By: Bridget Hobbs, PT
Summer is finally here and your little ones are asking to go to the park. So, pack a few snacks, slather on the sunscreen and take advantage of this free way to build confidence, make friends and gain gross motor skills at the same time.
Children learn best through play-based experiences and exploring the playground is great way for children to refine their gross and fine motor skills. Here are a couple ideas for parents and caregivers to engage their children at the park in order to build not only bonding and fun, but to also build muscle strength, endurance and gross motor skills.
Here are some new or different ideas to incorporate to your little one’s playground fun:
Climbing up the slide
As a child, you were likely told to just go down the slide. Of course if there are children waiting to go down the slide, climbing up it is not a good idea. However, if the park isn’t crowded, help your child bear walk (on hands and feet with bottom in the air) up the slide. Doing this builds great core strength as well as cross-body coordination skills.
Using the dividers as balance beams
There are often railroad-tie type of dividers that divide the grass from the wood chips/foam surface under the playground equipment. Challenge your child to go across these as they would a balance beam. They can experiment with going forward, backward, side-stepping and even doing toe taps to the ground each step. This activity helps with control of leg and core muscles as well as coordination skills that your child will use in gym class and on sports teams in the future.
Use hills to your advantage
If you participated in track or cross-country in high school, you know that training on hills was a vital component to the big picture of a race. Make hills fun for your little one by rolling down them like a log to help with development of the vestibular system. You can also really challenge them by bear walking or crab walking up or down the hill.
Don’t avoid the climbing wall
Children as young as toddlers can enjoy the climbing wall with help of their parents. Even if you have to support their body, children learn motor planning and sequencing by deciding where to best place their hands and feet to navigate the wall. A bonus is that the small muscles in the hand are strengthened by grasping the holds, which can lead to improved ability to write and play ball sports in the future.
There is a lot of research that clearly links play with brain development, motor and social skills. Playgrounds provide different textures, sensory experiences and motor planning opportunities for children to help build their development. So, think outside the box the next time you are at the park with your child and try to incorporate these different ways to assist with their development.
For more information on physical therapy and play based therapy services at Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley visit our website.
*Above images by Molly Gardner Media