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Sensory-sensitive kids are at a higher risk of being overstimulated by the outdoors, which can make summer a pretty miserable experience. But it doesn't have to be! 

Sensory-sensitive kids may need accommodations so they can enjoy the outdoors more comfortably and confidently.

Read on for few tips on how to make sure your child stays protected and comfortable while enjoying the great outdoors. 

Examples of Sensory Sensitivities in the Outdoors

  • Bright sun can be a discomfort to eyes and exposed skin.
  • For severely heat-sensitive kids, going outside on a hot day isn’t just unpleasant - it’s downright unbearable. 
  • Reapplication of greasy sunscreen and oily bug sprays may be dreaded and even avoided by sensory-sensitive individuals. 
  • The fragrance of many sunscreens, bug sprays, insect repellent candles, and similar items can be overwhelming for someone who is sensitive to strong smells or fumes.

Children with autism, Sensory Processing Disorder, or any sensory-sensitivities may be especially vulnerable to triggers such as thunder booming, a new taste, or dehydration. How can we help children and adults with sensory-sensitivities find relief?

While we can't remove every sensory input, we can find products and creative solutions to defend against the worst offenders.

Let's dive into a few ways to help sensory sensitive kids and adults enjoy the outdoors more and be able to spend more time outside in the heat of summer. 

Shade of the Sun: Tips for Beating the Heat

With the ongoing climate crisis and 2023 being one of the hottest on record, we can’t necessarily count on cooler summers ahead. Instead, we have to find creative ways to adapt how we spend time outdoors with our families. Here are a few tips to help mitigate the effects of heat, while staying aware of common summer sensory-sensitivities.

Welcome to the Shade Brigade – Hats and Sunglasses

First in line for our summer survival kit are our trusty protectors – hats and sunglasses. When selecting the perfect hat, keep your eyes peeled for wide-brimmed varieties, as they provide extra shade for delicate cheeks and sparkling eyes. 

A child may not even realize that the sun is the source of their discomfort until it’s no longer beating down on them.

Children who experience strong light or visual sensitivity often walk around looking at the ground or learn to squint to dampen the brightness of the light coming into their eyes, which can cause migraines down the line. Ensuring that your child's eyes are functioning properly and providing them with good protection for their peepers can mitigate a lot of discomfort when out in the summer heat. 

H2O Is the Way to Go: Stay Hydrated

Quenching thirst and keeping cool are our top priorities during these sunlit escapades. For some neurodivergent folks that have sensory-sensitivities, hydration performs the important function of keeping their bodies regulated and deserves extra attention. 

Staying hydrated is about more than just satisfying parched lips; it's about nurturing our skin and internal systems as well. Each sip is a love note to our bodies, ensuring a comfortable summer under the sun. So remember, water breaks are a must on these unforgettable expeditions, but for those who need a few extra tools in their hydration tool bag, try these:

  • Make sure everyone has their own insulated water bottle. While it can be tempting to share water bottles to save space (and I know my kid prefers to steal my water bottle most of the time rather than go find his own), having individual bottles for everyone has its perks. Monitoring water intake immediately becomes easier for kids and adults alike. 

I ended up buying my 5 year old son the same water bottle I have in a different color since he loved mine so much. I let him decorate it with stickers just like mine. Now he keeps it with him at all times and is learning responsibility while ensuring he's hydrated.

  • When accessible, keep it icy and refresh when needed. Even my nature kids who have water in their bottles suddenly become camels when I offer fresh ice water in the afternoon, and frankly I'm no different. If your child is still having trouble deciding, consider using straws of different materials in various cups to hook their interest or accommodate certain sensitivities. 

  • Keep it clean--When I was a kid I used to think I didn't like water. Turns out, I just didn't like the taste of tap water. Living in a city where the water quality is safe and clean, we never used water filters or drank bottled water growing up, and for me (an undiagnosed autistic child), the "taste" of water was not something that was pleasant to me. I soon developed the habit of drinking soda and juice that I still struggle with today. 

Little did I know, I just needed a good filter and lots of ice to make me drink water and actually enjoy it. 

Now we have a fridge filter and while that hasn't broken my diet coke habit, it does keep me drinking water regularly and encourages healthy habits for my son as well. 

Depending on how sensitive your child is to the taste of water, a travel filter may be a worthwhile investment for when you’ll be grabbing water on the go. A good water filter makes water taste better, but it also helps reduce harmful bacteria, protozoa, and cysts. 

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Pharr Davis.

Keeping Bugs at Bay

Our quest for cooler temperatures ultimately lead us to the shady embrace of the woods. But every adventure presents its own unique challenges, doesn't it? 

Here, in the green tunnel, we face the minuscule might of ticks, mosquitos, and other biting bugs. Insect repellents in particular can be a sort of sensory nightmare for some kids. Sprays can leave skin feeling greasy and sticky at the same time, and an overpowering smell of these sprays can sometimes result in a battle not only against bugs, but with children when it’s time to reapply. 

I knew there had to be a better solution...and guess what? I found it! The Sawyer Picaridin  Lotion became our new comrade in the war against insects. 

Picaridin Lotion was a game-changer, a ray of hope beaming through the forest of sticky lotions and sprays.

Picaridin weaves a blanket of protection that lasts for an impressive 14 hours! That means just one application per day during these glorious summer months of ceaseless play.

Sunscreen that Stays Put

If you know the pain of constantly having to reapply formulas on sensory-sensitive kiddos that leave behind a greasy residue and an overwhelming scent or tickle when sprayed on, there’s a better solution. Sawyer's Stay Put Sunscreen formula truly lives up to its name and steals the show for our sun protection routine. 

All children deserve a carefree day under the sun, and this Stay Put formula makes it possible. This non-greasy, scent-free sunscreen gently hugs the skin without causing discomfort and works its magic in every form – be it cream or spray! With its gentle touch, it easily wins the hearts of our sensory-sensitive explorers. And the best part? No more strong-smelling sunscreens that interrupt their wondrous escape into the world of nature play.

The Formula Friends Routine

These two essentials quickly made their way into our morning ritual. It’s best to apply both just before heading outside for our adventures. This way, it has a chance to absorb before the kids break a sweat. 

First, we apply our sunscreen, then after that dries, we apply a layer of Picardan lotion before popping on our socks and shoes. This way, we avoid the sticky mess that might restrain your little adventurers from frolicking free!

Sockless Suggestion - Have your child apply sunscreen and bug repellent lotion inside before they’re wearing shoes and socks, just in case their adventure becomes barefoot and to ensure full coverage. 

Remember, the essence of childhood lies in the spirit of exploration. And with the right preparations, we can ensure it remains a safe, joyful ride for our little explorers!

Empowering Everyone to Enjoy the Outdoors

Navigating the radiant season of summer through the lens of a sensory-sensitive child can be an eye-opening journey. Each child's experience is as unique as a sunset, but common threads often weave their stories together. Sensitivity to textures, scents, and temperatures shape their world, making some summer experiences challenging. But remember, every challenge is but a stepping stone to a solution.

Yes, summer presents its own set of complexities for everyone, even more so for our sensitive souls. Yet, it is also a glorious canvas waiting to be painted with joy, discovery, and growth - if armed with the right colors. I hope these summer tips would serve as vibrant colors on your palette. They can be the brushstrokes that render summer an enjoyable masterpiece for your child, painting moments of delight with consideration for sensitivity nuances.

Remember, our little ones teach us the power of resilience, the beauty of diversity, and the joy inherent in each moment. 

As we journey together through all summers to come, let's continue to learn, adapt, and celebrate. Until our next adventure together, stay curious, stay adventurous, and above all, stay joyful.


September 27, 2023

Written by
Photo thumbnail Blog Author

Reagan Fulton

Meet Reagan Fulton: a nature enthusiast, adventurer, and the heart and soul behind Playful Acre. With a flair for storytelling and a deep devotion towards child development and nature play, Reagan writes her way into the hearts of nannies, educators, and parents alike.

Through her writing, she shares her wealth of experience as a professional nanny and nanny-mom, connecting to her readers through anecdotes and heartwarming tales—altogether weaving a tapestry of shared values.

Reagan believes that nature is the ultimate playground, one that both stimulate and nourish the young, curious minds. This passion led her to establish Playful Acre—a platform dedicated to inspiring experiential learning, preserving the magic of childhood through nature play, and advocating for equitable access to sensory-friendly learning environments. Through her captivating writing and innovative programs, she's changing the game when it comes to early childhood education.

When she isn't immersed in weaving words or spearheading her advocacy work, you'll find Reagan leading hikes, exploring the great outdoors, and constantly experimenting with new, enchanting ways to engage and inspire children to connect with nature. Her boundless energy, creativity, and passion are hallmark qualities that resonate with her audience, inviting them into the welcoming warmth of Playful Acre's nurturing community.

Join Reagan on her journey as she takes us through the verdant world of child development and nature play—whether it's through her words or her dedication to advocacy. With an unwavering commitment to connect children to the outdoors, she continues to empower generations of little explorers, creating lasting memories and fostering an irreversible love for the natural world.

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