Cheryl Farley, MSPT, is a certified, licensed and experienced physical therapist at The Kingsbury Center. With Spring approaching, she share some tips for helping your child to enjoy the outdoors (while also working their muscles!).
I am starting to think about spring! After months of spending time indoors, the days are getting longer and it is time to start taking evening walks around the neighborhood or playing in the backyard after dinner.
As a physical therapist I often get asked by parents for ideas for activities they can do at home with their children to help improve their gross motor skills. So here is a list of a few fun outdoor activities that can help work your child’s muscles without them knowing they are working!
Walk, Climb and Roll…
The Washington DC Metro area has some wonderful trails to explore. Walking on trails is great for building overall gross motor strength and endurance. Whether climbing over rock formations, stepping over tree roots, or just managing the uneven terrain of the trail, your child is building strength and improving their dynamic balance. If you prefer something a little closer to home, just climbing a grassy hill in your neighborhood can help build strength. Ask your child to climb up the hill like a bear, while they are spinning or by walking up backward. The possibilities are endless and will definitely keep your child engaged (as will allowing them to roll back down the hill to you!).
Sidewalk chalk is great for promoting gross motor skills. Just the act of squatting and drawing promotes quad strength and trunk control. If you child prefers to lie on their stomach and draw, that is good too, as they are unknowingly strengthening their shoulder girdle and neck muscles! Chalk can be used to create hopscotch boards, mazes and “balance beams” — all of which help to improve balance and sequencing skills.
Hula Hoops, Jump Ropes and Tunnels, and Cones
Kids love a contest! Use the items listed above or any other item you may have in your garage and set up an obstacle course. Kids can jump into hoops, run around cones, jump over or crawl under ropes, and crawl through or roll in tunnels. You will be amazed how many times they will do the same course. just to find out if they were faster than their previous attempt (or beat their sibling!). If you are feeling up to the challenge, race your child or, even better, allow them to set up a course of their own to race you through.
Bikes and Scooters
Riding a bike or a scooter will help your child work on coordination, endurance and overall strengthening. Balance bikes and three-wheeled scooters are great alternatives for children to work on the balance and coordination that are needed before graduating to the two-wheeled versions.
Put Your Child to Work
Many young kids love to help, so let them! Yard work is a great way to develop gross motor skills. Filling watering cans and carrying them across the yard to water plants, pulling weeds, raking mulch, or pushing wheelbarrows all promote strength, balance and improved muscular endurance. Allow your child to help wash your car; while they are getting wet and playing in the soap suds, their upper extremity musculature is getting a workout.
Explore a Playground
Playgrounds allow kids to work on a multitude of gross motor skills: strength, balance, coordination, sequencing and depth perception, to name just a few. Encourage your child to cross the monkey bars or try the fireman’s pole, while giving them enough assistance so that they feel safe and experience a sense of accomplishment. If the playground is not crowded, allow your child to climb up the slide and then come back down; this exercise is great for both upper and lower extremity strength and kids LOVE to do it! Explore the wobbly bridge with your child and pretend to surf on it. If your child is nervous about climbing ladders, you can climb behind them, keeping your child between you and the ladder to give them a better sense of security.
Not every child is going to want to play Little League and that is okay. Balls skills can be worked on in your backyard or at a park at the level and intensity with which your child is comfortable. Play catch or baseball with a large beach ball; allow your child to try to kick a ball and score a goal against you; play catch with a ball and Velcro mitt; or throw ice cubes/ water balloons and try to hit a tree and watch them explode.
These are just a handful of activities that can be done outside to promote gross motor strength. The key to any of these is to follow your child’s lead and allow them to have fun! It is amazing how much gross motor work can get done when kids don’t know that they are working!