Having Two Times the Fun Outside This Year
Deanna Macioce, MS, OTR/L
As the weather begins to warm, many of us are eagerly awaiting the coming of spring. It has been a winter where many places felt record low temperatures and weather conditions out of the ordinary. Winter has been too long and we are all feeling a bit of "cabin fever". Our children have been stuck indoors, and many even have experienced additional days off of school. With that said, on the first nice day we all tend to flock outside, trying to find anything to do that does not require us to be in doors. One common place to head to is the local playground. With all the fun equipment, children are able to release months of stored up energy. A well-equipped playground offers so much for children who need movement, core strengthening and proprioceptive input. From sliding, swinging, and climbing, children are entertained for hours, while parents are given a chance to enjoy the outdoors. This month, we are going to focus on bilateral coordination skills and how they can be addressed with playground equipment, as well as other common activities for outside play.
Bilateral coordination includes activities that encourage the use of both sides of the body at the same time. Children who have strong bilateral coordination skills will demonstrate hand dominance, tend to complete many fine motor skills easier, such as writing and cutting, and are able to perform higher level gross motor skills such as skipping and jumping jacks.
A slide provides coordination strengthening through the climbing of steps. After a fun ride down, allow children to climb back up the slide itself by holding on to both sides. In addition, this helps with overall core strengthening and stability of the trunk.
Swinging, known commonly as a great vestibular activity, also helps promote bilateral coordination in two ways. First, using both hands on the ropes helps to encourage the bilateral shoulder stability and strength. It is important to encourage children to hold onto the ropes with their hands and ensure that they are not using their elbows. Secondly, by using both legs together to pump the swing for momentum, overall motor planning and leg coordination are addressed.
Many playgrounds now have ladders or a modified wall to climb. These are great because they offer children the ability to use arms and legs simultaneously to hold and climb at the same time. Similar to the movement pattern children used while crawling. Children who did not crawl, skipping straight to walking, may demonstrate difficulty with these activities.
Other outdoor activities that help promote bilateral coordination skills that can be performed in your own yard include Zoomball, hopscotch, parachute play, bike riding and various sports. Zoomball allows children to use bilateral arms to move a plastic buoy back and forth along a rope by opening and closing hands simultaneously. Using some sidewalk chalk, design a hopscotch board in the driveway to allow children the ability to not only work on coordination of bilateral legs, but also core stability and balance. Getting a group of neighborhood children together for some parachute play is a great way to encourage bilateral upper extremity play. Bike riding, allows the simultaneous use of both legs to pedal and the use of both hands to hold on and steer. Bike riding is a difficult task for many children to master, so assessing the child's skills and choosing an appropriate ride on toy would be most beneficial.
So, if you have a child or are working with children who struggle with bilateral coordination skills, try to encourage the appropriate activities while enjoying the nice weather. Not only will it help to release some stored up winter energy, it will also assist with the child's overall daily completion of tasks at both home and school. It is time to venture outside and have double the fun!