It’s Fall: Sneak in a Little Outdoor Fun Together With Your Kids
Seek & Find Outside Time
School is hard work for many Special Needs children. Students are expected to sit in one spot, calmly walk in orderly lines, speak only with permission, use listening ears, and to constantly be prepared to prove they are learning. Children might go straight from a structured classroom to structured after-school activities. It’s tempting to let kids play on the iPad or video game to relax and reorganize between school and bedtime. Fall is such a beautiful time of year. Get outside with your child during the cool fall weather and sneak in a little Gross Motor fun while releasing the school day’s stress.
Keep it Simple and Fun
Kids leave school mentally fatigued and with pent up energy. Burning off that extra energy can clear the mind and improve focus for homework and other activities. Try to make room in your family’s schedule for 15-30 minutes of daily outside play and to work on Physical Therapy goals. Treat this as a fun time to reconnect and you might even start to learn a little about what’s really happening at school.
Making daily outside time a priority doesn’t mean it will always fit smoothly into a busy lifestyle. Use creativity to make up for a lack of free time on weekdays. Scan your surroundings for Gross Motor opportunities on the drive home from school or on your way to and from after-school activities. Try a couple different routes as you hunt for fun outdoor places that might help your child work on goals and get some fresh autumn air. Five minutes walking up and down outdoor steps or on a handicapped ramp will do more for some Special Needs children than sitting for five minutes in a waiting room.
Making it Work for Your Child’s Needs
Take your child’s stamina and tolerance into consideration when planning for therapeutic play outside. Ask your child’s Physical Therapist for activity suggestions if you feel stuck. Have a plan for handling transitions when squeezing outside play time into a busy day. Treat this time like an outdoor motor break after a day spent inside. Explain the time limits for playing up front and use a timer or visual schedule to help your child understand that this is not unlimited free play time. If necessary, start with a short play sessions so a rocky transition won’t throw the rest of the day off schedule. The amount of play time will naturally increase as less time is needed to end the activity.
Activities don’t have to be complicated or over planned, but expect to be at your child’s side if you are incorporating therapy goals into the play. Make a game out of raking fall leaves and kicking the piles across the yard. Play together on the swing set in your own backyard so you can direct the play in a way to benefit your child. Go leaf collecting in a neighborhood with mature trees and enjoy the fall ambience. Schedule short after school play dates at the park. Take your bikes someplace fun and different, even if it’s just for a 20 minute riding lesson.
Find Variety Locally
Become explorers on a mission to discover all the parks and playgrounds en route to after school destinations. Newer playgrounds have some really fun equipment that can be used for targeted Gross Motor work. Ask about potential new play spots whenever talking to someone who lives or works in the area.
Seek out paved walking trails in parks, nature centers, and residential neighborhoods if level ground is needed to work on strengthening or specific skills. Help your child “work out” in the stands or on the track while the high school football team is practicing on the football field. Unused baseball diamonds can be a fun, level place for Gross Motor play. College and University campuses are beautiful and exciting in the fall, and usually have a combination of paved areas, grassy common areas, and steps.
Are there any public beaches, lakes, or rivers in your area? Go walking on uneven shores, on sand, or on pebbles. Let your child throw rocks in the water for five minutes before homework and dinner. Areas surrounding dams and dykes can offer a fun mix of level and sloping ground, steps, interesting walkways, and picnic pavilions. Even a plain old dry creek bed can be an exciting place to work on goals outside the gym.
Saturday is a Make-Up Day
Set aside time for outdoor Gross Motor fun on Saturday mornings if you just can’t squeeze it in during the week. Go to the Farmer’s Market before going to the Super Market. Check your community calendar for listings of pumpkin patches, apple orchards, corn mazes, and Fall festivals. Let your child dance out the stress of the school week at free outdoor concerts.
Zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, and museums with outdoor exhibits can have interesting opportunities for therapeutic play in addition to the usual exhibits. Look for child-friendly architectural features, statues, or landscaping designed to get little bodies moving. Visit the attraction’s website and ask around before paying high admission fees. Attendance at these attractions can decline after school starts so look for special events and reduced rates as the weather gets cooler.
Experience the Fall Together
Going to school is a major part of a child’s day. Even children who love to learn and function well in a school setting need to get outside and move after six or more hours of limited physical movement. As the Back to School season blends into fall, use the cooler weather as a therapy tool. Get your child outside, work on Gross Motor goals while blowing off some steam, and enjoy fall’s beauty together. This is a limited time opportunity – winter’s coming soon!
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This post originally appeared on our September/October 2010 Magazine