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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DIY Rainbow Streamer Craft

This was a super easy craft that entertained my kids for longer than I expected! I simply attached strips of party streamers (with glue or tape) to leftover wrapping paper rolls.

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We used them as part of our obstacle course as well as to wave around and run around with. I have also made a smaller version using paper towel rolls, which we called “rainbow wands.”

Easy, peasy! Enjoy!

 

A Children’s Book to Encourage Nature Exploration and Imagination

“I feel like I’ve neglected this blog, but I finally finished a book!”

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It feels like forever since I’ve posted a blog, but my negligence to otmomsays.com is due to a different (and exciting) project.

Inspired by my children’s fascination for nature and my own belief of the importance of spending time outdoors, I created The Whispering Tree, a book about a young boy who explores his yard and expands his imagination. The story aims to encourage children’s desire to play outdoors, as nature offers a rich sensory experience that is ideal for promoting healthy mental and physical development for young children.

The book begins in the spring and continues through all four seasons. The little boy discovers that the natural world is a fun and inspiring place to play and spend his time.  While exploring his yard, he expands his imagination in ways such as seeing shapes in the clouds and imagining the intentions of the insects he discovers.

Each page of the story was individually crafted using acrylic backgrounds and hand sculpted clay figures with mixed media details.  With the turn of each page, the scenery shifts slightly as nature is constantly evolving with each gust of wind.

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In creating The Whispering Tree, I felt at times that it would have been much easier to make just a couple of trees and a couple of images of the boy character and then manipulate them digitally. Sitting stooped over my desk of clay crumbles, completed heads, and hand-crafted leaves, I was tempted- but it would have felt like cheating. In creating The Whispering Tree, I wanted to capture the essence of the ever-changing natural world.

The little boy’s journey continues to the following spring where he shares his favorite outdoor place with his little sister, sharing a special sibling moment full of love.

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If you’re interested in purchasing a copy of The Whispering Tree, please request your local bookstore to add it to their inventory (ISBN 978-1-7326216-0-2). It is available at Horizon Books in downtown Traverse City, MI, McLean and Eakin Booksellers in downtown Petoskey, MI, Tip’n the Mitten in Grayling, MI, several other bookstores and online book retailers nationwide, including here https://aerbook.com/store/Placid_Rapids

Check out our publishing website at www.placidrapids.com for more information soon!

Happy reading!

If you are interested in a signed copy, email monica@placidrapids.com

Gross Motor Movement Break: Roll-an-Animal Walk

Weight Bearing Animal Walk Game

Several months ago, I created a Trolls inspired movement game that has continued to be a big hit in my house.  With the success of this game in mind, I decided to create another gross motor break game, and the Roll- an- Animal Walk game cube was born!

Animal walks are a great activity for kids, as the movements have many benefits. Weight bearing on extended limps provides for strengthening and proprioceptive input. For more about the benefits and importance of upper extremity weight bearing, check out this other post.

Two ways to play animal walk movement break games

You can create an animal walk cube with this free printable: Roll-an-Animal Walk Cube Game Template

(I recommend using thick paper or laminating the template prior to cutting and taping it together so that it’s a little more durable).

If you’d prefer to use dice, you can try this one instead: Roll-An-Animal Walk Dice Game PDF

Here’s how to do the walks:

gross motor animal walks

Crab Walk– Place hands behind the body, lift bottom completely off the floor to move forward or backward.

Bear Walk– Walk on hands and feet.

Tiger Walk– Crawl on hands and knees (sneakily, like a Tiger).

Donkey Kick– place hands down on the floor and kick legs up behind like a donkey.

Lizard Walk– crawl pulling with the hands, also known as an army crawl.

Frog Jump– squat with hands in front, using the hands and feet to push off while jumping forward.

The great thing about this activity, is that it’s quick, easy and can be done anywhere. In addition to strengthening muscles, movement breaks such as these provide some sensory input to encourage attention and optimum arousal for learning. Please feel free to share with parents, teachers, and therapists who might love incorporating this fun activity into their daily regimens!

 

 

*Disclaimer: The information presented in the blog is intended for information 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.

Fingerprint Penguin Ornaments

holiday penguin ornament

Last week I described the very fun and engaging Fine Motor DIY Ornament Station that provided some great fine motor practice. It was the first step to this year’s homemade Christmas ornaments.   Each holiday season, we love to make keepsake ornaments for our tree as well as for gifts for grandparents and close friends.

This year we decided to make penguins- one of my son’s favorite animals (and we had already done snowmen, reindeer, Santas, and Christmas light ornaments in previous years).

Penguin Ornaments

My kids loved filling the ornaments with pompom balls for this project. We used a variety of hollow plastic bulbs that can be found at most craft stores, super centers or online here.

To complete the ornaments, we used white paint for finger prints. Some ornaments hand only a couple prints, some as many as four. Finger prints and finger painting provided for some fun tactile exploration. Some of the fingerprints smeared a bit, but that’s ok! The beauty of homemade ornaments is that each on is different and unique.

fingerprint penguins

It was quite easy to turn the prints into penguins: just a couple eyes, a beak, a black outline, little wings, and orange feet.

Some of the ornaments we left as is, others we added snowflakes, hats, scarves, and/or earmuffs.

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These turned out super cute, let me know how it goes if you decide to try them too!

*Disclaimer: The information presented in the blog is intended for information 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.
We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Fun & Easy Pumpkin Activities

OT Mom says, “It’s pumpkin season!”

And in my house, everyone cheers (even Dr. Dad)!

Pumpkin activities

It’s fall and I am totally on the pumpkin bandwagon. What’s not to love about pumpkins? They’re colorful, tasty, and irrevocably associated with the fall. In my house, we are all about the pumpkin crafts and activities. Here are my favorites so far this year:

Pumpkin Washing Station

Pumpkin Washing Station

We used our sand and water table to make a pumpkin washing station. Baby bubble bath made this activity safe and super fun. We also used wash clothes, a cloth sponge, and a nail scrubber for variety. This was a big hit several days in a row.

Fall Sensory
DecorationPumpkin “Sensory Bin” Center Piece

To decorate for fall and have a hands-on pumpkin inspired activity, I made this pumpkin bowl for our coffee table. As a filler, I used 99 cent foam pumpkins, a few real gourds, and a couple other sturdy wooden pumpkin decorations. They all feel and bit different and are not so fragile that I don’t mind my 2-year-old playing with them. I do have to admit, Dr. Dad does sometimes move this off the coffee table and out of reach when he is tired of finding the pumpkins and gourds out of the basket and across the room. So far, all of the contents have remained in one piece!

Paint a Pumpkin this Fall

Pumpkin Painting

We love painting in my house, so why not paint pumpkins and gourds?!? Last year we picked a nice day to paint outside, and this year we did it at the kitchen table. This year we also used the tiny paints that are connected, as my son is into pouring or mixing all the paint together to make a beautiful brown any chance he gets… check out these other messy play hacks to make messy play a little more manageable.

It's Pumpkin Season!

Tissue Paper Pumpkins

This one is pretty simple too- tear or cut up tissue paper and glue on a pumpkin, as easy as that. We used regular school glue and glue sticks. I love the hidden motor skill practice this activity has. Tearing up the tissue paper involves hand strength and bilateral coordination skills and gluing takes a bit more precision than simply slathering the paint on a pumpkin. We didn’t use scissors with ours, but I bet cutting out shapes or even faces for older kids would be a ton of fun.  While the finished product in our house wasn’t quite what I had in mind, my son loved it, and that’s what counts!

Pumpkin Sensory Bottle
Pumpkin Sensory Bottles

We’ve had a sensory bottle laying around that I made almost a year ago that has and handlful of random small items, mostly beads and the like and rice as a filler. One of the small items is a jack-o-lantern earring, and it’s my kid’s absolute favorite thing to look for in the bottle. So this fall we also made this pumpkin sensory bottle filled with pumpkin decorating filler, Halloween sprinkles, and tri colored dried cous cous as a filler. My kids argued over who got to play with it first, so we used it as “sharing tool.”

Just Explore

I LOVE PILES AND PILES OF PUMPKINS… and so do kids. Visiting a pumpkin patch is an Autumn must if you ask me. The numerous sizes, shapes, and colors of pumpkins, squash and gourds allow for kids to explore these natural beauties. It’s fun to compare the different kinds and sneak in all kinds of vocabulary and concepts with kids, such a big/small, colors, counting, you name it!

Fall explore pumpkins

I’m also looking forward to carving some pumpkins this month as well, playing in the goopy guts, and roasting some seeds. I have a feeling some of the above activities will follow us through fall as we are looking for fun ways to spend the season.  As alway, enjoy & I’d love to hear your thoughts about these pumpkin activities and favorites of your own!

 

 

*Disclaimer: The information presented in the blog is intended for information 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.

Roll-A-Troll: Movement Break Game

Roll-a-Troll

We recently had a “Trolls” themed birthday party for my two-year-old, and the party planning led me to create the following Roll-a-Troll game to keep my very active toddler, her brother, and their cousins busy and moving all weekend.

The benefits of physical activity for kids, including movement breaks, is undisputed.   It’s recommended that children, ages 6-17 years, should get at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day- if not more. Further, evidence suggests that classroom physical activity, such as movement breaks, benefit student’s attention, behavior, and test scores. Check out the CDC’s website for more information.

I’ve found that channeling in on a child’s interests gets he or she motivated to participate in activities much more willingly and for a longer duration of time. If you know any Troll’s fans, I think this movement “game” will be a hit. It certainly was a hit at my house!

Roll-A-Troll Movement bReaks Game

I used a 4”x 4” treat box that I on hand and cut pictures from a Trolls magazine to somewhat match my movement ideas. I simply glued a picture on each side of the box, wrote the Troll’s name, and a movement idea.

The six sides included:

  1. Jump- Princess Poppy
  2. Dance- Guy Diamond
  3. Mix a beat- DJ Suki
  4. Stomp or Hide- Branch
  5. Run- King Peppy
  6. Hug Time- Give yourself a big hug (included is a picture of Biggie & Mr. Dinkles)

Alternatives to cutting and gluing Trolls pictures from coloring books or magazine pictures, would be to just use stickers, simply write out the instructions, or even use the free printable chart below to play with dice:

Roll a troll

While this game chart is pretty plain, we decorated one with stickers (which also sneaks in some fine motor practice).

Roll a troll printable

To play

Just let each child take turns rolling the cube or die (whichever version you decide to use) and then ALL of the kids involved do that action for approximately 15-30 seconds (longer or shorter depending on the age and attention ability of the kids), then it’s the next kid’s turn. The actual cube (vs. dice) seems to be more engaging for the younger players.

Overall, it was a HUGE success with the group of kids this weekend, aged 2-7 years. I think this would be a hit for classroom movement breaks as well.

Here’s a little clarification on how we did each movement:

  1. Jump– pretty straight forward, just JUMP!  Both feet, one foot, in place, or forward… no wrong way!
  2. Dance– any dance moves that kids want to do!
  3. Mix a beat– reciprocally alternating extending and retracting each arm (like spinning a turn table).
  4. Stomp or hide– either stomping in place or crouching down into a ball (like you’re hiding). The group of kids that I did this with liked both so they alternated between both!
  5. Run– depending on the situation, run in place, or all over (my son does laps around the living room, occasionally).
  6. Hug Time– give yourself a big hug (my kids and nieces hugged each other too).

Roll-a-Troll game

I also love that motions such as stomping and jumping allow for some great proprioceptive input and all the movement stimulates the vestibular system. Check out my other posts about some of the sensory systems and for more fun, low cost activities that have many, many hidden benefits!

If you try this game, I’d love to hear how it went! Enjoy!

References

Healthy Schools. Physical Activity Facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved 9/19/2017 from https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/physicalactivity/facts.htm

Healthy Schools. Classroom. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved 9/19/2017 from https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/physicalactivity/classroom-pa.htm

*Disclaimer-The information presented in the blog is intended for information 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.

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.