Obstacle courses 101: How to set up & games to include
You’ve probably noticed how your toddler gets cranky if they stay cooped up indoors for long. Have you wondered why?
Child psychologists say that when kids don’t get a chance to move about during the day, pent up emotions can result in them becoming irritable, moody, or even aggressive. Ideally, toddlers and preschoolers require between 1-3 hours of movement in a day.
We know that this sounds like a lot, particularly during summer holidays and when homeschooling. Which is why we love obstacle courses.
Obstacle courses are an awesome way for children to move about, exert energy, and keep the brain and body active. But that's not all. Each child has their own manner of moving from one obstacle to the next, making way for a lot of open-ended play too!
A good obstacle course is designed keeping this in mind. Read on to find out how you can create such courses and the best activities to include in an obstacle course for young children.
Benefits of obstacle courses for kids
1. Builds balance and coordination - Obstacle courses are filled with games and activities such as standing on one leg, walking in a straight line, or maintaining posture on a balance board. These are sure to strengthen your child’s balance and coordination.
2. Enhances strategic thinking and problem solving - Getting from the start to finish points in an obstacle course is not just about physical power, but a good plan too! Coming up with a solid plan to tackle the obstacles using their strengths will hone your child’s ability to problem solve on the go.
3. Hones motor skills - Jumping, hopping, running, climbing, and tossing are all parts of any good obstacle course, making it a super fun way for your toddler or preschooler to hone their gross and fine motor skills.
The right toys make active play a lot of fun! Find the perfect toy that will get your child excited to move about.
4. Helps kids become more adaptive and flexible - Obstacle courses are filled with unexpected twists and elements of surprise! These will give your child a chance to get creative and build confidence around their ability to be flexible in their thinking.
5. Builds social skills - Be it a relay-style course or a game played in teams, these courses are great opportunities for your little one to make friends, build teamwork, and learn to appreciate different people’s strengths.
6. Improves focus and concentration - Obstacle courses can be timed competitions, which will motivate your child to focus and complete tasks as fast and efficiently as possible.
7. Develops sensory processing - Children gain a lot of sensory input while performing acts such as climbing, spinning, and running. Obstacle courses are filled with opportunities to fine-tune these senses, contributing to their overall physical and cognitive development.
Setting up the perfect kids' obstacle course
1. Decide the basics
Before you start, make sure to ask these questions:
Indoor or outdoor course? If your have a young toddler just learning to walk, an indoor course would be safer. If they are old enough to be confident in their movements and the weather is pleasant, go for an outdoor course.
Themed or not? A themed course is perfect for a birthday party or to get your child excited about something specific. If not, a more general course could be just as much fun!
What activities will you have? While you can always get creative with the activities, it helps to have one or two big activities (such as a crawl tunnel or hot lava) that is the ‘main part’ of the course. Pick these first and build the rest of the game around it.
2. Fun + Challenging = Perfect!
Toddlers and preschoolers are still learning to use their motor and cognitive skills so their obstacle courses have to be relatively simple. More fun, less stressful is a good rule of thumb to create something that motivates them to play! A few elements that make it both fun and challenging for kids are:
- A jumping activity like jumping across a skipping rope or over some chalk designs.
- A balancing activity like walking a tightrope or standing on a wooden balance board.
- A climbing activity like climbing a mattress fort, a Pikler Triangle, or even stairs!
- A running activity that encourages them to dash from point A to B as fast as possible.
3. Add a storyline
No matter how old you are, everything is better with a story! Having a story adds emotions, adventure, and camaraderie into the game, making it more fun and inspiring to play.
One way to go about this is looking at the challenges you have and building a story around it. A Butterfly Balancing Board could be a giant butterfly that takes them across an enchanted forest and a slide could be a waterfall that carries them forward! You could even get your child to help you come up with a story.
Did you know that you can use storytelling to overcome some common parenting blocks? Listen to this podcast episode to find out how!
4. Add a mental challenge
Obstacle courses don’t have to just be about running around and exerting energy. The best courses stimulate your mind too! You could slip in a few simple cognitive challenges between physical hurdles. Fix an easy animal puzzle before you head into the forest or answer a riddle before you climb the waterfall!
5. Add sensory elements
Involving the senses is an excellent way to get your child to be more present, which will make a course so much more rewarding for them. You could have different songs or sounds to signal different activities. Have a snack ready when your child completes some tasks. Or have a mystery bag filled with objects that your child has to guess by touch.
Fun obstacles for toddlers and preschoolers
1. Hot Lava - Play the popular Hot Lava track and ask your child to make sure they don’t put their feet on the floor! They can either jump across stepping discs or colourful pieces of cardboard.
2. Tunnel Crawl - Build a tunnel with a Pikler Triangle or by putting chairs together and throwing a cloth over it. Toddlers will enjoy crawling underneath it, pretending that it’s a waterfall, a cave, or a rainbow! Make it even more fun by attaching a slide to the tunnel, that they can go down after crawling.
What exactly is a Pikler Triangle and why do kids love it? Read this blog to find out.
3. Rope Games - There’s so much that you can do with ropes, be it a skipping rope or a thick yarn. You can place it in a zig zag line and ask your child to walk on it, twirl it and let them jump across, or simply ask them to skip 5 times to cross over to the next challenge!
4. Ring Toss - Kids love to throw and catch things so it’s a good idea to add a tossing game into your obstacle course. It could be something innovative like a Toss A Ring Game or a simple activity like throwing a ball into a children’s hoop or tossing something into a laundry basket.
5. Balance Bliss - Balance games are also easy favourites for kids so it’s a great idea to invest in a wooden balance board. You can ask them to stand still on a Butterfly Board or to place both their legs on either side of a Waldorf Balance Board and rock without falling.
Get your child involved at every step!
One of the best ways to get your toddler or preschooler excited about an obstacle course is to have them involved from the beginning. Ask for their ideas and suggestions while setting up, let them pick some challenges, and make sure they stick around for cleanup.
You can familiarize your child with an obstacle course by showing them how it’s done, getting them to do it along with you, and then by themselves. Once they get used to these courses, you can involve friends, time them, and make it a playtime staple!