Deanna Macioce, MS, OTR/L
With the thawing out from this 'Polar' winter coming soon, everyone is ready to be outside, burning energy. Regardless of where you are in the country, this winter has been unlike any others. And although just getting outside and being active would meet most needs, this month we are going to look at a few fun, creative ideas for outdoor play that meet a variety of therapeutic needs. So, put on your coats and leave your boots at home...and let's have some fun!
Scavenger Hunts- These can be done in a variety of ways to address different skills. First, you can give the child a list of things to find, such as an animal, something that is a particular color or shape, and an item in nature. Once it is found they can mark it off the list or to address handwriting skills, have them write what they found. Using a small clipboard to hold the list will also provide a writing surface for them, while helping to address bilateral skills. Or, if your child has a camera, have them use the camera to take a picture of the item that has been spotted. This is particularly fun for toddlers who have the "kid tough" cameras. These activities allow children to get outside while strengthening their visual and direction following skills.
To incorporate movement you can set up the hunt so that clues need to be found. This is ideal for older children. Once a clue is found, it could instruct the child to move in a particular manner to the next spot. For example, bear walking, walking backwards, skipping, etc. This not only helps children to problem solve finding the next clue, it helps with motor planning and spatial awareness skills while adding in some vestibular and proprioceptive input.
Obstacle Course- For those children who get bored easily with riding their scooters and bikes, or just need a little bit more help getting their bodies moving, turn your backyard into a fun and challenging obstacle course. Use boxes to jump over, crawl or jump through hula hoops, do animal walks, perform side jumps. What ever you can do to get them moving. Obstacle courses are a great way to provide vestibular and proprioceptive input while addressing motor planning, core strengthening, bilateral coordination, balance and direction following skills. For higher functioning individuals, you can work on speed and agility by timing the trials.
Basketball- Basketball playing can take place in the drive or at the park, wherever a hoop is found. In addition, it can be an individual activity or performed with one or more peers. Basketball by itself is an excellent therapeutic activity. It pulls in bilateral coordination, hand-eye coordination, upper extremity stability and overall strength and endurance when just working on shooting baskets. For individuals who demonstrate difficulty interacting with peers or overall conversation, playing a game of HORSE where each child has to ask the other a question before shooting is both fun and beneficial. It gives these children a chance to work on initiating conversation, but not so focused on it because of the distraction of anticipating "making the shot"!
Sidewalk Chalk- A favorite by children of all ages allows you to have an open canvas with your creativity and activities. Children can work on their handwriting skills by writing words, letters, or forming shapes for pre-writing. And due to the typical positioning when using sidewalk chalk, shoulder stability is often strengthened during these tasks. So, taking a tedious of activity of writing outside to see a change in motivation to perform the task.
With school still in session for a few more months, you can add movement while using sidewalk chalk by writing sight/power words or various numbers randomly over the ground, leaving space between them. Then children can move to the word when it is called out and catch a ball. With numbers, giving a math problem with the child to solve in their head and then hop, twirl, or walk to the answer. Spelling can also be worked on in the fresh air in this manner too. Just write the letters out on the ground and then children have to move to each letter to spell the word- an excellent idea for your kinesthetic learner!
So on those brisk, but sunny days take some time to get some fresh air before the Spring rains hit!