What's In an Obstacle Course?
Disclosure: Posts may contain affiliate links for products that I use and love. If you choose to click through and make a purchase, I will earn a commission, at no additional cost to you. Please let me know if you ever have any questions about the products I promote. Thanks for your help in supporting the blog so I can continue to post free content!
Obstacle courses are a great way to incorporate movement into learning and keep children engaged while addressing a variety of gross motor skills including motor planning, bilateral coordination, body awareness, strength, postural control, and coordination, as well as providing sensory input. Obstacle courses also address multi-step directions, sequencing, and sustained attention, and can easily incorporate fine motor tasks, and more! And have I mentioned how much FUN they are?! This is why I use them in almost every session I do, and why I am always encouraging parents to do them at home as well. I've found that parents feel like it would be too difficult to replicate at home without the space, materials, etc. However, it is more than possible to set up a variety of obstacle courses at home with little to no materials! I figured this would be a great first "How To" for the blog since obstacle courses can be used with almost all kids regardless of age, developmental level, goals, etc.
Tips for Creating an Obstacle Course:
Always have a starting point with a visual cue: a piece of tape on the floor, a green circle, a specific pillow or piece of furniture, etc.
Have the obstacle course end at the starting point
Demonstrate the steps to your child, using "first, then" language, or use a simple visual schedule with drawings of each step
Start with just 2-3 steps until your child demonstrates the ability to follow the steps easily, and then add more
My Favorite Tools for Obstacle Courses:
I do have some go-to tools that I use to make obstacle courses, and if you have them at home it would certainly help, but you can easily use household tools/furniture in place of store-bought tools. Below you'll find some of my favorite things to use, and ways to modify when applicable:
Tunnel: I use the tunnel often as it is great for addressing whole body strength and coordination, shoulder stability and arm strength, and encouraging crawling which provides great sensory input. I also find that tasks kids don't really want to do (for instance a puzzle) become more exciting when the tunnel is involved! I have the child get a piece, crawl through the tunnel, and put it in the puzzle.
Don't have a tunnel? You can make one by simply pushing chairs together and covering with a sheet, or having your child crawl through the legs of a line of chairs.
Jumping Circles: These are also something I use all the time, especially in obstacle courses. I have children jump with two feet, one foot, or frog jump between circles, use them as cues for start/stop points, throw bean bags onto them, bounce tennis balls on them in a given sequence, etc.
Don't have any jumping circles? They can easily be made with some different colors of card stock (laminate to last longer), paper plates taped to the floor, or painter's tape stuck to the floor in various colors/shapes or just as an X.
Scooter Board: I have to admit I basically can't live without the scooter board and it is hard to replicate, so I would suggest it as your first purchase if you can pick only one! Scooter boards are great for upper extremity strength, shoulder stability, bilateral coordination, motor planning, and more, and kids love them. I almost always have children on their belly propelling with their arms, but it could also be done in seated. The scooter board can easily be included in an obstacle course or can be a task on its own. I also love to combine the scooter board with fine motor tasks such as a puzzle to add movement and make the activities more fun!
Weighted balls: I love using 2-4 lb weighted balls for obstacle course tasks to address upper extremity strength, increase proprioceptive input, and target bilateral skills. Your child can roll the ball through a tunnel, carry it with them through out the obstacle course, lift the ball over head, throw it, etc.
Bean bags: These are great to incorporate into an obstacle course to address eye hand coordination with throwing and catching, color matching, etc. Your child can throw the bean bags at/into a target, match to colored circles, or practice toss/catch tasks.
Don't have any bean bags? Rolled up socks or small light balls will also work!
Household Items to Use in an Obstacle Course:
Furniture (as long as your children are allowed to climb/jump on it) is perfect to include in an obstacle course:
Chairs: Have your child crawl under or over chairs, or line them up with a sheet on top to create a tunnel. Use streamers or yarn criss-crossed between chairs for your child to crawl under/over/through
Pillows/couch cushions: Your child can stand on a pillow while completing a task to address balance, jump on/across pillows, or crawl over a pile of pillows
Couch: Your child can jump/crawl across the couch, or jump from the couch to a spot on the floor
Other household items:
Toilet paper rolls are great to use the same way you could use cones - stand them up to have your child go around them, use them as markers for start/stop, etc.
Painter's tape can be used as a balance beam by taping down in straight or varying lines, or as circles/markers by putting an X or square, or even along the wall for your child to follow the line with a weighted ball or car
Laundry baskets are great for pushing down the hallway and can be filled with items to make it heavier
Gross Motor Activities to Incorporate in an Obstacle Course:
Jumping on two feet or one foot, standing balance on one leg, etc.
Exercises: jumping jacks, scissors jumps, soldier marches, squats, push-ups, yoga poses, etc.
Animal walks: bear walk, crab walk, frog jumps, bunny hop, snake slither, etc.
Ball/bean bag tasks: throw against wall and catch, throw on/into a target, throw and catch with a partner, etc.
Other Activities to Incorporate in an Obstacle Course:
One of my favorite things about an obstacle course is the ability to incorporate fine motor/work tasks. For example:
Have your child pick up a puzzle piece at the beginning of the obstacle course and place it in the puzzle at the end
Incorporate a step in the obstacle course for your child to draw a shape or letter
Have your child complete one homework problem at the end of each trial through the course
Add cognitive tasks:
Tell your child a random number or list of words at the beginning of the obstacle course and have them recite it at the end
Tell your child a category (e.g. types of cereal) and have them answer it once they have gone through the obstacle course
Make one of the steps within the obstacle course a cognitive task (e.g. Count to 20 by 2s, tell me your favorite food, etc.)
You can also make an obstacle course outside with sidewalk chalk! Now get out there and start obstacle coursing (is that a word?!). I can't wait to see what you all come up with. Don't forget to have your children help with ideas and let their imaginations run wild!
Click the link below for a PDF "How to Make an Obstacle Course" to use as a cheat sheet!