Hey SLP, Get Outside and PLAY!

Hi SLP friends if you are reading this when I first post it, it is almost officially Summer, except if you’re like me in Louisiana, you may just feel like it’s perpetually Summer. Like what are seasons! Anyways, I want to talk about how you can move therapy outside and play to increase speech and language. Now if this is absolutely impossible for you, I’ll give you some ideas at the end where you can bring the outside in but I hope you’ll be able to incorporate outside play into your sessions.

More of an auditory person? Listen to this post on the All Things SLP podcast. 

Before we jump into the actual speech and language benefits of going outside, let me just mention the general benefits of being outside. And I looked this up because I didn’t want to just give you what I think and what I believe, but about the actual research. There is so much research out there but one study showed that children spend 4 to 7 minutes a day in unstructured outdoor play compared to seven or more hours in front of a screen. That just…I don’t know. That just leaves me speechless. So if that’s not another reason for you to move therapy outside, I don’t know what would. If we can play a small part in getting more outside time, I’m all about it.

When I researched, I continuously read about these 5 benefits of children playing outside and I agree with every single one of them.

1. Outside play builds physically healthier children

    • Nowhere is better than the outdoors for running, jumping, throwing, kicking, carrying, all of that. These important motor skills improve with practice so the more kids do them, the more they will fine tune them.
    • If you have kids that like to play soccer, why don’t you work on speech sounds while kicking a ball back and forth.
    • If you’re working on spatial concepts, move that soccer ball around and teach and practice the skill like that.
    • If you have a literacy client, use a soccer ball as motivation. Sit outside and take breaks during your session to kick it back and forth or do it at the end of your session. You just have to be creative with it.
    • Not only will you help the child develop motor skills,but playing in the sun builds vitamin D in the body, which aids in stronger bones and less likelihood of chronic diseases. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, many children have vitamin D deficiencies. So let’s get them outside and help with that. But of course, make sure we are protected and not getting sunburnt and that they stay hydrated.
2. Outside play contributes to cognitive and social/emotional development
    • Playing in general helps kids learn important skills such as taking turns, sharing, sportsmanship, teamwork, etc.
    • If you are working in groups and can get them outside and working together for maybe some unstructured playtime where you are there to fasciliate if need be, kids can have the flexibility outside to be inventive and explore the world around them with their individual abilities and the model of others. Those peer interactions help improve communication, cooperation, and organizational skills.
    • Fresh air is also known to reduce stress. So our kids who struggle with those peer interactions and those social skills, may benefit from working on them outside in the fresh air.
3. Outside play improves sensory skills 
    • Think of allll the senses we use as soon as we step outside. More so, how they are more awake then the same thing they are used to being in every week. How is this for a fun fact, according to one optometry and vision science study, children who play outside regularly have better distance vision than children who are always indoors. That would make sense if you think about it. It’s used way more often outside. All of their senses are used outside. Think about it. Sight, smell, touch, hearing, taste if that’s available. You can hit all of those senses outside in a variety of new and fun ways and THAT is how children learn. Now think about if they are in front of the screen for 7 hours a day like that one study talked about. Hearing and sight. That’s it. So that can negatively affect development of perceptual abilities. And this is why it’s important for us to be cognizant of our therapy sessions and what we are incorporating. And for us to also explain to the caregivers the impacts of the activities their children engage with at home.

4. Outside play can increase attention spans 

    • How often do you get a client on your caseload and they have an attention goal? Or maybe you evaluate them and you’re just like wow, no joint attention, no extended play time on a task, they just jump from one activity to another activity. So how can outside play help with this? Children who play outside regularly are more curious, self-directed, they explore what’s around them. Therefore, they are more likely to stay with a task longer. Children who spend more time inside don’t have that same exposure to activities that take self-initiative and follow through. Hmm.. something to think about!

5. Playing outside improves happiness and immunity

    • I’m sure this was a nobrainer. Outdoor light stimulates the pineal gland. This part of the brain is vital to keep our immune system strong and making us feel happier. And spending time outside is known to improve mood and happiness. I just wanted to throw that in there at the end because we could all use it.

Overall, one big takeaway I want you to take from this is that it really does help us to look at the whole child, not just the ‘speech’ or ‘language’ part because when we look at the whole child and address the whole child, then we will positively enhance our sessions and the client’s progress. 

Now let’s talk about some examples. Think about our sensory seekers. Are you needing more movement activities, then outside is perfect.

Think about the tactile and visual cueing a child might need and how you could incorporate that outside. Maybe you have a client who stutters, and you bring them to the playground equipment outside. Depending on the strategies you use the slide could be perfect tactile and visual cue or maybe the steps going up the equipment. Get creative with it!  

Those were just a couple of examples but you get the gist. We need to look at each client and see what would benefit them most. 

My favorite activities and toys for outside:

  • Stomp rockets- these are SO fun. And for your little ones its such a good way to elicit language and they usually can’t do it by themselves so there’s that added bonus of needing your help with it.
  • A big parachute-do you know what im talking about? Like one of those big rainbow ones. I love using this with groups so that there’s a lot of working together and taking turns and imagination and inventing as they come up with new ways to play. If you have a little one and you also have another adult with you, maybe a parent or you’re cotreating with an OT or someone, I love putting them on the parachute and then lifting them up so it turns into a swing. They loooovvee that!
  • Ok seriously tell me one goal you can’t target with chalk. You can’t. I will totally win that challenge. Again, Be creative!
  • Obstacle course- create an obstacle course outside. And even better, have them come up with it, that works on so many cognitive skills and again, they absolutely LOVE it. Then sprinkle in your speech and language work throughout the obstacle course.
  • Like I mentioned earlier, Facilitate social interactions during peer play. I’ve joined in kickball games, I’ve gotten in bouncy houses, and just immersed myself into these social situations with my clients and worked with them with their typical peers in a much more natural environment than if we were just in my room ‘talking’ about these situations.


Now what if you can’t go outside? What can you do.

Well there’s tons of movement activities you can do in the smallest of spaces. You can still create those obstacle courses, just get creative with it.

Think about what kind of sensory play you can bring in to meet their different senses. A couple of my summer go-tos are:

  • Kinetic Sand Sandcastle Set: we can pretend play with the beach.
  • Ocean water beads: I found these a long time ago on Amazon and I’ve used them a bunch. They even come with a bunch of small sea animals to use with it and kids absolutely love it. So so much you can target with that set. 

I hope this post not only gave you ideas for some outside summer play, but I also hope it gave you a new perspective on addressing the whole child and how beneficial that is.




*This post contains Amazon aff. links. 

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