Obstacle Courses - Developing Children's Lifelong Skills

Obstacle courses - they’re great, they’re free and they really help develop children’s lifelong skills. If your child is bursting with energy and bouncing off the walls or, on the contrary, if your child is a little too sedentary and you want to encourage physical activity,  I can highly recommend creating a pop-up homemade obstacle course.

Children love challenges and enabling them to explore and develop physically is really important. From birth children are programmed to push themselves to become more physically competent - rolling over, sitting, crawling and on it goes. How often do we have to dash to the corridor to find our suddenly quiet toddler has managed to whip round the corner unseen and is scampering gleefully to the top of the stairs? We notice the very visible physical development of our children, but it’s important to note that what we can physically see has an unseen parallel - brain development. The two are completely linked:

“In all development domains the brain is promoting exploration and movement.  But, when exploration and movement occur, it also stimulates brain development, including both neurogenesis (growth of new brain cells) and synaptogenesis (forming new connections between brain cells). ” - Child Development Institute, Canada

Pop-up obstacle courses can provide fun opportunities for children to challenge themselves physically, and to grow some of those neurological pathways and brain cells.

An obstacle course can help develop

  • Strength - good muscle tone
  • Balance – stability
  • Sensory processing-linear (up and down), sagittal (side to side), and rotary (spinning) inputs
  • Proprioception, the body’s ability to subconsciously sense its location, movements, and actions. e.g. being able touch your nose with your eyes closed
  • Fine and gross motor skills
  • Co-ordination including bi-lateral co-ordination (the ability to coordinate both sides of the body at the same time in a controlled and organised manner)

Play really is the child’s work and obstacle courses are great fun.

Obviously considering safety, obstacle courses can involve jumping, clambering, crawling, swinging, balancing, manoeuvring/problem solving and co-ordination. In my experience they are always improved with the threat of being sprayed with water and the promise of an ice lolly for the completer!

Obstacle courses can be created out of normal household items, a bit of imagination and can easily be adjusted to cater for all ages and levels of development. My children loved to design and make their own-and then reaped revenge as they challenged me to try it out!


- Kay Miller