the wonders of our backyard, neighborhood park, on a hike, or at the beach. The great thing about many of these activities is that they incorporate a variety of skill areas all at once.

The activities listed below can be made easier or harder based on a child’s individual skills, interests, and the environment. They can be completed alone, with an adult, or in a group setting. With a little imagination, the play possibilities are endless!


  • Flying a kite
  • Watering the garden
  • Planting flowers
  • Outdoor obstacle course
  • Animal walk relay races
  • Sports (volleyball, soccer, football, tennis, tee ball, etc.)
  • Yard games (bean bag toss, frisbee, corn hole, four square, badminton, etc.)
  • Yoga mat in the grass
  • Building an outdoor fort (using branches, leaves, etc.)
  • Catching and throwing (water balloons, balls of various sizes, textures, colors, etc.)
  • Jump rope
  • Simon says
  • Freeze tag
  • Red light, green light
  • Hide and seek
  • Leapfrog
  • Limbo
  • Hopscotch
  • Potato sack races


  • Playing in the dirt (digging, making mud pies, construction vehicles, car racetracks, etc.)
  • Picking fruit/vegetables
  • Sensory water table (car wash, bird bath, etc. using cups/spoons/bowls)
  • Science experiments
  • Pouring rice/noodles/water within buckets outside (can also be dyed different colors)
  • Smashing dyed ice cubes
  • Homemade play dough/slime outdoors
  • Animal rescue (making ice with small animal toys inside and then melting them with water)


  • Picking weeds and dandelions
  • Cutting leaves, grass blades, etc. with scissors
  • Leaf and flower rubbings (using crayons and paper)
  • Digging sticks/stones out of the ground
  • Bringing indoor games outside on a blanket (such as jacks, checkers, etc.)
  • Homemade bird feeder (paper towel roll with peanut butter spread on it with bird seed on top)
  • Painting rocks and shells
  • Sidewalk chalk (using a bucket, sponges, spray bottles, etc.)
  • Water guns or squirt bottles outside
  • “Painting” the sidewalk or fence with water
  • Outdoor racetracks for cars out of chalk
  • Forming letters/words using sticks, grass blades, etc.
  • Playing in the sandbox with beach toys


  • Scavenger hunts
  • “Bug hunts” (using a magnified glass, tweezers, etc.)
  • Creating collages (using leaves, sticks, pebbles, flowers, etc.)
  • Popping bubbles (from a bubble wand, bubble machine, etc.)
  • I-spy games


  • Bringing figurines, dolls, action figures, etc. outside to play
  • Tea parties and picnics outdoors
  • Making “cup phones” (cup and strings attached)
  • Creating forts/dens for imaginative animal play
  • Reading books outside on a blanket

Spring is also a wonderful time of year to begin brainstorming with kiddos about their interests, as summer camp sign-ups begin to pop up!  Summer camp is a great learning opportunity for children of all ages that teaches a variety of skills that can be generalized to other areas of their life year-round!  Research shows that participation in summer camps help foster positive identity, self-esteem, social skills, independence, leadership skills, adventure and exploration, as well as physical strength. Camps range from a general outdoor focus to sport/activity specific and are most often catered towards specific age or developmental skill levels.

We hope this article helped you learn a bit more about the important role of outdoor play in your child’s development! If you have any questions about how we might be able to help your child, please call our office: 703-491-1044 


Kimberly Wilkinson, Julia Rossi, Louise Scott-Cole, Raleigh Silvia, Claire Allman, Alexis Kennedy, Sarah King, Jamie Langan, Stephanie Lasnicki, Alison Miller, Katarina Schutt, Hannah Wilcox; Outdoor Play in Pediatric OT Practice. Am J Occup Ther August 2019, Vol. 73(4_Supplement_1), 7311515352P1. doi: https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2019.73S1-PO5020

Lewis, D. M. (2020). Occupational Therapy and Accessibility in the Outdoors and Summer Camps. [Doctoral project, University of St Augustine for Health Sciences]. SOAR @ USA: Student Capstone Projects Collection. https://doi.org/10.46409/sr.IMPZ5077