Late summer and early fall is by far my favorite time of the year. It’s also the perfect time to engage your participants in outdoor activities to help them connect with all nature has to offer.
I live in the Midwest. We have actual seasons. Well…sometimes. Things can go from blistering hot to “where did summer go?” pretty quickly. But there is that brief window of time when everything seems perfect to spend time outdoors. A cool northern breeze, breathtaking sunsets, and much of nature in full bloom can be a great backdrop for outdoor activities.
Enjoy the Late Summer with these Outdoor Activities
Here are some outdoor activities to engage your participants in the changing season. Many can be adapted to our current COVID-19 pandemic situation with social distancing and other safety measures in place. Of course, make sure you check with your facility’s guidelines to ensure the safety of your participants.
Take a Nature Walk (or Roll)
Some of the simplest outdoor activities involve just taking a walk. It’s exercise, sensory stimulation, and a chance to connect with nature. If you have forest or nature preserves nearby, use them! Even a local park can be a great place to break up the monotony of being indoors. A short walk (or roll) can bring memorable moments and conversation starters for future groups.
If possible, scout out the area prior to the activity. You want to make sure your nature walk is accessible for all your participants. Don’t forget bug spray, sunscreen, and something to keep your participants hydrated.
Reap the Benefits of Your Garden
Has your facility created a garden this year? It’s a great opportunity to engage your participants and get them excited. Gardening also teaches skills like responsibility, planning, and eating healthy.
You don’t have to be fancy. Even a few potted vegetables or plants can have your participants talking–and bringing some fresh, organic produce to their plates.
No garden? Don’t worry. Now is a great time to plan for next year’s growing season. You may even want to reach out to local gardening clubs to help plan or even donate some of their fresh produce. Local gardeners often have a surplus of fresh fruits and veggies they don’t want to see go to waste. Be sure to check with the dietary or food service department to see what you can accept.
Once participants take ownership of their garden, they may be more likely to enjoy healthy dishes with the food THEY grew!
Enjoy a Picnic
We all know large gatherings have been temporarily put on hold. Small, intimate picnics (with social distancing in mind) may be the (temporary) new norm for outdoor activities.
For many, food tastes better when enjoyed outside. Get your participants outdoors for a meal. When possible, use the foods from your garden (see a theme?) in meal planning. Talk about how their work maintaining a garden has led to this perfect meal.
And, of course, you can even do some other outdoor activities after the picnic like bean bags, frisbee, or horseshoes.
At this point in the year, many plants are going to seed. They are getting ready for next year’s growing season.
Collecting seeds can be a great motivator for those interested in planting a garden next year (or whenever your next growing season occurs). And it’s really not that hard. Here is a quick guide for collecting and storing seeds.
For example, I’ve had some pretty good success collecting and storing sunflower seeds. Once the sunflower heads had faded, I simply cut them off, and put them in a paper bag stored them in the shed. Next spring, I planted the seeds. They grew just as amazing as the packets bought from the store.
Looking for more horticulture activities? See one of my earlier posts.
Do Some Before/After Photography
Are your participants constantly connected to their smartphones? Get their cameras working!
As we ease into autumn, there’s plenty of changes that happen in nature. Have a participant pick a certain plant, garden, or natural area and snap pictures of it from week to week–or even day to day. By late September, you can share these photos as slideshows and discuss the changes everyone notices.
Make a Bonfire
There is so much you can do around a bonfire! Singing, telling stories, making s’mores, or even a therapeutic group where you burn a piece of paper symbolizing resentments or regrets.
Guess what? Social distancing actually makes a bonfire activity safer. You could set up seats that distance your participants from others AND the actual fire.
When I worked with teens, they were always excited for the bonfires. Many of them never had the opportunity to experience outdoor activities like this. In the hours leading up to the bonfire, I had them collect wood from our property and set up the bonfire pit. They loved doing the work and took proud ownership of their tasks.
Be sure to check with your facility’s and town’s guidelines before starting a bonfire activity. Make sure the bonfire is constantly monitored by responsible staff. Also, have fire extinguishers or a water source readily available–just in case.
Take Your Groups Outside
Is there anything more inspiring than a change of scenery? Outdoor activities can be as simple as doing a leisure education or social skills group on your patio or outdoor space.
Just “Be” for Mindfulness
When was the last time your participants had a chance to simply “be” in nature? To watch a bee buzzing from flower to flower? A butterfly fluttering then landing on a milkweed plant? Even see the branches of a tree slowly swaying in a breeze.
With our busy lives, these are things we, sadly, take for granted. But they happen everyday–all the time. And they are meant to be enjoyed.
Mindfulness, as you may know, means connecting with the moment. Just taking some time each day to be aware of the beauty that surrounds us can be inspiring, uplifting, and gratifying.
On nice days, I would sometimes take my participants outside and give them a pencil and piece of paper. Then I told them just to sit for 5 or 10 minutes and write down (or draw) anything they noticed. There’s a lot of conversations that were started from the things they wrote.
Now is the Time to Get Outdoors!
Outdoor activities come in many forms. And they are adaptable to your participants’ strengths, needs, and goals. I hope these outdoor activity ideas will inspire your planning and benefit your participants.
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Looking for more therapy game ideas?
My new book, Therapy Games for Teens comes out in September of 2020. There are 150 practical activity ideas that can be adapted for just about any population.