All of life is an obstacle course. We learn this right from the beginning. The prince had to rescue the princess. She lived in a castle surrounded by a moat full of crocodiles, guarded by a dragon. The prince had to think up plans to defeat all these creatures and rescue her. He never said: “This is too much work, let me marry the girl next door.” That’s not noble or interesting!
A good obstacle course provides endless opportunities for learning and development. For instance: “How do we get across this river of crocodiles safely? We have these things.” They can then use whatever you have at hand to get from, say, the bed to the bathroom. Pillows, chairs, soft toys, books. The story can be much more elaborate: “Through the forest and across the lake, up the mountain, etc. etc…” The key to the tower could be hidden somewhere in there.
Sometimes my kids take turns devising an obstacle course. The person building it decides the rules. “You have to crawl on the mat, spin three times, walk backwards on the beam, bounce in a circle, wrestle the shark….etc.”
Now and again I build the mother of all obstacle courses. We time ourselves with the phone timer setting. Each child tries to beat their personal best. Then we do it backwards – trying to see who can reverse the steps without mistake.
These are boredom busters for rainy days. Our home is full of great big exercise balls, balance pads and all sorts of paraphernalia useful for obstacle courses. Eyebrows lift when we show friends our new home and they see the balance beam, leading up to the mini trampoline, leading up to our bed!
Obstacle courses should never be too difficult to do. Mixing easy and hard components ensure that kids don’t feel defeated from the outset. Its ok to struggle with some things. Its not ok to give up before the start. Consider safety. Not good to bounce off onto the corner of the table.
Benefits of an obstacle course:
Gross motor exercise. The whole body is moving, bending, jumping.
Motor planning of activities. How do I do this? What needs to happen?
Spatial awareness of self in the space and how the objects relate to each other in terms of negotiating them.
Listening skills. Following instructions.
Problem solving. Especially with open-ended challenges. How do I get from A to B? How to get past the snakes or poison flowers?
Math skills and sequencing. Understanding ‘next to, in between, over, under’.
Proprioception. Where are my body parts and what are they doing? What should they be doing? Read more about proprioception here.
Vestibular input. Movement stimulates the balance system of the inner ear. It keeps us all grounded whilst moving, but the system needs to be trained through movement. Read more here.
Balance and coordination.
Innovation and imagination.
Confidence building. I can build. I can make the rules of the game. I can do this.
Memory. What are the steps? What do I do next?
Emotional self-regulation. I have to wait my turn. I have to decide how far to jump, what I can risk doing without being ‘eaten by crocodiles’.