Be Active: Make an Outdoor Obstacle Course by Jolanda Hengstman, CAPE, NBCT

This week I invited my five-year-old son to create an obstacle course. After the initial “what is that” question, we simply went to work together.

Doing made more sense than trying to explain.

First, we decided on a course, walked and jogged it, and discovered plants, weeds, and patterns along the way. We walked all over our suburban front and backyard.
Second, we put obstacles in our way.

We ended up with an obstacle course from our driveway (using chalk for short lines to jump over, and a hopscotch), across the front yard (hula hoop to crawl through and an elevated plank in the middle), around the holly tree, then across the mulch (following a rope), and last back to the driveway.

Other ideas that can work in your outdoor space: landscape timbers to walk across, steps (up and down), water hose (to follow), drape a sheet over the back of two lawn chairs, crawling under a hammock or bench, slalom around trees, and so on.

Keep in mind:

  • Keep your course on soft ground. Grass is softer to fall on than a concrete driveway.
  • Monitor stairs. Going down steps/stairs is more difficult than going up. You may need to hold hands or be close by.
  • Think circular. I prefer circular courses because there is no end—children keep going and going, adding and deleting, or skipping pieces until they are tired.
  • Add an object to carry such as a ball. This can be passed onto the next person or deposited in a pre-determined target.
  • Add something to wear such as a hat.
  • Move in different ways such as sideways, galloping, skipping, or jumping.
  • Emphasize the creativity and challenges involved, not racing.
  • Watch for loose bricks and borders around planting areas; they can be tripping hazards.

We had great fun, and my son still came up with another suggestion, “Mom, can I do this on my bike?” What he didn’t say is hat plank is a great ramp for my bike.” Mmmm how much am I willing to let experience teach him?

Jolanda is an Adapted Physical Education Teacher and an organizer of the Special Olympics in the Charlotte, NC, area. She has written a book entitled Movement ABCs that provides developmentally appropriate movement activities for children ages three to six.