As a pediatric physiotherapist, obstacle courses are one of my favorite tools to use when working with my kiddos. As a Mom, they are my secret weapon for boredom. As the weather turns colder and wetter, many families spend more time indoors and often that means more screen time. I’m hoping this post can open give you another option for fun indoor time that most kiddos will love!
Benefits of Obstacle Courses
There are so many amazing benefits of doing obstacle courses. My usual objective as a physiotherapist is to work on gross motor skills including balance, strength and coordination. Depending on the activities you choose, it can also be great for working on motor planning or incorporating sensory input for those that need it. It is also a wonderful way to work on sequencing and memory skills, which are often non-physio goals for a lot of my kiddos. It really is a fantastic way to incorporate so many of the things that all our children need to work on in one fun, engaging activity.
Ideas For Success
The biggest key, in my experience, is to make the courses child appropriate, with respect both to tasks and the number of sequences.
Paediatric occupational therapists and physiotherapists often talk about the “just right challenge”. What we mean by that, is something that may be challenging for your child to complete, but is doable and not so hard that they get discouraged and give up.
If your child is seeing an OT or PT, you can often use therapy activities to give you an idea of a “just right challenge”. If not, think of what your child can do fairly easily and then try to push it slightly more.
As for the number of sequences, again, it depends on your child and their abilities. Younger children, or those with sequencing difficulties, may need to do 2 step obstacle courses, such as first and then/last. As that gets easier increase to 3-4 sequences. Older children may be able to do 10 or more sequences.
The next step to success is reviewing the course to make sure the child/children know what to do.
This could mean sitting and talking through all of the steps of the course; writing out the steps on a piece of paper or white board; or, for younger children, physically demonstrating the steps or using pictures to make a “map” of the course.
Lastly, pick activities that use different body parts and mix up gross motor and fine motor skills.
Perhaps your child might jump from one floor cushion to another, then blow through a straw to move pom poms over a line, and then pick up the pom poms with a clothes pin, and crab walk back to the starting line.
To make obstacle courses extra fun, consider making up a story to go along with the course.
A favorite one at our house is the floor is the ocean and there are sharks waiting to eat you, so you have to get around and do the mission without the sharks getting you!
Encourage the whole family to get in on the action – nothing is more fun for a child then Mom or Dad doing the course with them!
Another idea to increase the fun factor is to use the furniture, especially if that is something not typically allowed.
And, lastly, make sure you revise and change the obstacles all the time.
It’s amazing how creative you can get with things you already have around you house!