I am a big recipe follower. I am not someone who tosses or mixes things in hoping for the best. I find comfort in knowing that someone has tried and tested something AND feels it is good enough to pass on to others. That is how I feel about My Obstacle Course. This is something I have actually done with my son (for 3 years now!). I share this idea with you because I have been there (and still am!) with my child, not always knowing what to do or how to help him. While I take him to all of the therapists he needs, try to provide activities outside of the home to help him build social and play skills, I really wanted something to do with him at home and this is what I came up with, something different from anything I could find in books or on the internet. It is my desire to help other parents like me, those who are in need of something a little different in order to “Engage, Encourage and Empower” their child!
I AM a big fan of metaphors so here is one I think that fits quite well for My Obstacle Course.
It is like a recipe, a very basic one that can be adapted in many different ways. Think of the obstacle course structure as the base of the meal, say chicken. It is the thing that holds the meal together yet can take on many different flavors depending on what you add. I have found that most people enjoy doing obstacle course-like activities (think Survivor, the Amazing Race, scavenger hunts, occupational therapy gyms, etc.). There is something motivating about an event made up of smaller activities, tasks that have specific directions or clues so you have an idea of what is expected, things you feel you can actually accomplish without being too overwhelmed. There is comfort in knowing that once the activity is completed, you get to move on to something else. The individual station activities set out on their own appear random but when placed within the structure of an obstacle course, they make sense because they are part of the whole.
The individual station activities of the obstacle course are like the side dishes, the things that help to make it well-rounded and well-balanced. By providing activities that allow your child to build skills in all areas of development (fine motor, gross motor, oral motor, literacy, math, and problem solving) at the level they ready for, you are helping them grow not only in areas where they are weakest, but also encouraging growth in their strengths.
(Note: This was a huge concept for us because we discovered that even though he wasn’t talking, he was reading. We were so focused on getting him to talk that had we not started doing Obstacle Courses with him, we would have totally missed out on building something that he was ready for. So scary!! It also made him engage with us more because we were providing activities that were interesting and challenging instead of insulting him by providing activities that were way too easy. Just because he has delays in certain areas doesn’t mean he is delayed in all areas.)
Lastly, the monthly or holiday themes keep things fun and interesting, in the same way that spices keep the chicken from being bland and boring. Putting out the same activities each and every time gets boring. Using different themes to go along with the months, holidays or school studies helps on several different levels. I have found that it helped my son make connections based on the symbols that go with the themes. It allowed us to introduce vocabulary that may have seemed less important than getting him to speak intelligibly. I saw that even without being able to speak, he was able to show he understood just by matching pictures with words. It also made me really think about what HE needed to work on and what HE was ready for each time I set it up.
The Obstacle Courses that you make for your child will be unique to the tastes and interests that motivate them. They will need more of certain kinds of activities, less of others depending on where they are with each developmental area or skill. I encourage you to look at the activity ideas I post with an open, flexible mind knowing that each activity can be adapted up or down to meet a wide variety of needs. I will do my best to show examples of how to do this but find that once you get going, it will become much more natural to look at something and think, “hmm… I like that but could tweak it a bit to target what my child needs.” That is what I hope to teach you. It is my desire to help you engage with your child. I want to encourage you to try some new things so you can learn more about your child. I want to empower you to be the knowledgeable team leader for your child because WE are the constant in their lives!
Engage, Encourage and Empower!!