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.
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.
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.
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…
- 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.
- 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.
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.