Remember the thrill that first time you went down a new slide as a child? They felt so high, so fast, and (sometimes, eventually) so FUN! Slides are staple pieces of equipment found in most local parks. They come in all shapes and sizes and can all pretty much be used in similar ways. We like slides because they provide two essential sensations, vestibular (movement) and proprioception (feedback from muscles and joints). A slide and a couple of optional props are all that is needed to create activities that build balance, strength and coordination!
Here are our 3 top favorite things to do when playing on a slide:
1. Try changing body positions
Note: These positions are ranked in order of what is perceived to be least intense – most intense experience.
1. Sitting up
2. Laying down, face down on your tummy, with feet going first
3. Laying down, face up, with feet going first
4. Laying down on your tummy, head going first
SAFETY FIRST! Make sure that a parent or guardian is at the bottom of the slide to ensure a safe dismount! Some slides can be pretty fast, and others end high above the ground! We don’t encourage children to move to the next level of difficulty until they are comfortable with the one before it. If you notice that your child is clenching the sides of the slide, or has a fearful look on his face, do not progress down this list until you see an unmistakable level of comfort and joy in the current level.
2. Mountain climb up the slide. (optional equipment needed: rope)
Making it to the top of anything is always an exciting accomplishment! Climbing UP a slide can provoke that same feeling of success and mastery! Shhh, don’t tell your child but he is also developing core, upper body and hand strength, as well as coordination and body awareness! Try having your child hold on to the side rails of a slide to inch to the top!
If you have a rope, attach it to the top of the slide for an added challenge. Most slides have either a side handle or an overhead bar at the top that it can be tied to. We like to tie a loop at the end of the rope, which can act as an attaching point. Toss it over the bar, then feed the rope’s end through the loop and cinch it tight around the slide bar or handle.
Some children like to crawl up the slide while holding on to the rope. Others think slipping down the slide feet first on their tummies while holding the rope is pretty fun!
Have your child climb the rope using both hands and walk up the slide.
Please remain close to your child at all times during this activity. Depending on balance and coordination levels, they may veer close to one side of the slide, especially if the rope is not centered at the top. This can be risk for fall, so please keep a close eye on them!
As your child is sliding down the slide, toss a beanbag for her to catch. Start out ready for victory by initially tossing the beanbag directly into the child’s hands. Success builds confidence, and more success!
Place the bucket at the END of the slide, acting as a target for the beanbag to land in when she gets to the bottom.
To add another level of challenge, have the child toss the beanbag into a large bucket at the SIDE of the slide. Make sure that the slide is long enough for the child to catch, spot the bucket and then throw the beanbag for a “shoots and SCORES” moment!
FUN is important! Creating stories or themes to go with our slide activities really helps children stay engaged with the game, enhances creative play, and definitely attracts possibly play partners for social exchanges! Here are some themes that offer repeated success.
- Superhero! Sliding through the atmosphere in different ways, this superhero can swoop (slide) down to rescue any stranded leaf, shoe or beanbag from the ground below! Climb back up to bring it to safety!
- Simon says – Slides edition: Shout out a part of the body that will lead the way down the slide! “Feet first”, “hands first”, “head first” (with caution!), “feet first tummy up”……
While mountain climbing:
- Explorer I-Spy: Your child explorer climbs to the highest peak, puts on his imagery binoculars to see if he can spot the item you are describing! (“It is something tall, has green leaves, and birds like to nest there!”) Then slide down to tell you the answer, or better yet, draw the answer in the sand!
While tossing beanbags:
- Special Delivery – your child is the delivery boy/girl traveling to deliver beanbag packages to various mail boxes or houses. Drawing circles in the sand to represent houses can add a nice visual-motor element too!
- Restaurant – your child is the chef bringing his created delights to the restaurant table, repeatedly returning to the kitchen (top of the slide) to bring additional ingredients or dishes.
Slides can surely bring simple joys, and sometimes these simple joys are where play should stay. Free play allows for new ideas to be invented and explored, feeling of self- confidence, risk taking and autonomy. If and when you and your child are ready to add to the FUN, these options can take play and development to a new level! Have a great time together, and enjoy the park!
Pssst! As pediatric therapists, we often suggest things that are a bit ‘outside of the box’. Don’t be shy to break a rule or two, like climbing UP the slide when you visit your park! If you are feeling rebellious and ready to break free of the park rules, definitely check out Anna’s post from Kids Play Space about Playground Rules to Break for Greater Play Skill Development!
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