Earth Day is upon us and it is a beautiful, sunny and warm day in New York. This comes after a long, cold, snowy winter when many children spent too many hours indoors and attached to technology. As Therapists and Child Development Specialists we know the importance of the natural environment in the lives of children and their development.
Richard Louv wrote an influential book in 2005 named, “Last Child in the Woods”. He discusses the importance of the natural environment and coined the phrase, Nature Deficit Disorder. He links our lack of exposure to the natural world to an increase in obesity, attention disorders and depression in children.
While Louv discusses the importance of nature for our physical and emotional health, I would like to suggest that we participate in the natural environment from a sensory perspective as well. The outdoors provides sensory experiences in six of our seven senses. If you are eating outside, then all 7 senses are included. Think of all the different experiences your children can have in the natural environment that they cannot have indoors. All of our sensory exposure is different outside and provides varied and learning experiences for your child. Try to think of all 7 sensory systems when choosing activities.
They are: light (visual), sound (auditory), smells (olfactory), touch (tactile), taste (olfactory), movement (vestibular) and joint sense (proprioception).
Here are some ways to uniquely celebrate Earth Day:
1-Go to a new playground! This provides your child with new sensory experiences especially movement and proprioceptive.
2-Fly a kite! See how long your arms can keep it in the air. Watch the changing colors. Run in different patterns; stopping and starting. Watch it dip and rise. This provides extra sensory input.
3-Go to a petting zoo! This provides extra touch and smell experiences.
4-Plant a garden! Get messy with your hands and dig with your fingers. This provides extra input that helps develop your child hands for handwriting and other fine motor activities.
5-Have a marching band! Play real or pretend instruments while matching and singing in your backyard, in a park or on your street. This provides movement, proprioceptive and sound input while also exercising your body and fingers. You can sing too!
6-Most importantly, have fun!
These are just a couple of ideas but don’t limit yourself. Use your imagination and be creative. What is most important is that you get outdoors and use all your senses to explore, experience and enhance healthy development.
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