Your toddler crawls through a cardboard-box tunnel, runs to shoot a ball into a laundry basket, and then hops with both feet over ropes on the floor. He’s mastering the DIY obstacle course you made! You notice that each time he does it, he learns new ways to move with more accuracy, and he’s getting faster too.
Obstacle courses have many benefits for toddlers, and you can easily make them with items you have around the house, including toys, boxes, and crafting supplies. Here are the essential skills a toddler-sized obstacle course can improve:
Gross motor skills and planning
Obstacle courses encourage a wide range of movements. From jumping and hopping to crawling and running, your little one must use his arms, legs, hands, feet, and torso to wiggle, twist, and work his way through each part of the course. He gets stronger and more balanced as he strengthens his muscles and coordination. Not only is this a great way to get some fun exercise, it’s also an excellent way to work on motor planning. This skill is helps your toddler eventually complete the obstacle course faster as he remembers how to move his body more efficiently to complete each step.
Following directions and sequencing
Around 24 months, your toddler can begin to understand two-step directions, which will help him complete obstacle courses: “First, toss the ball; then, jump on the trampoline,” for example. He understands that tossing a ball comes before the part where he jumps on a trampoline. This also teaching sequencing, an essential skill for counting, developing a sense of time, and narrative skills.
Your toddler also learns directional skills while using an obstacle course. This is different than following directions. Instead, it focuses on understanding words and movements like up, down, over, under, left, right, and straight, to name a few. It may be a while before your toddler knows what each of them means, but using them to describe the movements he makes on the obstacle course will help them click.
Toddlers can experience several sights, textures, and sounds when they go through the course, especially if you make one outside! From touching the grass with his hands as he crawls to feeling the fresh air on his face as he comes out of the tunnel, he’s exposing his senses to varied sensory information. Using a range of materials and items in the obstacle course – like bubbles, water, pool noodles, and ropes – can increase the sensory input that this type of play provides.
Now it’s time for your own DIY obstacle course. Our BabySparks program has fun ideas for this!