Birds fly, fish swim, and children run, bounce, climb, jump, balance, and spin. That’s just what they do. And whether we adults like it or not, they are going to keep doing it because that is how they learn to live in and interact with the great big world around them. In order to do this, children use all of their senses. They observe their surroundings and what others are doing in it; touch and grasp a variety of textured surfaces and items; listen to sounds; smell scents; change body positions; maintain their balance; and experiment with different movement patterns.
As this school years draws to an end, don’t be discouraged with what you can do to tire those little busy bodies out. One way to not only entertain children during those long summer months, but promote sensory processing and motor planning skills is to build an obstacle course. Obstacle courses can be both sensational and fun. They can take only a few minutes or keep children busy for hours. They are inexpensive and do not depend on the weather.
You and your child can build an obstacle course outdoors, where everything is better, or indoors on those impossible rainy days. You don’t need any special equipment – just a fresh way of looking at ordinary objects, with an eye on how they can promote sensory processing.
WHAT TO DO
1. First, brainstorm with your kids. Make three bags, bowls, or boxes with these headings: Ways to Move, Prepositions, and Objects. Take index cards on which to write each of the ideas and place in their respective locations. Suggest a few to get your child started, and then encourage them to add their own ideas.
Ways to Move:
Step, walk, creep (on all fours), crawl (on belly), scoot (on bottom), roll, somersault, jump (two feet), hop (one foot), leap, run, spin
Up, upon, down, into, onto, between, beneath, beside, under, over, through, across, around
Consumables: Construction paper shapes, shoeboxes, paper plates, bubble wrap, masking tape, soda bottles
Kitchen: Stools, chairs, mixing bowls
Garage: Sawhorses, boards, inner tubes, tires, thick rope, flower pots, tarps, lawn chairs, buckets
Household: Wastebaskets, couch cushions, mattress, bed pillows, T.V. table, exercise bench, telephone books, wash tubs, rugs, carpet squares, and sheet to drape over chairs for a tent
Kids’ equipment: Hula hoops, big blocks, gym mats, Crash Pad (duvet cover, stuffed with pillows and foam blocks)
2. Second, plan the course. Let your child select one card from each location to put together one task in the obstacle course.
Step / Into / Shoe boxes
Scoot / Around / Wastebaskets Creep / Under / Table
Crawl / Through / Tunnel Walk / Between / Lines of tape
Somersault / Across / Mattress Roll / Over / Rug
Jump / On / Bubble wrap
Vary movements, prepositions and objects to reinforce children’s ability to handle and discriminate different materials (tactile sense), stretch muscles and develop body awareness (tactile/proprioceptive senses), balance and move through space (vestibular sense), perceive spatial relationships and negotiate around obstacles (visual-motor skills), and improve motor planning, coordination and postural responses (sensory-based motor skills).
3. Next, build the course. I would suggest one activity for every year of age. So if your child is four, begin with four different activities. Make sure you let the kids help put the course together. Kids with sensory problems often “sense” what their systems need; honor their ideas and be flexible about altering the plan. Also, remember that the heavy work of lifting, carrying, pushing and pulling materials into place is like over-the-counter OT.
4. Finally, complete the course with your child. I would recommend beginning slowly, step by step. Incorporate siblings or peers to encourage turn taking. You might also try timing each run of the course to make it more exciting. Don’t forget to have your child help clean-up.
So this summer keep your child on the move while stimulating his or her creativity with constructing an obstacle course. It’s not only great for the body and mind, but your sanity until they begin to stock those shelves with school supplies for the fall.
Adapted from: Sensations, Volume 3, Issue 2 (September 2005), a Newsletter for the Benefactors and Friends of the Foundation for Knowledge in Development (The KID Foundation)How to Make an Obstacle Course
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