Obstacle Courses

Obstacle Courses

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.

Extra Fun

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!

Unique Gift Ideas For The Holidays!

Unique Gift Ideas For The Holidays!

It’s getting to be that time of year – Christmas shopping time. Parents are often asking for toy ideas to help promote development. There are a ton of lists out there but I’m going to focus on my favourites to help gross motor development!

Action Toys

Action toys are not toys that do things, but instead, encourage kids to be active. I also like to think of them as things that would make an awesome obstacle course (look for a future blog post about why obstacle courses are simply the BEST!).

Some ideas for little ones are:

  • play tunnels (Ikea)
  • balance beams (there are a ton of youtube videos on how to make some)
  • pikler triangle.

Another wonderful toy is the Bilibo! It can be used in so many ways and is great for those kiddos with sensory needs.

For those of us in winter, a toboggan/sled is also a great action toy.

For the older, or more adventurous, you can make your own Ninja Warrior course at home, there are a variety of kits including this Ninjaline Intro Kit.

Ride on Toys

Ride on toys are also an action toy but often are their very own separate category. I know sometimes ride ons are overlooked at this time of year given the winter weather, however, they are still such wonderful gifts to get children to be active and smaller ride on toys can be used inside or down in the basement!

Younger children may enjoy small ride on toys, and if you stick to those where they sit with their legs on either side (as opposed to a bench seat with legs in front) they can start to learn balance, steering and using legs reciprocally!

As they get older, rides ons could progress to balance bikes and plasma cars.

For even older kiddos, these are always great!

  • scooters
  • Y gliders
  • ripsticks
  • bikes

Balls

Balls are a great staple for fun and encouraging active play and coordination. Some ideas for a new twist are:

  • koosh balls (good for sensory kiddos)
  •  Waboba street or moon ball (these balls have unpredictable bounces for extra fun and in my experience lots of running)

For those little ones, kickballs, balls with a light in them and even beach balls are great additions!

Games

There are a few games out there that encourage movement.

My favourite for little ones is a game called ThinkFun Roll and Play. It’s a hit at our house and combines a variety of developmental categories including language, colours and active movement.

For the older kiddos, The Floor is Lava or ChronoBomb are great games to work on motor planning, balance – and they are FUN!

Experiences

As a parent, another favourite gift for my child to receive is the gift of experiences. Sometimes that means someplace fun to take the family, like the zoo or movies. However, the physio in me would recommend something active such as swimming, gymnastics or karate lessons.

If lessons are a bit much, passes to your local community centre for public skating or swimming is a great alternative. It’s often a great way for our children to learn new skills and continue to work on their development.

 

Hopefully this will give you some new ideas for useful Christmas gift ideas! Happy Holidays!

Rough and Tumble Play

Rough and Tumble Play

My last post was discussing risky play, the types of play that make up risky play and why they are important.  I promised a second post on rough and tumble play specifically, so here it is!

Rough and tumble play is a subtype of risky play that includes:

chasing

tickling

being swung

being bounced

being lifted

being thrown

It is spontaneous and fun!  This type of play, unlike some of the other risky play, is often done with both peers and parents/adults.

I believe this type of play is happening less and less, with parents/educators worried this type of play can get out of hand.

Often rough and tumble play is misinterpreted by adults as aggression and is discouraged.  It is interesting, however, to note that most children, even ones with learning disabilities, can distinguish the difference between rough and tumble play and aggression.  Research also shows that rough and tumble play rarely turns into real fighting (less than 1% of the time).

Why is it important?

From a physical standpoint, rough and tumble play helps build strength, improves gross motor skills, improves hand eye coordination, increases flexibility and is good cardiovascular work.

It also provides a ton of other developmental benefits!

Socially, children learn to adjust to changing social situations.

Emotionally, it helps develop self-regulation and compassion.

Cognitively, it assists with problem solving skills and behaviour correction in order to remain in the group of play.

Differences between Parents

Moms and dads typically engage in play differently with their children, regardless of the child’s gender.

Mom’s play tends to be more cautious, as mothers use more language and often use objects to engage in pretend play.

Dad’s play tends to be more physical, unpredictable and dads use less language (aka more rough and tumble).

As parents/adults what is our role?

Our role is, ultimately, to support our childrens development.  With respect to rough and tumble play, we need to ensure our children are getting enough.

That may mean taking a step back when children are engaged with their peers in this kind of play and, instead of stopping it, simply ensure that it remains safe (i.e. the play space in clear of hazards and everyone is enjoying playing).

A good general rule is “If the smiles stop, the play stops”.  It also means that we likely need to challenge ourselves to explore different types of play with our children, even if it’s outside our own comfort zone.

Lastly, the most important thing is to remember to have fun!