Obstacle Courses for Motor Planning, Strengthening, and More

Obstacle Courses

I love obstacle courses for kids, and the best part about them is that most kids love them as well!

So, why do I love obstacle courses? Not only are they a quick, cheap and easy activity get kids moving, but obstacle courses have many developmental benefits as well.

Let me break down some of the benefits associated with participation in completing obstacle courses:

First, obstacle courses provide a great opportunity to engage in and practice praxis and motor planning skills. Praxis is the term that includes the need to create, plan, and carry out a sequence of motor movements.  Obstacle courses often offer novel physical environments for children, challenging their praxis skills. This also provides opportunities for children to reflect and learn how their motor plan and movements succeeded (or didn’t quite succeed) leading to development and improvement of motor planning and praxis skills.

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While completing these motor movements, children are also engaging in weight-bearing and strengthening activities.  It’s fun to incorporate challenges such as climbing over or crawling under obstacles. These motions allow for weight-bearing on the arms which helps to strengthen hands, wrists, arms, shoulders, and core muscles.

It’s beneficial to strengthen all of these muscles as they provide important aspects of postural control as well as allow for precision movements for tasks such as handwriting and many other fine motor tasks. Having strong core and proximal (close to the body) muscles allows children to use their hands more easily for tasks requiring precision.

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Obstacle courses also encourage body awareness and bilateral integration skills (using both sides of the body in an organized and coordinated manner).  While climbing through tunnels, up ladders, or under items, coordination between both right and left arms and legs must be coordinated to successfully complete the challenge.

Opportunities for tactile (touch) and proprioceptive sensory input are also present while completing obstacle courses and together these senses promote body awareness, or knowing where your body is in space. Proprioception allows us to know where our limbs are and how much force our muscles are using at any given moment. Participating in “heavy work” activities that provide substantial input to the proprioceptive system also allows for optimal regulation of arousal levels. Meaning, these activities can both calm or alert children, depending on the situation and needs of the child.

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While moving through obstacle courses, the vestibular sensory system is also activated. This important sensory system provides awareness of where your head is in space and of head movements. The vestibular system works closely with visual and proprioceptive systems to maintain balance.

An additional bonus of obstacle courses is that they can be great for preposition practice. A good obstacle course will have items to go under, over, near, around, next to, etc. It’s a great way to verbally label these actions to help reinforce children’s understanding of these difficult concepts in a fun context.

A Few Obstacle Course Ideas

Obstacle courses can be so EASY to create and there are ENDLESS possibilities when it comes to creating your own.

Using them indoors or outdoors, the glory of creating your own obstacle course is that you can use whatever materials you have on hand. With a little imagination, you can turn just about anything into part of the course.  Here are a few ideas that I’ve come up with…

Outdoor ideas:

  • Use chalk to outline or mark parts of your course.
  • Jump over sticks or logs and make trails of pebbles or leaves.
  • Make a path through the leaves, snow, or sand.

According to Wikipedia, swimming pool sanitation is the process of ensuring healthy conditions in swimming pools, hot tubs, plunge pools, and similar recreational water venues.

Indoor ideas:

  • Use couch cushions or pillows to climb over or step on to really challenge balance and encourage strengthening.
  • Use painter’s tape on the floor to run through, jump over, or spin around on.
  • Climb through tunnels or a homemade streamer curtain.

DIY Rainbow Streamer Craft

Even more ideas:

  • Make it silly and add animal walks.
  • Make it imaginative and stay out of the hot lava floor but jumping to couch cushions, mats, or even squares of paper.
  • With multiple kids, have a “leader” create a course as you go. (I did this with my nieces and part of our course was sitting on the snow and spinning around on our bottoms). Kids come ups with some great ideas!

 

Most importantly, make it fun! Don’t be surprised if the kids take the lead and come up with their own ideas. It’s great for encouraging imagination, and if there is more than one child involved, cooperation and social skills are at play as well.  Comment some of your ideas below!

 

*Disclaimer: The information presented in the blog is intended for information and entertainment purposes only. Please consult your physician with any medical concerns and/or for medical advice. The information presented is not intended to be used in place of individualized therapy services, please contact your health care team for skilled therapy if you think it is necessary. Please supervise your children (or friends, spouses, etc) if you decide to try any of the activities or ideas presented as the author or this blog does not claim liability for possible injury or negative consequences related to the activities and ideas presented here.

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Beyond the Five Senses: Input Vestibular

Dr. Dad says, “I’ll rock the baby tonight.”

OT Mom says, “Well then, good night to the both of you.”

Like many parents, he often falls asleep while rocking her, but why? Not only are our babies warm and snuggly, (and most of us are usually at least a little short on sleep), there’s more going on. It’s the rocking. The slow, linear movement of rocking has a direct calming effect on both of them, thanks to their vestibular systems.

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Many of us are familiar with the five senses we learned about as kids, but there are several additional senses that have a ton of impact on just about everything we do. In a post a couple weeks ago, I provided some information about the proprioceptive system. Another super important system (that works very closely with the proprioceptive system) is the vestibular system.

So what is the vestibular sense? It’s the sense of where your head is positioned relative to gravity and your awareness of head movements. It works closely with our visual and proprioceptive systems to allow for us to maintain balance. The receptors for this sense are located in the inner ear and include three semicircular canals filled with fluid and hairs, and two organ sacs filled with gel, hairs, and little rock-like things called otoconia8. I will spare you the physiological details, but pretty much the hairs move in response to movement, movement momentums, and the position of your head in space.

When I hear the someone say, they’re “losing their marbles,” I really hope they don’t mean their otoconia. There is actually a disorder known as Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV) where those silly otoconia are displaced into one of the semi-circular canals causing symptoms like vertigo, nausea, and poor balance8.

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Dr. dad tells his patients that “they’ve got rocks loose in their heads,” and they laugh.

When we engage in motion that is slow, rhythmic, and linear, it has a calming effect on our nervous system4. That’s why things like rocking babies or swaying with them slowly, puts them to sleep (and sometimes makes the moms and dads tired too). The vestibular system also contributes to the drowsiness we get in the car. It’s the constant linear motion that creates a calming effect.  When used in a different way, this system can be very alerting. When movement is fast, irregular (such as sudden starts and stops), or changing directions and intensities, it stimulates our nervous system and heightens our awareness and alertness4,16.

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But what about car sickness? I blame Dr. Dad’s bad driving. Just kidding (kind of). Actually, car sickness is due to the visual and vestibular systems getting contradictory information8– that’s why it’s more common for people when they try to read in the car. If you’re focused on something in front of you, and your visual system is not getting input of the movement of driving down the street, but your inner ear is, it’s a disconnect and your nervous systems says, “somethings not quite right here, let’s vomit.”  Well, hopefully you’re not to the point of vomiting, but you get my drift. That’s also why when you are in the front seat, especially the driver, you’re less prone to car sickness as you’re more aware (I hope especially if you are the driver) of the movements of the car and yourself.

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This nausea can also happen if you are sitting still but you’re getting visual input telling your brain that you are moving, such as in some 3D experiences  or movies with a shaky camera. I have a distinct memory of my sister listening to, rather than watching, the end of one such shaky camera horror movie with her face over an empty popcorn bowl. The visual to vestibular disconnect made her that unable to watch.

Usually, however, for most of us the vestibular system functions well with our other senses to do amazing things.  In our brain, vestibular information meets up in a central hub that also receives information about proprioception (relating to joint movements and positions), vision, tactile (touch), and auditory information. This allows for:

  • control of our head movements
  • stabilization and control our eye movements (even when our heads are moving)
  • maintaining and adjusting body posture and influencing our body’s muscle tone
  • development of self regulation and sensory awareness
  • engagement in bilateral integration (using both sides of the body efficiently, such as both hands together to complete a task).
  • auditory language development2,4,8,9,10

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As you can see, the vestibular system is linked to many, many areas of the brain and has a wide spread influence over brain organization and functioning. There’s also some research suggesting that vestibular input can influence stress reduction13emotional behavior6,12 and mood11,16. In some settings, vestibular input has been shown to promote academic participation and achievement15.

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For the kids of the world, it’s so important to provide them with opportunities to develop and strengthen this system. There’s evidence that an environment rich with vestibular-proprioceptive opportunities has powerful effects on development14. It baffles me to see school districts cutting back on recess, PE and related activities.  In this day and age of technology, our kids still need to MOVE!

Seize the

So, now that we know a little about this incredible sensory system, let’s use this knowledge to brainstorm some fun vestibular activities that could promote good things today!

-In your house, equipment free– to provide stimulating input you can spin, dance roll, climb exercise, run with lots of stop and go’s (think red light/green light).

-Play outside-  swings, slides, bike riding (always wear a helmet), wagon rides, scooter boards, push cars, sledding, skiing, running, playing team sports, and the list could go on and on.

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– Try similar things inside- my kids love pushing each other in a cardboard box and spinning each other on our swivel chairs and office chairs for increased stimulation; try rhythmic, slow rocking for a calming effect.

– Tai Chi- While I have not tried this personally, there is more and more evidence that engaging in Tai Chi can improve balance, well-being, strength, and potentially decreases falls for older individuals1,7.

– Dance-  Try slow dancing to relax, or dance fast and wild to wake up. There’s research on the benefits of dance for older adults too, with improvements found in both cognitive and sensorimotor performance5.

Wear your baby– instead of just rocking your baby, you can use a baby wrap, carrier, or baby backpack to attach your baby to you while you grocery shop, clean your house, or go for a walk. I’ve even taking my kids morel mushroom hunting using them. Not only does your child get the wonderful movement, I think it’s also great for bonding and allowing them to be involved in your daily activities.

– Ride a horse- there’s a whole branch of therapy known as hippotherapy where horses are utilized as a treatment tool for OTs, PTs, and SLPs. Riding a horse provides vestibular and proprioceptive input and can promote improvements in balance, strength, coordination, mobility, balance, sensory motor function, postural control, attention, mobility, and communication3.

-If you’re prone to motion sickness, don’t read in the car. In fact try to pay attention ahead out the window to reinforce the connect between your visual and vestibular systems so that you don’t get the negative effect from a disconnect.

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It is important to remember that each individual has different thresholds for sensory input for each individual sensory system. For example, my kids have pretty high thresholds for vestibular input, as they love to spin, go on slides, and move constantly. They love spinning each other in our gliding chairs, and often my son wants to spin me while I’m sitting with my daughter. I always end up limiting the repetitions as my threshold for rotary movement is low. I get nauseous easily and am prone to motion sickness on boats and in cars. You can also think about  our individual differences when considering how people differ in regards to roller coasters. Some people love the thrill of the motion and tolerate spinning upside down, while others you will find wanting to puke in the corner after just the thought of it.

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Additionally, there is also something known as gravitation insecurity, which makes some children very fearful and anxious in situations where their feet leave the ground6.  I mentioned a lot about the autonomic effects that can come with waking up this system, so please use caution. If you do any of these activities on a regular basis or decide to try a new one, be aware of a few warning signs that you’re overdoing it: pallor, nausea, changes in heart rate and breathing, palpitations, anxiety. Please take things slow and do what works for you. Always contact a doctor or certified therapist to address individual issues.

*Disclaimer: The information presented in the blog is intended for information and entertainment purposes only. Please consult your physician with any medical concerns and/or for medical advice. The information presented is not intended to be used in place of individualized therapy services, please contact your health care team for skilled therapy if you think it is necessary. Please supervise your children (or friends, spouses, etc)  if you decide to try any of the activities or ideas presented as the author or this blog does not claim liability for possible injury or negative consequences related to the activities and ideas presented here.

Resources

1. Adler, P. A., & Roberts, B. L. (2006). The use of tai chi to improve health in older adults. Orthopaedic Nursing, 25(2), 122-6. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/195963159?accountid=143111

2. An, S. L. (2015). The effects of vestibular stimulation on a child with hypotonic cerebral palsy. Journal of Physical Therapy Science, 27(4), 1279-1282. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1589/jpts.27.1279

3. Bender, M., & McKenzie, S. (2008, Winter). Hippotherapy. Palaestra, 24, 43-44. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/213181696?accountid=143111

4. Kramer, P. & Hinojosa, J. (2010) Frames of Reference for Pediatric Occupational Therapy (3rd). Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Philadelphia, PA

5. Kshtriya, S., Barnstaple, R., Rabinovich, D., Desouza, J. F., & X. (2015). Dance and aging: A critical review of findings in neuroscience. American Journal of Dance Therapy, 37(2), 81-112. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10465-015-9196-7

6. Lane, Shelly J, PHD,O.T.R./L., F.A.O.T.A., Lynn, J. Z., & Reynolds, Stacey,P.H.D., O.T.R./L. (2010). Sensory modulation: A neuroscience and behavioral overview. OT Practice, 15(21), CE1-CE8. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/807980071?accountid=143111

7. Leung, D. P. K., M.Sc, Chan, C. K. L., M.Sc, Tsang, H. W. H., PhD., Tsang, W. W. N., PhD., & Jones, A. Y. M., PhD. (2011). Tai chi as an intervention to improve balance and reduce falls in older adults: A systematic and meta-analytical review. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, 17(1), 40-8. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/851708686?accountid=143111

8. Lundy-Ekman, L. (2007). Neuroscience: Fundamentals for Rehabilitation (3rd). Saunders Elsevier, St. Louis, Missouri

9. Mauer, D. M. (1999). Issues and applications of sensory integration theory and treatment with children with language disorders. Language, Speech & Hearing Services in Schools, 30(4), 383. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/232585154?accountid=143111

10. McHugh Pendleton, H. & Schultz-Krohn, W. (2006). Pedretti’s Occupational Therapy: Practice Skills for Physical Dysfunction (6th). Mosby Elsevier, St. Louis, Missouri

11. Mehta, Z., & Stakiw, D. B. (2004). Childhood vestibular disorders: A tutorial. Communication Disorders Quarterly, 26(1), 5-16,56-57. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/213789303?accountid=143111

12. Rajagopalan, A., Jinu, K. V., Sailesh, K. S., Mishra, S., Reddy, U. K., & Mukkadan, J. K. (2017). Understanding the links between vestibular and limbic systems regulating emotions. Journal of Natural Science, Biology, and Medicine, 8(1), 11-15. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.4103/0976-9668.198350

13. Sailesh, K. S., & Mukkadan, J. K. (2015). Controlled vestibular stimulation, standardization of A physiological method to release stress in college students. Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, 59(4), 436-441. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/1812437841?accountid=143111

14. Schaaf, Roseann C, PHD,O.T.R./L., F.A.O.T.A., & Lane, Shelly J, PHD,O.T.R./L., F.A.O.T.A. (2009). Neuroscience foundations of vestibular, proprioceptive, and tactile sensory strategies. OT Practice, 14(22), CE1-CE8. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/232422301?accountid=143111

15. Watling, R., & Hauer, S. (2015). Effectiveness of ayres sensory integration® and sensory-based interventions for people with autism spectrum disorder: A systematic review. The American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 69(5), 1-8A. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/1711617297?accountid=143111

16. Winter, L., Wollmer, M. A., Laurens, J., Straumann, D., & Kruger, T. H. C. (2013). Cox’s chair revisited: Can spinning alter mood states? Frontiers in Psychiatry, 4, 132. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2013.00132

Occupational Therapy is for Everyone

I say this because as I move through life and watch my kids grow, I realize how often I use the tools I’ve learned through my studies in occupational therapy (OT) and how lucky I feel to have these tools to utilize to begin with. Some readers may be wondering, what is occupational therapy anyway? Well, let me give you a brief overview as I start this blog.

Occupational therapy focuses on our everyday activities with the word “occupation” meaning not just a job, but every meaningful activity we need or want to do on any given day. Occupational therapists help individuals increase independence and promote success in all aspects of daily life, from the basics of self-care to succeeding in the work place and everything in-between.

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The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) has identified eight categories of our major life occupations:

Activities of daily living (ADLs) such as basic self care (Bathing, dressing, eating, etc)

Instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs) which include more advanced self care-type activities (Meal preparation, home maintenance, caregiving, etc.)

Rest and sleep, including sleep preparatory activities

Education– both formal and informal.

Work– paid and non paid

Play– one of my favorites and the major occupation for kids (which I plan to touch on A LOT in blog posts to come)

Leisure– non-oligagory fun stuff

Social participation– including in the community, with family, and peers/friends

You can find Occupational Therapists in a variety of settings, such as hospitals, schools, outpatient clinics, and rehab centers to name just a few.  OTs directly address a multitude of health conditions across all age ranges as well as contribute to wellness based programs and preventative care. AOTA has a TON of wonderful information about OT and the many realms of practice that OTs do, so for more information, please check out their website here.

So now that you have the very basics of what OT is, why do I say that Occupational Therapy is for everyone?   Well, OT can help you “recognize the importance of habits and routines that promote the adoption and maintenance of healthy behaviors” (AOTA, 2015).  We all have goals and aspirations and want to live happy, healthy, fulfilled lives whether we are struggling with an illness or injury or not. Personally, I’ve found myself utilizing a lot the knowledge I have gained professionally as an OT to work towards my own overall wellness for myself and my family. For example, I have two  young children, ages one and three, and I frequently pull out sensory strategies to help our day go just a bit smoother.  I’m not saying everyone needs their own skilled therapist, but that many of the philosophies and information that is based in OT may be beneficial to a wide range of people.

For another example, my biggest New Year’s resolution this year was to get more sleep. Many of us are familiar with the cognitive lag we feel when we are sleep deprived and over the past year I have been struggling to feel clear headed and well rested. Even more concerning is the impacts on your health  in which sleep deprivation can contribute.  According to the CDC, insufficient sleep is linked to such things as an increased risk for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression.

Recognizing that this was an area of concern for myself was the first step to improving this area of my life.  While I don’t always have control over this (it seems that some nights my kids love to take turns waking me up), I have been able to make some adjustments in this area.

So from an OT perspective, a good place to start in efforts to improve your overall health and wellness is to really look at your routine. By analyzing what you do on  a daily basis you may find out what is and what is not working for you or promoting the best success and outcomes. As a quick exercise, you can start by asking yourself a few of questions:

Do you get enough sleep?

Do you feel well rested?

Do you have a balance between work and obligations, rest, and leisure?

Do you feel well connected to others in a positive way?

If you answered “no” to any of the above questions, you may want to explore that area a little further. To use my own example of insufficient sleep, once I really realized I needed to make a change,  I was able to work out a couple strategies that seem to be helping:

I often go to bed (a bit) earlier now. This was a hard adjustment to make, because once my kids are finally tucked in, it’s so nice having some time to myself and with my husband. However, I’ve found that just an extra 30 minutes of sleep has made me feel a little more rested in the morning.

I fall back to sleep easier. My kids wake me up at night sometimes and it’s just one of those things out of my control.  Now, to fall back asleep I try to have a moment of mindfulness and be aware of how comfortable my bed is. I listen to my breath and think about the softness of the pillow. I’m not saying this will work for everyone, but it sure does work for me. The American Sleep Association has more tips for good sleep hygiene, check them out.

I occasionally nap. I’m terrible at napping, but sometimes I try. I let the dishes sit in the sink and if it’s one of the wonderful occasions when both of my children are napping, I get back into bed. People who know me personally know this is not something I often do, as I have a hard time slowing down and relaxing. However, since I’ve made it a goal to get more rest, if I’m feeling tired and have the opportunity, I sometimes attempt a quick nap.

I could go on all day expanding upon this topic, but I think I will end it here and save more thoughts for another day. As my first blog post, I wanted to give just a general overview of OT and why I’m writing. I’m planning to share some more of what I have learned (and am still learning) in my blog posts to come and while not all posts will be bursting with OT philosophy, most will have at least just a touch of OTism, simply because being an OT is part of who I am. Enjoy!

References:

American Occupational Therapy Association (2014). Occupational therapy practice framework: domain and precess (3rd edition), American Journal of Occupational Therapy 2014; 68 [supplement 1], 19-20.  doi: 10.5014/ajot.2014.682006

American Occupational Therapy Association (2015). The role of occupational therapy with health promotion [Fact sheet]. Bethesta, MD: Author. Retrieved from http://www.aota.org/~/media/Corporate/Files/AboutOT/Professionals/WhatIsOT/HW/Facts/FactSheet_HealthPromotion.pdf

Sleep Hygiene Tips. (n.d.) Retrieved February 10, 2017 from https://www.sleepassociation.org/patients-general-public/insomnia/sleep-hygiene-tips/

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2013, July 1). Sleep and chronic disease. Retrieved February 10, 2017 from https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/chronic_disease.html

*Disclaimer: The information presented in the blog is intended for information and entertainment purposes only. Please consult your physician with any medical concerns and/or for medical advice. The information presented is not intended to be used in place of individualized therapy services, please contact your health care team for skilled therapy if you think it is necessary. Please supervise your children (or friends, spouses, etc)  if you decide to try any of the activities or ideas presented as the author or this blog does not claim liability for possible injury or negative consequences related to the activities and ideas presented here.