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 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!


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!


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!

Back To School = Backpack Shopping

Back  To School = Backpack Shopping

It’s that time of year again – the littles (or not so littles in some cases!) are about to go back to school!  It’s the time of year when parents run around trying to get all those back to school supplies and prepare their kids for their return.

One of the biggest and most important purchases is a backpack.  Ill fitting backpacks can lead to back and shoulder pain, changes in walking and potential balance issues which could lead to injuries.

Here is a handy guide on what to look for in a backpack!

Things To Consider

As with any purchase, there are lots of things to consider and, unfortunately, sometimes the biggest consideration for many children/families is what the backpack looks like.  I know that it can be hard when your child has their heart set on a certain colour, character or style but, for the sake of their bodies, here are a few more things that you should you can consider:

1.  Bigger isn’t always better

Especially not for little kiddos!

Little ones should have a smaller backpack that fits well and, if needed, they can carry their lunch bag separately.

2.  Weight of the backpack

When I was a kid we had a ton of textbooks and I know that has changed with the growing amount of technology in classrooms – however, there is still lots of stuff that needs to go into a backpack!

The golden rule is that the backpack should weigh no more than 10-12% of the child’s weight.

3.  Ease of use for your child

Can your child put on and take off their backpack independently?  Can they easily carry it?

Practice if you need to!

This is a great opportunity to promote independence in younger children.  Have your child carry/wear their own backpack, whether getting on the bus or walking to school, right from the first day of school.

How To Choose The Right Backpack

Fit, fit and fit!

Only after finding a backpack that fits consider the internal features.

A good fitting backpack:

  • Should fit snuggly against the back
  • Have wide padded straps that can be adjusted for length
  • The bottom of the bag should be no more than 3-4 inches below the waist line (true waist NOT hips)
  • Has two straps!
  • If your child is older and carrying heavier loads, the backpack should have a clavicle strap and hip straps to help distribute the weight

Internal features should include different compartments, which help distribute the load – and stay organized!

Arrange the heaviest items closest to the back to help minimize the stress of their weight.

A water bottle pocket on the outside is always a good idea as well.

Hopefully this post helps guide you towards a great backpack for your child – happy shopping!!!

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:



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!

Risky Play

Risky Play


If you read the blog post about sitting still in school. you may remember me mentioning risky play – including rough and tumble – and that it is important.  As the weather gets warmer and the kids flock to the parks, I thought that now would be a great time to tackle the subject!

This will be a two part post – the first being about risky play and the second looking more at rough and tumble play specifically, so stay tuned!

What is Risky Play?

Risky play is a form of play that is thrilling, unpredictable, uncertain and has the potential for physical hazards and injury.

Researchers have identified six different types of risky play:

Great heights

Great heights type of play includes:

– climbing

– hanging

– jumping off of things

At the park, it’s all about monkey bars, tall climbing structures, including rope ladders, spider webs, parallel bars and rock climbers.

Climbing and hanging from our arms helps develop shoulder girdle strength, which is vital to fine motor control.  Opportunities to continue to strengthen our shoulder girdle typically decrease as we stop playing and get older (unless we specifically focus on it at the gym).

To be able to swing from the monkey bars or climb up to the top of the equipment, it also takes motor planning to figure out how to move our bodies to get where we want to go.  Hanging and jumping off of a height helps develop body awareness and spatial awareness.  All of these are building blocks in our physical development.

High speeds

High speeds type of play includes:

– sliding

– swinging

– biking and running at the edge of control

These types of activities serve a number of purposes, such as helping us continue to develop our vestibular system, which is responsible for giving us sensory information about motion, spatial orientation and equilibrium.  Additionally, high speeds typically means children are working on their overall fitness or cardiovascular work, leading to better endurance.

Rough and tumble

Check out our next blog post of this part of risky play.  There is just too much important stuff to fit in!

Getting lost

Getting lost sounds a bit scary, however this type of risky play includes playing alone and exploring unfamiliar environments independently.

The benefit of this type of play is much more psychological in nature rather than physical.  It allows our kiddos to develop resiliency and independence as well as a sense of self-security – that “I can do this!” mindset.

Of course, this type of play looks different at different ages.  A toddler may “hide” during hide and seek, however, the parents will know exactly where they are, whereas an older child might explore a forest while parents are nearby.

Dangerous tools

Dangerous tools play includes play with items that may cause harm, such as knives, hammers, screws and saws.

A child may help in the kitchen chopping veggies or build a birdhouse or fort.  Not only does this help reinforce creativity and planning, but it also helps develop hand eye coordination.

Dangerous elements

This type of play is in environments with an element of risk.

This might be near water, a steep drop off or fire.

The benefits of this kind of play are similar to getting lost.  From a physical perspective however, these environments can add an extra challenge.

Sand and rocky ground are unstable surfaces which can challenge balance, increase foot strength and in general take more energy to navigate – all great things from a physio point of view!

Growing and learning through Risky Play

All of these types of risky play allow children to grow and learn.  From a physiotherapy prospective, being physically active is of great importance, but it is also important to have the ability to continue our physical development with new challenges that we often don’t get an opportunity to experience otherwise.

From a global development perspective, children who engage in risky play foster greater self-esteem, build resiliency and learn to manage risks.

It can be hard to step back and let our little people try these things, as worry seems to be a natural part of parenting!

There is a fantastic website https://outsideplay.ca/ which can help parents/caregivers with the worry in order to encourage their child to experience more outdoor risky play.

Stay tuned for the second part on rough and tumble play!