Make play time work double duty with these play-based activities that target key areas of kids’ physical, mental, emotional and social development.
- Encourage kids to play with an inflated balloon. This prompts them to be aware of their arms and hands and is especially helpful for those who struggle with catching a normal ball. To broaden the skills involved, make blowing up the balloon its own activity.
- Hold an egg and spoon race indoors, in the yard or even in a park. This calls on fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. Alternatively, place a balloon on top of a cup and get kids to try to walk around with it without dropping the balloon. For more advanced children, incorporate an obstacle course they need to navigate while balancing the egg or balloon.
- Promote bike riding (young or less advanced children may need a trike or training wheels). Riding a bike promotes bilateral coordination by encouraging kids to use their arms and legs simultaneously. It also helps them to meet their daily physical activity needs. To add fun and adventure, consider driving to new, interesting locations, ideally with a dedicated bike path (e.g. beside the beach or through a nature reserve).
- Stimulate their senses. Sand and water are wonderful tools for promoting sensory awareness. Tactile activities can also promote touch tolerance in children with touch aversion. Whether you have access to a beach or have a sandbox in the backyard, encourage kids to engage in tactile play. For instance, challenge them to create a sandcastle or sand sculpture with wet sand. Have them stand at the water’s edge and pay attention to the feel of the sand dragging out (make sure it’s a safe, sheltered front beach and maintain constant supervision). With dry sand, have children try to fill a bucket with handfuls of sand. For more advanced children, consider sand writing, whereby they create letters or words with a found object such as a stick or even a large shell.
- Get crafty. Got a piece of cardboard and scissors? That’s all you need to set up a fun activity that fosters multiple complex skill areas, from coordinated grasp and release skills to visual motor skills. You can design this activity to be more or less simple depending on your child’s age or stage of development. For instance, you may first put a series of dots on the cardboard and ask children to connect them to create the lines they’ll cut (drawing and tracing are also useful activities). Or, for more advanced children, consider drawing (with a ruler) interconnected triangles. Once they’ve finished cutting, you have another great activity. Having children piece the cut shapes back together like a jigsaw puzzle requires spatial and planning functions.
If you notice that your child is having difficulties with certain skills or competencies expected for their age or are concerned about whether your child’s development is normal, consider consulting a children’s occupational therapist, speech pathologist, physiotherapist or psychologist, depending on the area of concern.