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Obstacle Courses, Not Just For Fun!

Updated: Apr 30, 2020

Welcome back everyone! So we decided to take an extra day of holiday time yesterday, but we have been back to home school today. We decided to start our day with an obstacle course - great fun was had by all, especially as both girls were able to engage and even I was challenged to a race against the clock.


Why do an obstacle course?


Obstacle courses are a great way for your children to exercise, but more importantly for them to develop in their gross motor skills. If you struggle to engage your child in an exercise routine or a sensory circuit (Sensory Circuits) then this may be the answer! Obstacle courses are designed to be variable, provide short bursts of targeted activity and of course are huge amounts of fun for any age. In addition, because of the links between sensory processing and performance within obstacle courses, they are a great way to ensure that your child is getting alerting, organising and calming (see previous blog posts here) input to set them up for the day!


Setting up your obstacle course


Yes we have a variety of equipment, mainly because I am sponsored by Amazon (or at least that is what my husband always says:-) ), and despite living in a pretty tiny house I always find space for a new Swiss ball or something else that makes the perfect addition to an obstacle course. However, even if you do not have any equipment you can always make a fun and versatile obstacle course.


Try to include these elements to give your child a good work out and also practise in some vital gross motor skills (Gross Motor Skills) - particularly motor planning, sequencing, spatial awareness and specific skills:


  1. Jumping

  2. Target practise

  3. Negotiating space

  4. Crawling

  5. Balancing


Our morning course...


In the following video from this morning we did the following - we mixed it up a little by combining elements but you will also see that you can keep these elements separate:


  1. Jumping on space hopper - jumping

  2. Throwing whilst balancing on a turning disc - target practise

  3. Crawling through a tunnel - crawling and negotiating space

  4. Balancing






Equipment free...


If you don’t have any equipment you can easily do the following:


  1. Bunny hops/ frog leaps/ Kangeroo jumps from A-B

  2. Throwing teddies/ balls/ bags of rice or pasta/ rolled up socks into a bucket or large bowl

  3. Putting a large blanket or duvet on the floor and asking your child to commando crawl underneath it

  4. Setting out tins and asking your child to weave in and out/ lay cushions on the floor and ask your child to jump from one to the other without touching the ground

  5. Simply standing on one leg for a certain amount of time is just as good/ hand-stand against a wall/ walk along a line of tape heel-to-toe (if you haven’t got coloured tape, you could also lay out a line of wool to walk along).


Once your child has been successful, you can introduce a timer to increase the challenge or they could race against you or a sibling (if it doesn’t cause too much sibling rivalry that is!). When you introduce speed, don’t forget to ensure that your child remains accurate - we don’t want a slap dash attempt or else there won’t be continued skill development.


I always end obstacle courses with a focused activity followed by some calm time. Today we did plate spinning (naturally if you haven’t got a plate spinning set to hand then a puzzle or colouring activity or construction task is just as good!). Once we’d done our focused activity we then proceeded to do some nice slow seated stretches, focusing on the back and neck. We then did our squeezing routine (as outlined in the sensory circuit post), some nice deep breathing and ended with a tight self-hug.





How to tailor an obstacle course to your child...


I love obstacle courses because they are so easy to make fun and specific - for example if your child struggles to negotiate space you can include more activities to support development in this skill: climbing over, going under, weaving in and out, going around etc. In fact you could probably set up a whole obstacle course focusing on this one skill alone:


  1. Jumping over books

  2. Weaving in and out of tins

  3. Jumping on cushions and avoiding the floor

  4. Crawling through chairs lined up/ under a table

  5. Over-under-around (three chairs where you are required to go over the first, under the second and around the third)


The key to setting up a good obstacle course is to ensure that your child finds it challenging enough, but not too difficult so that they don’t experience any success. You can always build in challenge over time through extending the activities e.g.


  • Changing the type of jump - easiest being two feet, hop, star jump etc.

  • Increase the distance a child has to throw/ change the target into a moving target/ require your child to do something else whilst throwing e.g. throw whilst standing on one leg

  • Change the obstacles in the environment or increase the number of steps and the frequency of postural change e.g. instead of just under and around - under-over-under-over-around

  • Challenge your child to balance whilst closing their eyes or whilst keeping a small book or object on their heads

  • Change the type of crawl - basic crawl - commando crawl - crab crawl (this being the most challenging as it requires the most core strength and postural control).


Try to involve your child in designing their own obstacle courses - this demands creativity, but also supports development in your child’s sequencing, planning and oraganising skills. It also encourages a greater level of engagement because your child has designed it themselves.


Join me tomorrow for more on gross motor skills and why they are the key to your child’s success in the classroom.


Hannah OT:-)

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