Getting quality time outdoors can do wonders. Fresh air, sunshine, ‘unplugged’ fun, and active exploration can have dramatic effects on the quality of your mood and how your body functions!
OT’s around the globe LOVE hearing about their clients adventures outside. Sensory experiences are everywhere and something new is around every bend. This allows our children to navigate, adapt, try and do which promotes learning and development unlike desk work can.
We are always thinking of functional, cost efficient, and therapeutically effective strategies to support our clients as they learn new motor skills and strategize through their individual complexities. The local park becomes a natural backdrop for optimizing development and following through with any occupational therapy that your child might be receiving.
That being said, we have a little secret (although the cat’s out of the bag now, right?). Whatever equipment your local park might have, there are a couple of small little gems that we pack and bring with us every time that we work with a child at the park. Bring one, bring them all – they pack a big punch with lots of versatility to work on a variety of skills.
Here’s our kit!
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Bean Bags – We love these wipe clean versions because you never know where these little guys might end up. Sensory play can often mean getting ‘down and dirty’ but your beanbags don’t need to stay that way!
Gertie Balls – These inflatables have a unique texture that allows for increased sensory awareness when throwing and catching. Check out the nobby and glow-in-the-dark versions too!
Suggested activity: Have your child hold the ball while sliding down the slide. Once he reaches the bottom, have him toss the ball to you or into a target tub! To increase the challenge, try to toss it mid-slide!
Bubbles – Fun for all ages, bubbles can provide wonderful visual, tactile, coordination and imaginative experiences. Catching bubbles is a great way to work on eye-hand coordination! True story: We tested many bubble brands. Once, we even had to pour all of the bubbles out just to get the wand out of the container! For this reason, we recommend these because the wand attaches directly to the lid! Genius!
Sidewalk Chalk – Ask any occupational therapist about the benefits of chalk and they will go on and on! Let your creativity go wild almost anywhere at the park and no need to worry about those marker doodles that just won’t come off!
Squirt bottle – A squirt bottle filled with water can go a long way! Did you know using a squirt bottle can strengthen the hands/fingers to prepare for handwriting and cutting skills?
Suggested activity: Fill a bottle with water to water plants or play water tag with friends on a hot day! Try having your child draw with chalk and ‘erase’ it with squirts of water.
Balloon pump – Pumping up balloons using a hand pump is a fantastic bilateral coordination task, strength builder and increases body awareness! If you don’t have one of these, use your bicycle tire pump in the garage!
Suggested activity – If he can, have your child help stretch the balloon onto the balloon pump. Here’s the fun part. Have him pump air into the balloon using both hands and watch it expand! Once it is inflated, let it go! Watch and listen as it flies through the sky, then run to retrieve it and try again! Prepare for lots of giggles!
A suspended ball – For those of you with DIY skills, suspending a ball on a rope can be a fantastic prop for building eye-hand coordination. A whiffle ball and 5 feet of light rope will do the trick!
Suggested activity: Suspend the ball from an overhead bar (such as monkey bars). Using a hand or piece of pool noodle, sway at the ball for instant practice with eye-hand coordination and visual tracking.
Rope with handles – A jump rope or a 16-foot long rope with a knot in each end can be the MacGuiver tool you have been waiting for. (Did we totally date ourselves with this reference?) If your child needs more to grab hold of, loop the rope before making the knot or string a 6-inch piece of PVC pipe in the loop before knotting it off.
Suggested activity: Scope out a smooth sidewalk, path or basketball court. Have your child lie belly-down on the scooter board. While holding onto a rope, pull them along the path while varying speed and direction. Play a ‘delivery’ game by having your child pick up an object along the route, place it on his back and deliver it to a new destination! If laying on the stomach appears too difficult, and as a result your child’s head is resting on his arm rather than looking up and forward, have him shift positions to sitting and scooting with his feet, or sitting cross legged while being pulled by the rope.
Scooter board – Seated, kneeling, or laying on their stomach, children have endless fun playing with these gems! Scooter boards are great tools to support balance, strength and endurance, and bilateral coordination skills.
Pediatric therapists and bloggers alike find scooter boards to be staple tools when working with children on various developmental skills.
Therapy Fun Zone has 10 activities to do on a scooter board. Playapy highlights 5 exercises that can be done on scooter boards in this YouTube video. How scooter boards are used for strengthening certain muscles can be found on Pink Oatmeal’s Scooter Board Strengthening post! All are great resources to check out.
Pool Noodle – Cut this noodle into thirds and you have 3 great tools to use at the park! Pack one in your kit and use it as a bat, funnel, or handle for pulling! Grab these at a nearby Target, Dollar Store, or hardware store. If you are interested in buying 5 of them, Amazon is the place to go! (Pool noodles may be harder to find in cooler months, so this link may be helpful if you can’t get your hands on one locally. Share the extras with your friends!
Sturdy, lightweight tub – This carryall doubles as a target and makes transporting essentials back and forth a breeze. We found that a 7-gallon size (26 liter) can hold everything we need. You can also carry it one-handed so the other can be free to walk the kids across the street or grip that much needed cup of coffee!
Mesh bag – Throwing all of your kit props into a mesh bag truly makes clean up from the sandbox a thing of the past. Drop stuff in, shake a couple of times, and plop the whole bag into the tub for a quick and convenient way to keep all everything in check. Most drug stores and discount stores carry these no-frills laundry bags.
You’ve got this in the bag, literally!
If you follow Passport to the Park, you will notice we use these items ALL THE TIME and have ideas for the contents of our Park Kit in every post! The local park or playground provides a foundation for learning and development. These little goodies can dramatically expand the therapeutic value that parks can provide.
How do you use these items when playing outside? There are never too many great ideas!
Any pediatric OT’s out there in search of more inspiration and ways to get organized? Browse around at OT Potential to check out the form, letter, and evaluation templates she has available.
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