There are some amazing parks in Brisbane that capture the imagination, challenge the body and offer a huge variety of activities for different age groups. However, for many families, most outdoor time is spent at a trusty park walking distance from home – and the simple equipment on offer can soon grow stale for parents and children alike.
This is my “local” playground, close enough to walk to without a pram but far enough that I can justify my $100 active wear. It’s no Eden, and after a few trips even the dog seems bored. Here are 7 ideas to use your local playground in new and creative ways, and work on balance, coordination and strength at the same time. Most can also be performed with a coffee in one hand…
The Slide: Ball Drop
Bring along a few different sized balls – younger kids will need a large ball that is easy to hold, while older kids can use a tennis or small bouncy ball. Mum or Dad roll the ball from the top, and the kids have to try and catch it at the bottom. For littlies, the hand eye coordination of following the ball as it rolls down the slide and catching it at the bottom will be challenge enough. For kids that are a little older, they can start 5m away from the slide and take a “run up” as the ball starts down the slide, or do 3 star jumps before the ball makes it to the bottom.
This is a great one for multiple kids as they practice taking turns, cheering each other on, and use their imagination to work on different ways to roll the ball down the side to increase the difficulty. Bouncing the ball down? Rolling it really fast? Bouncing off the sides of the slide so it is less predictable? Only using one hand to catch? Catching while balancing on one leg? A great activity for coordination, motor planning and problem solving as the difficulty increases. Replace the balls with matchbox cars and you can even have races.
TIP: If they climb up the slide each time they are the “roller”, you get an additional core strength and gross motor challenge.
Climbing Structures: Weaving and Knotting
Bring along a ball of string or thin rope in your bag when you head down to the park, and use climbing nets and grids to practice weaving. Moving the string in and out of the squares moving up/down, left/right and right/left works on hand- eye coordination, fine motor skills and body awareness. The grids are also an excellent place to work on tying bows for shoe laces – or even fancier knots for older primary school children keen to learn a new skill
Rockers: Challenge that Balance
Rockers are great tools to work on stability and balance reactions. For younger children, they can sit on the rocker holding on as you move it in all directions and at different speeds, working on reactive balance and control. As they get a little older, try with “no hands”, or even standing or kneeling. Be prepared for a loss of balance and have your parent reflexes ready – this is a great way for kids to learn their limits in a safe environment and develop the confidence to dust themselves off and get back on the horse (or in this case, the chicken)
The Swing: Push and Catch
Everyone loves a turn on the swings, but pushing someone else can be a great way to work on body awareness, strength and balance. For littlies, bring along a stuffed animal and pop it in the baby swing and practice pushing the swing high and “catching” it to make it stop. For older kids, they can practice pushing their parents and younger siblings, staying out of the way as the swing pulls back, timing the push for maximum force, and experimenting with using their whole body to move the swing as efficiently as possible. It’s quite the full body work out to push Mum/Dad up high.
The monkey bars: Hang and catch, or Swing to a Target
For little ones under 2, lift them up to the monkey bars and help them grab on with your hands over theirs to give them the sensation of supporting their own body weight with their arms. If you have a spare pair of hands, count to three and let go, giving them the opportunity to hold their own weight, and the sensation of falling (and being caught by Mum or Dad of course!) For kids that can support their own weight, work on swinging their legs to touch your hand as a target, which takes a surprising amount of abdominal strength to control. Rest a light ball on your hand, and while one child swings to “kick it”, the other chases after it or tries to catch them out.
Ladders: Ladder Twister
Ladders and climbing nets can be great tools to practice motor planning and learn about directions. Once up on the ladder or climbing net, Mum or Dad has to name a body part and a direction (left hand to the right, right foot up, etc). If your kids are older and need a challenge, try giving 3 instructions in a row (left foot up, right hand to the left, right foot down) and see if they can remember and execute the sequence.
The Bench: Up Up Up
This is a physio oldie but a goodie. Last but not least, the trusty parent bench. Your child has to slowly sit down, but at any moment you are going to call “Up Up” and they need to stand up again. It’s a great core workout to need to stop and stand back up again when you are just about on the chair, and is sure to lead to lots of giggles as they hover 2cm above the chair, waiting for you to call out “up up”.