Five Fun and Easy Outdoor Sensory Activities for Kids

Summer is a great time to let kids play outside, and we try to spend as much time outside as possible, even though our kids are still pretty young.

Prior to moving to the Cedar Rapids area, I worked with a school garden program, where I spent time outside in the garden with kids all summer long. I would often have groups of kids out in the school garden, and find myself with a few extra minutes here and there. I learned to keep a handful of easy, quick sensory activities on hand to prevent chaos from happening in those few spare minutes. 

Five Fun and Easy Outdoor Sensory Activities for Kids

It’s fun to challenge kids to use their senses to find something new in a familiar place. It helps build awareness and mindfulness of the world around them and helps kids slow down and pause for a moment. I love these sensory activities because they are fun for almost any child and can be done in any setting: backyard, park, garden, playground, even downtown. Use what you’ve got!

Today I’m sharing five of my favorite outdoor sensory activities:

1. Outdoor Sensory Sit-Spot:

Have your children choose different spots outside and sit or stand in their spot. With their eyes closed, ask them to breathe deeply through their nose and discover one thing they can smell. Ask them to listen to two different sounds and describe them. Have them open their eyes and reach out and feel three different textured things. And finally, have them look around and discover 4 different colored things.

2. Color Matching:

Grab several different colored papers. Hand a couple of different colors to each child and ask them to find an item outside that matches each color as closely as possible. For younger kids, just have them find something of that general color. For older kids, ask them to find something that matches that specific shade as close as possible, or ask them to find a variety of shades for a single color.

3. Opposites in Nature:

Take an egg carton and cut it in half so there are six spots. On the lid of the egg carton, write a pair of opposite words (large/small, bright/dull, fuzzy/smooth, prickly/soft, etc). Hand each child an egg carton with a word pair and ask them to find 3 examples of each word and stick the items in the egg carton, size permitting, and send them off to explore. After several minutes, have your kids share their discoveries with you and/or their siblings.

4. Feely Box:

Find a smallish box that has a lid or can be closed. Cut a hole in the side big enough for a kid to stick their hand in, but not big enough for them to easily see inside. Then place something you’ve found outside (a pinecone, a vegetable from the garden, some seeds, etc). Have your child try to figure out what you’ve stuck inside the box just by feeling. If you have a vegetable garden, this is a fun way to see if they can identify different vegetables by touch.

5. Plant Senses:

Take notecards and write out 20 or so words that could describe plants, trying to include some visual, touch, and scent descriptive words. Pick samples of several plants (herb and vegetable plants are great to use) and have your kids gather around a table or in a circle. Spread out the word cards and give each child a plant sample. Ask them to feel it, smell it, and look at it. Have them choose 1-2 words that describe its smell, 1-2 words that describe its feel, and 1-2 words that describe its look. Ask them to share their words with you and/or a sibling.

Now that you’re armed with these awesome outdoor sensory activities, grab your kids and have some fun!

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Jen is a mom to two kids, Penelope (19 months) and Jethro (2 months). A graduate of Central College, Jen moved to South Africa with the Peace Corps after college, where she developed school and community gardens. Upon returning to the states, Jen moved back to her hometown of Ottumwa, Iowa, where she met her husband Darin. In 2019, their young family moved to Cedar Rapids, where she began work with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach as a Healthy Food Access Specialist. Despite working full time and wrangling two young kiddos, Jen still finds times for her favorite hobbies-cooking, gardening, reading, and napping.