Deanna Macioce, MS, OTR/L
Snow: you love it or hate it, and if you are one of those that fall in the grey area, it is best to find a way to embrace it. Often times we find that for those who live in snowy regions, the winter months put a damper on their physical fitness and therapeutic activity. However, snow offers many benefits, especially to our older children. That is why it is a great reason to take advantage of the snowy conditions while they are here. Although play in the snow offers an array of sensory experiences, coordination skills are going to be highlighted because with improved core stability, balance and bilateral coordination, a better proprioceptive system and body awareness are developed.
Embracing the weather means children can participate in activities such as snowshoe walking, sled riding, and skiing, both cross-country and downhill. All activities that cannot be done without one thing: SNOW!
Snowshoe walking can be done with children as young as 3-years-old. By placing on the snowshoes, individuals walk through the conditions requiring an increased amount of balance and strength due to using a more exaggerated gait. By making crunchy footprints in the snow, children get to take a trip down a path, lifting high each leg and keeping themselves balanced through weight shifting. It puts a nice twist on something most do every day; walk.
Sled riding is often looked upon as a vestibular activity, which it offers great benefits in this area. However, when focusing on coordination we see that the sled riding is more then just a rush down a high hill. Climbing the hill to get to the top involves core strengthening to make it up the incline. It also addresses those tight hamstrings that many children have. And the sled needs to make its way to the top as well, so by pulling the sled behind, children get to work on weight shifting with an object. Balance and core stability are enhanced as children need to maintain their bodies in an upright position while rushing down the hill.
Cross-country skiing offers the biggest challenge when it comes to coordination, mainly in the process of getting the skis on and maneuvering the body to move. Once situated the bilateral gliding of the legs is a whole body coordination activity. Both the arms and legs have to move in sequence in order to allow the child to glide across the snow-covered ground with ease. In using the poles (which are optional, and may be cumbersome for younger children or those with decreased coordination skills) stability is provided for increased balance, but they also help encourage the increase use of the arms.
Down-hill skiing and snow boarding are activities that require a larger amount of skill and coordination. Therefore, children can participate despite their weakness. They require balance, bilateral use of arms and legs, and weight shifting the body appropriately to avoid a fall. Many places offer these activities in an adapted program.
Being outside and getting some exercise is an added bonus to these activities. And being that children can only participate in them with snow, why not add them into their therapeutic programs. So, bundle up and have some fun!