Doodle Therapy: Painting in Nature


Sometimes turning a kid loose with paints feels a little too hazardous inside the house – with walls, furniture, etc. which may be accidentally embellished. Consider taking those paints outdoors for a wonderful sensory experience.

Sensory integration activities are unbelievably fun and a necessary part of development for any child, whether they have a sensory processing disorder or not. Sensory integration activities are activities that should be used with any child if normal sensory development is one of your goals (hint… it should be).

Without the chance to get their hands dirty and engage in free play, young nervous systems don’t have a chance to fully develop a tolerance.

Experiential hands-on activities that prove helpful in sensory integration include:

Finger painting, or even painting with pudding

Working with play dough

Working with shaving cream

Sand Play


Baking and cooking

With Sensory processing disorders, children with tactile sensitivities or tactile defensiveness will shy away from play activities where the substance stays on their hands. These activities (finger painting, sand play, shaving cream) are all types of “tactile input” that children most frequently have difficulty interpreting correctly. Therapies allowing children to play in a nonthreatening space while pushing their tolerance levels – creates a safe environment to help them be increasingly open to new things.

For any child (whether they have a sensory processing disorder or not) our goal is to introduce tactile experiences slowly and gradually as the child is ready to experience them – so a defensive/aversive reaction is avoided. A child with tactile defensiveness should never be forced to touch anything they do not want to, as this will cause further apprehension and avoidance. In these instances, it is up to the parent to encourage, explain, understand and communicate with the child as we attempt to introduce touch sensations to them in a safe and non-threatening way.


For this activity, you will allow your child to utilize nature as their canvas. Provide paint (washable tempera), brushes or sponges ~ and encourage the use of their hands. Help your child to locate and begin painting on trees or any flat surface areas (such as large rocks).  Using their hands allows the child to enjoy the rough bark on the tree, finding patterns within it. Enjoying the soft smooth texture of the paint working between their fingers is also important. Beyond sensory integration, this activity also offers the chance to strengthen hand and finger muscles as well as helping the child understand firsthand how to mix colors.


***No trees were harmed in this project. By using Washable Tempera Paint – it will wash off in any rainstorm – or by using a garden hose.

As an alternative to paint, you can also use chalk on trees or flat surfaces as you find them:


In summary, children find joy and excitement in the smallest of things and playing is their greatest natural talent. Finger painting is an emotionally satisfying form of creative expression and there is much value within encouraging young children to be artful (inside or out-of-doors).