An obstacle course is the perfect kids activity for any age and skill level that you can throw together in a moment for both indoor and outdoor play…no preparation needed. There’s no right or wrong way to do it either…no rules…though I’ll give you some pointers to help it be successful.
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The Benefits of Obstacle Courses
The first and most obvious benefit of having kids go through an obstacle course is that it helps them improve gross motor skills. As they go under, over, around and through, they’ll be practicing balance and building strength, increasing core strength and improving overall coordination…all while having so much fun!
A much overlooked aspect of obstacle courses is the ability to integrate fine motor activities and sensory elements (touch, sight, smell, auditory) into the activity. In the next section, we’ll talk a little bit about what you might be able to use to incorporate these elements into the experience.
Learning concepts can also be integrated into any course. For example, you can teach little ones the concept of spatial awareness (eg-distance, location, direction). Think about adding a counting activity or simple math activity, drawing in medium (either shapes or letters), identifying colors, etc. The options are truly unlimited.
I strongly encourage you to get your child involved in the planning and implementation of putting together the obstacle course rather than just getting them to go through it once it’s put together. By doing this, you first of all get them invested in the activity so that they want to participate even more. And you get to practice even more developmental skills…like motor planning, problem solving and executive functioning. Plus they get to flex their creative skills.
And we haven’t even talked about the social skills and language skills that naturally happen when using obstacle courses. As children take turns, offer kindness to one another, instruct and receive instructions…so much growing will take place.
Obstacle Course Elements
Now it’s time to actually gather the supplies obstacle course. Since you want to be able to put it together quickly and get right to the fun stuff, just use things that you already have on hand. There’s no need to run to the store or buy anything special.
If you’re making your course inside, here are some things you might include:
- large toys
- laundry basket
- masking tape (to mark off areas or as a balance beam)
If you’re making your course outside, here are some things you might include:
- playground equipment (eg-swings, slides, etc)
- baby pool
- large toys
- jump rope
- sidewalk chalk drawings
- pool noodles
- hoola hoops
- outdoor game pieces
Always put safety first, and all obstacle courses should be monitored by an adult. Keep in mind as you’re building a course that you want to be able to have elements that you can go around, under, over and through.
Fine Motor and sensory elements
Along with all of the gross motor obstacles in your course, it’s so much fun to also integrate fine motor and sensory elements into the mix. As you plan out your course, make ever 3rd or so a station where the child stops and completes a task to promote fine motor skills or take in a sensory experience.
Here are some fine motor element ideas that you can integrate:
- legos (build a small object or just stack 10)
- play dough (build a…)
- bingo chips (place them on the dots or letters)
- pompom activities
- clothespins (clip to a string or card)
- paper clips to put together
- wood blocks to stack
- dominoes to put in a line
- play cards to shuffle through
- dice to roll (until you get to a certain number)
- small toy, like the fishing game that rotates
- a simple block puzzle
- a travel game to play
- crayons and paper (draw a picture or write your name)
- coloring pages
Of course, the printable fine motor collections that we carry here at “Ready Hands for Kindergarten” are perfect as a part of any obstacle course. Add any of the activities from our shop.
You may also want to up the sensory experience by adding in elements like these:
- bean or rice bin (which you can hide small items in to be found)
- patches of grass or carpet to walk on in bare feet
- headphones with music or noises to here
- sunglasses to put on
- a hat to put on
- look through a kaleidoscope
- sand, salt or sugar tray for drawing in
- squishy bag activity
- play dough
- shaving cream tray for drawing in
- paper to crinkle
- foods in paper lunch bags to smell and identify (eg-citrus, spices, chocolate, etc.)
- fuzzy socks to put on
These are just a few item ideas to get you started. Look around your house or wherever you are and get creative.
Now it’s time to take the things that you’ve gathered and put them together to form your obstacle course. If you want to, write it down on paper first. This is another way to practice even more skills through this process.
Here are the steps to follow to put together the perfect obstacle course experience:
- Decide on where you want your course.
- Choose how many elements/stations you want in your obstacle course. It works best if you have 8 to 10 stations, some gross motor and some fine motor.
- Start with 2 gross motor elements and then a fine motor or sensory element and repeat this until your course is completed.
- Review what to do on the course and even give a demonstration if needed.
- If needed, prepare a picture or written instructions for more complex stations. Just tape them in place with that element.
- Then run the course…over and over again if you want.
Make it a Game
You can just run the obstacle course for fun ro turn it into a competitive game, even if you are only competing with yourself.
Option 1: Use a timer to see how long it takes to go through the course. The person with the best time wins. If it is just one child running the course, have them see if they can beat their own time.
Option 2: With more than one child participating, have a competition to see who can make the best obstacle course or come up with the best station in the course. It’s true that competition breeds excellence sometimes. This will give you the best outcome. Of course…everyone who tries is a real winner.
Now that I’ve gotten you started, I’d love to hear what ideas you come up with for your obstacle courses. It’s such a fun way to be creative and yet also develop skills through play.