Oftentimes, playgrounds are overlooked as just places where children can run around and  burn some energy. While this is true, playgrounds are also a great environment to practice your child’s gross motor skills, such as balance, trunk control, motor planning, bilateral skills, hand-eye coordination, and strength. Below are several ways to use various pieces of equipment at your local playground to improve your child’s motor skills. Feel free to let your imagination run wild!

Here are 8 tips for motor skill activities at the park:

  • Monkey bars: challenge your child to hang from the monkey bars for as long as he can. This will help develop his hand strength, upper body strength, and endurance. Similarly, have your child practice chin-ups or pull-ups on the monkey bars. Your child can also practice crossing the monkey bars by placing both hands onto the same bar or alternating hands (one on each bar).Child is rolling down a slide
  • Prone down slide: have your child ride down a slide on his stomach like Superman (head first, with arms and legs extended). Once your child reaches the bottom of the slide, help your child wheelbarrow walk across the playground, as he will already be in the correct position (support your child at his ankles, knees, or hips, depending on his skill level).
  • Zip line: when crossing the zip line, instruct your child to lift his knees towards his chest the entire way. This will help develop his core muscles, along with his motor planning and upper body strength.
  • Rock climbing wall: choose which color of rock your child is or is not allowed to use to help him get up the wall (e.g. do not use the blue rocks). Rock climbing addresses upper body strength, bilateral skills, trunk control, motor planning, and problem solving.
  • Fireman pole: challenge your child to climb up the fireman’s pole as high as he can, with the goal of reaching all the way up to the platform. This will help increase his upper body strength, bilateral skills, and motor planning.
  • Pull-up bar: have your child hang upside down on the pull-up bar (with legs hanging over the bar, and head inverted). This will address his vestibular system, as his head will be tipped out of its normal alignment, changing the position of his ear canals (e.g. going on a roller coaster). The vestibular system is important for balance and body awareness.
  • Lily pads: work on your child’s opposition by challenging him to step onto the lily pad with one foot and the opposite arm (e.g. step with right foot, grab with left arm), then switch. Opposition is needed for ball skills used in sports such as baseball and soccer. This activity will also help address his balance and motor planning.
  • Tunnels: have your child army crawl through the tunnel (on his belly, propped up on elbows/forearms, and using upper body to propel self forward). This will address motor planning, upper body strength, and trunk control. Similarly, if the tunnel is large enough, challenge your child to complete different animal walks through the tunnel (e.g. crab walk, seal walk).

Note: Make sure to monitor your child during the above activities to keep him safe, along with  others at the park. Stay tuned for my next blog on ways to work on social skills at the park.

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