Outdoor sensory activities for preschoolers

Being outdoors is essential for young children’s development. It’s a rich environment full of stimulating experiences for all five senses, from fragrant flowers to the sound of birdsong, to the rich and varied textures of different plants.

At Partou it’s our priority to provide daily access to outdoor space in all our nurseries, with a variety of exciting outdoor sensory activities for preschoolers. But there’s lots you can do to make the most of the great outdoors away from nursery, too. Here are some outdoor sensory play ideas, to support your child’s development at home.

Smelling activities for early years

Stop for a moment and sniff the air. There’s so much that our sense of smell can tell us about our environment! Different smells can be deeply evocative of time and place. This can help children recall past events and experiences.

You can help your child to distinguish between different smells, with sensory activities such as smell walks. What do you smell as you walk through freshly cut grass? Is someone having a barbecue – how can you tell? How do these smells make you feel?

Alternatively, it can be a lot of fun just to compare the smell of different flowers and herbs in your garden or local park. Alternatively you can grow different plants and flowers in your house (herbs are nice easy ones) you can do smelling activities at home too. The most wonderful part of this experience is getting your child to plant them and look after them themselves. This gives children a great insight into the life cycle and scientific thinking. You are able to introduce rich new vocabulary, and most importantly, give them an opportunity to look after something else. Responsibility is a great skill for children to learn and they beam with joy at being awarded the trust with a task. 

How to engage toddlers with the outside and nature

Toddlers and preschoolers are usually in their element outside. However, there are lots of games and activities that you can do together, to make the most of the great outdoors.

  • Explore your child’s sense of touch. Throughout the year there are lots of opportunities to explore various seasonal sensations: a shiny conker or a crinkly leaf in autumn; tree bark in winter; a rose petal in summer; a dandelion clock in late spring. These opportunities broaden your child’s knowledge of seasons and the environment around them.
  • Go puddle jumping. Listen to the splash your preschooler makes as they land in the puddle. What does the water feel like? This is also great for gross motor skills, learning to jump is actually a lot harder than we think. This is a great exercise for full body mastery. 
  • Listen to different bird sounds. Can you identify their calls?

Whatever you see, hear, touch, taste or smell, use adjectives to describe the sensations. Is that leaf soft or scratchy? Does that flower smell sweet?

Benefits of sensory play

Our senses are tools to help us make sense of the world around us. So sensory play is the perfect way for toddlers and preschoolers to explore different sensations and what they mean. 

  • Sensory play encourages children to investigate. What happens if I press this? What does that taste like? I wonder if this will change it? It develops their problem solving skills and creates critical thinking which is an integral development skill for all future learning.
  • Sensory play encourages the development of fine and gross motor skills.These skills help with future handwriting skills as well as important self care skills such as feeding, dressing and going to the bathroom themselves. 
  • It can provide a focus, which is especially useful if your child finds an environment overwhelming.
  • For children experiencing anxiety, sensory play can be therapeutic and comforting.
  • Sensory play is a great way to get children to talk about what they are experiencing, developing their language and social skills through investigation.
Sensory activities at Partou

At Partou, we routinely incorporate sensory activities into children’s outdoor play. Activities include:

  • Mud finger painting: a fun and free way for children to explore textures and get creative. Great for developing fine motor skills and future handwriting skills.
  • Touching and grabbing different plants, herbs and leaves: discovering differences in nature.
  • Gently touching and smelling different flowers. This is a great way for children to learn colour names and find words to describe how the petals feel. 

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