Parks are an endless source of sensory input, sometimes easily over stimulating the child, but also a possible endless source of fun, too!
If I asked you what does your park have, what would you say? Would you say: a swing, a slide and a sand box? If your park has all that, that’s awesome. If your park doesn’t have that, if you don’t have a park at all, that’s ok, too! You as a person are more than enough what is not so obvious is that parks or some green areas in your neighborhood have tree leaves that are especially in the Fall season colorful (visual), they make noise (audio), if taken in hand they can be a great source of tactile input. Some are dry and make a crisp sound, others are wet and usually not well appreciated among both kids and adults. Who wants dirty hands, right? If your child doesn’t speak, you can help him/her imitate the shhhh sounds of those leaves, too. If you take a few beautiful and colorful leaves home, you can make some creative art. From unusual decorations on a gift box, or sorting them by color or size to making them into powder (the dried ones) and using it to form new shapes (gluing the powder on paper in a shape, mixing it with water etc). I tried making an Indian coloring art called rangoli out of different colors of fallen leaves. Unfortunately I don’t have a photo to share with you. So, all this is just from leaves, and we didn’t even enter a park!
Let’s go inside and hit the swings, the most popular thing in the park. Or at least sharing the first place with the slide. Since there’s a high demand for a swing, sometimes kids have to wait for their turn, right? That mostly means either shout: “I wanna goooo!” Or cry until the child on the swing leaves. Older parks, at least here in Croatia, have those kinds of swings that swing you only forward-backward.
More modern parks nowadays have those disks made out if rope which one can swing in any direction including rotations (in some cases).
Swinging a child (also applicable for putting a baby to sleep) in different directions gives their brains different information or better to say, different sensory input. Forward-backward swinging mostly affects the frontal cortex whose primary task is thinking while left-right swinging mostly affects the balance part of the brain.
Aside from actual swinging, you may practice planning and sequencing with your child. Especially if you have more children. Let them wait their turn starting from short period of waiting to progressively longer. Ask your child to list you the order of children in which they will go on a swing. This you can also do on a slide, but in addition, you can ask your child to verbally describe how they want to slide down – on their backs / tummies, upside down etc. Once they are up there on a slide, you can have the child count one, two, threeee… and then go down.Then change the rhythm. Oneeee, two, threeee… Another popular item in the park is the sand box. Sand gives a very strong sensory input. It has no obvious boundaries so childrens’ reactions to sand are similar to those of the shaving foam: fear, disgust, vomiting, etc. depending on your child’s sensory profile. You may make this game intriguing to a child who doesn’t like sand on their hands by putting some small objects or toys into the sand pit and ask the child to take it out. Digg deep! It can be anything from small balls to small rubber animals or blocks. Another suggestion is to make the sand wet by adding some water. Do it progressively and observe your child’s reactions. Does your child like it better when the sand was dry or when it was a cookie dough or perhaps when it is completely muddy? After you are done squeezing the sand through your fingers, you may take some shapes and create imprints in sand.
You may also use equipment in the park to make a polygon. Give your child a toy and specific instructions on how to overcome all the obstacles and have them put the toy in the basket in the end of the polygon. That will give a meaning to this string of activities and obstacles a child has to go through.