Summer is right around the corner! While most kids are itching for school to be over, this time can often be a headache for parents to figure out childcare or other ways for their kids to stay active & entertained. Don’t stress, I’ve got you covered! All of these activities are outdoors with the hope they will limit screen time & encourage gross motor play.
- Gardening – This is one of my personal favorites! Whether you’re just planting some flowers or are working on an entire vegetable garden, let your child help. Gardening involves multiple steps which makes it a great motor planning & sequencing activity. It also involves the gross motor skills of walking, squatting, digging, lifting & carrying heavy objects, and potentially pushing/pulling movements if you are raking, hoeing, or using a wheelbarrow. Gardening also helps develop & support the tactile and proprioceptive sensory systems through heavy work (lifting/carrying heavy objects, digging, & pushing/pulling movements) & interaction with different textures (sand, dirt, grass, etc.). Make it fun and scale it to the age & gross motor abilities of your child/children!
- Water play – Water play is a great activity for those HOT summer days! You can have a water gun war, make a slip & slide, have a water balloon fight, play in a small inflatable pool, use a water table, frolic through the sprinklers, or even go to a community/neighborhood pool. The options for water play are endless! Water play depending on the situation can involve running & jumping, such as with a water gun war or playing in the sprinklers. If you go to a pool, swimming is such a great activity to promote strengthening, bilateral coordination, endurance, and water safety. Water play is another great way to support the tactile sensory system through touch and temperature, as depending on the activity & time of day the water’s temperature can vary a little.
- Ball play – Ball play, whether it’s just practicing the foundational skills of catching, throwing, or kicking or actually playing a sports specific game like soccer, basketball, baseball/softball, or even a game you make up, is a fun, simple activity to get kids outdoors. Ball play helps develop hand-eye or foot-eye coordination, left/right discrimination, bilateral coordination, balance, agility, upper or lower extremity strength, as well as challenges the visual system to judge distance/depth and track/follow the ball as it moves. Furthermore, ball play often involves at least two individuals if not an entire group which promotes social skills and turn-taking. Sports specific games, whether your child is playing in a summer league, playing a pick-up game with friends, or you’re playing as a family, encourages following directions & sequencing the rules of the game.
- Walking or Hiking – If all else fails and you’re out of ideas, get out of the house and go on a walk or a hike! Walking is still a great exercise that develops strength, bilateral coordination, and endurance. If you or your child want a little more of a challenge, hiking is also a great exercise that develops strength, balance, agility, bilateral coordination, endurance, and body awareness. If you decide to go hiking, ensure the difficulty & length of the hike is appropriate for your child’s age & gross motor ability. Make the walk or hike an educational experience by discussing the nature & natural elements you see around you such as plants, trees, animals, rocks, etc. You can even do a nature scavenger hunt or play I-spy which will draw your child’s attention to their surroundings & ultimately encourage better body & spatial awareness.
- Riding a Bike/Trike/Scooter – Learning to ride & propel a piece of recreational equipment such as a trike, bike, or scooter is a great summer activity that promotes balance, core & lower extremity strength, bilateral coordination, and motor planning/sequencing. Riding & propelling a trike, bike, or scooter also challenges & helps develop the vestibular, proprioceptive, and visual systems. I encourage you to stick to the manual type that kids have to learn to propel on their own versus the electric versions. The electric bikes & scooters take away opportunities for kids to build strength, coordination, and motor planning/sequencing skills as they do the work for them. Furthermore, these electric options are UNSAFE as they get up to speeds that a child would not be able to get up to on their own and can cause them to lose control & wreck. Don’t forget to wear a helmet!
- Ideas For Small Outdoor Spaces – If you have an apartment or townhouse with no to minimal yard space sidewalk chalk is a great option! Have your child maintain a deep squat position while drawing pictures for good core & lower extremity strengthening. Drawing & creating obstacle courses is also a fun way to incorporate balance, strength, agility, coordination, motor planning/sequencing, body awareness, and various gross motor skills. Get creative & let your child help with designing the course for added fun! Jumping rope is also a great activity that requires little space. It promotes core & lower extremity strengthening, bilateral coordination, balance, and motor planning/sequencing as well as provides vestibular & proprioceptive input.
While this list is not exhaustive, hopefully, it’ll provide you options for summer fine motor activities or function as a good jumping off point for your own ideas. Have fun, get creative and don’t forget the bug spray & sunscreen!
See y’all next week!
Catherine C. Skelton, PT, DPT
Pediatric Physical Therapist