6 Steps to a Sensory-Friendly Backyard

Have you thought of creating of a sensory-friendly backyard? You might still be sticking close to home due to COVID-19. As a result, are you searching for things to do at home with your family? On the other hand, it might be difficult to find sensory-friendly events or locations in your community right now. Oftentimes, public outdoor spaces are simply too busy, too noisy and too bright. That causes sensory overload. Did you know you can create your own sensory-friendly backyard? In 6 steps you can design a backyard that is guaranteed to be enjoyed by the whole family!

What is a Sensory-Friendly Backyard

You may be unfamiliar with the term “sensory-friendly.” Simply put, sensory-friendly events and location take into consideration the 8 different senses. By doing this, people of any age who experience sensory-sensitivity or sensory overload are more likely to feel comfortable and less overwhelmed. Furthermore, sensory-friendly changes are easy to do. And often require little to no financial investment!

A sensory-friendly backyard is an outdoor space to enjoy. Did you know that there are many benefits of outdoor play for children? Especially for children with any sensory differences. Article, “Why Kids Need to Spend Time in Nature” by Danielle Cohen (2021) has shown that spending time in nature can: 

  • Decrease stress levels. 
  • Increase emotional regulation. 
  • Enhance attention. 
  • Encourage skill development. 
  • Promote socialization 1

Therefore, sensory-friendly backyards are a great way to promote your child’s health and development while considering their senses.

Tips to Create a Sensory-Friendly Backyard

You can include many features in your backyard to support your child and create a comfortable space.

It is important to note that every child has their own sensitivities. Therefore, consider what changes are best for your child to create a safe and enjoyable environment.

Infographic describing 6 ways to create a sensory-friendly backyard.

1. Create a mini sensory garden

A common feature of sensory-friendly backyards is a garden. Your garden can include flowers or vegetables or both. It doesn’t have to be very large. Or even in-ground. Flower boxes or a raised garden bed are perfect! By including a garden, you are inviting your child to explore new things. Being sensory-friendly doesn’t mean removing the sensory experience. It means having choices, options and making some adjustments. Encourage your child to help garden. Dig in the earth. Touch and feel the plants. If your child is sensitive to touch, tools and child-sized garden gloves are helpful. Sometimes activities with purpose, like gardening, are more inviting to explore than just “playing in dirt.”

Plants create a sense of calm and peace too. In addition to the visual appeal of gardens, there are many sensory benefits to them as well. For example, the different textures of pedals and leaves are inviting to look at, touch and feel.

Another benefit of gardens is the smell. The fresh and floral smells of plants can help to create a calming effect. However, if your child tends to feel more irritated by scents, consider including less fragrant options for plants.

2. Include sensory-friendly structures

There are many amazing sensory-friendly play structures that you can add to your backyard. For example, there are play structures that include features that engage many of the senses. The great thing is that your child can explore the play structure on their own terms, in a comfortable setting, at home. So consider play structures that have different things to touch and feel, different textures for example. Oftentimes, play structures have moving parts. Those are great! Additionally, many playgrounds encourage children to develop their sense of balance and movement. They may have aspects that gently sway or rock. All good.

If your backyard is small, a sensory-friendly structure may not be possible. Another great thing to easily install is a swing. It doesn’t have to be a full swing set. A single swing from a single tree. Furthermore a hammock is a wonderful thing to have in your backyard too. If you have 2 trees to suspend a hammock from, terrific. Otherwise, hammocks come with their own stands too. Give your child options to move, to use their sense of balance and to discover different ways to move their bodies through space.

Lastly, another structure to considering including in your backyard is a sandbox. Playing with sand helps your child explore their sense of touch and movement.

Two young siblings on sitting on swings in their backyard.

3. Include water features

Adding water features into your backyard creates a more sensory-friendly space. Many children, even children with sensory sensitivity love playing with water. Add a water table. It can be homemade! Your water sensory features do not have to be fancy. A bucket of water and a few toys are fun on their own. Let your child water the garden with a watering can, instead of using the hose. Spray bottles are fun too! You can “paint” the side of the house with water and a paint brush. A small inflatable pool is fun too. And if you can add a larger pool, go for it.

4. Reduce noise

An important feature of a sensory-friendly backyard is eliminating loud noises. For people with sensory sensitivities, loud spaces tend to be overwhelming. Ideally, a sensory-friendly backyard should be quiet and peaceful.

In addition to this, a strategy to reduce noise coming from your surrounding neighbourhood is adding fencing that absorbs sound. Think wood not metal. This is an effective way to minimize construction, pedestrian or traffic noises. Additionally, if your child finds water sounds relaxing, you can add a small fountain. The sound of running water tends to be a very calming noise for children.

5. Add shade

Another technique is to foster a sensory-friendly backyard is adding shade. You can add an awning or even trees. A common irritant for people with sensory sensitivities is bright places. You might not think of sunglasses for your child, but they help too. Moreover, shade helps prevent your child from over-heating in the warmer months while outside. Thus, this will minimize the risk of your child experiencing sensory overload.

6. Incorporate different textured surfaces

Lastly, try to incorporate different surfaces into your backyard. Remember, sensory-friendly does not mean sensory-sanitized. For example, can your backyard space have a mix of grass, sand, mulch, soil, concrete or turf? This allows your child to explore different textured surfaces and explore their senses. Furthermore, this ensures that your child can have a comfortable place to move around and change the surfaces they play on over time.

Creating a sensory-friendly backyard can be simple and low-cost. Incorporate these tips to create a safe and comfortable place for your family to enjoy this upcoming summer.

Looking for other sensory-friendly things to do with your child? Check these out:

And discover how to make your home sensory-friendly too!

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  1. Cohen, D. (2021). Why Kids Need to Spend Time in Nature. Child Mind Institute. https://childmind.org/article/why-kids-need-to-spend-time-in-nature/
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