If you’re an occupational therapy assistant, you’re going to spend a lot of time indoors or at treatment centers with your patients. Occupational therapy, though, is all about people’s daily lives and ordinary activities. Your patients don’t live indoors 24/7, and sometimes one of the best things you can do for physical and emotional healing is to get out of the treatment center and have a day outdoors. Here are six things you can do in the park to get your patients some fresh air.
Jungle gyms offer a variety of surfaces and objects for patients to interact with. The smoothness of poles and monkey bars, the interlocking links of the chains on a swing set, or the rubbery unevenness of a tire swing all offer tactile grips, pulls, and holds for patients struggling with fine motor skills.
Jungle gyms also provide different levels of fitness activity requiring varied body weight support. And, for younger patients, it offers an opportunity to play and socialize. That’s important for all kids, but especially those who need the services of an OTA growing up.
Chances are there’s a parks department near you that maintains a few municipal sporting facilities, be it an organized league or just some fields and gear that anyone can use. Some leagues might be competitive, but most folks probably just want to get out there and have fun. Patients who are up for it can improve their gross motor skills by hitting a few softballs or tennis balls, practicing some hoops, or tossing Frisbees at targets.
A patient with mobility issues on dry land could have an easier time in the water. If your city’s parks and rec department has a municipal pool, then you have the opportunity to help patients be active in a novel way while teaching a potentially life-saving skill and socializing with the community. Even if a patient can’t go entirely into the water, their motor skills can still benefit from interacting with a flotation toy, such as a pool noodle, or just splashing around and discovering the movement of their bodies.
Related resource: 10 Creative OTA Therapy Ideas to Improve Skills and Function
The onset of winter doesn’t mean an end to outdoor activities! Joyce is in Utah, after all, and we make the most of the snow. Skiing and tubing are obviously popular, but there are plenty of safer ways to tackle fresh powder. And it doesn’t have to be a full weekend excursion to a mountain.
Don’t underestimate the hand-eye coordination it takes to build a snowman or pack a snowball. For patients with mobility issues, tackling the snowdrifts (either in boots or snowshoes) can be an empowering experience. After all, if they can trek through the snow (even for a few feet) then they can get anywhere.
Contact with animals can have a variety of physiological and psychological benefits, and a park is a perfect setting to walk or play fetch with a dog. Patients who experience anxiety or difficulty socializing may find interacting with an animal much easier than having to talk to a person. Dogs are probably the most obvious animals to play with in the park, but also consider petting zoos, farms, and even programs with horses or llamas.
Lastly, there are benefits to just getting outside. Try short hikes, picking fruits and vegetables, walks around their neighborhood, or community volunteer events. Taking a moment to just be in a natural environment and help out can improve someone’s stress levels and give them a sense of calm, purpose, and perspective. That’s true for your patients, but also for you. Even if you don’t have any patients with you, a day in the park can still help you be a better OTA.