Brett Klika by Brett Klika
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Trees, rocks, hillsides and the like are arguably some of the best fitness “equipment” ever created. For millennia, humans maintained and improved their physical performance while navigating these and other environmental obstacles as part of their survival. Today, however, we live in a world where we must find ways to create physical challenges to stay strong and healthy. Obstacle courses have become a popular and effective way to do this.

The fitness benefits derived from navigating obstacle courses are even more pronounced in young children. During the early stages of development, particularly prior to puberty, little brains and bodies are like sponges. In addition to improving fitness, the novel tasks of an obstacle course help children develop sensory skills like spatial ability, proprioceptive awareness and more.

When many educators think of an obstacle course for kids, they envision a significant amount of equipment, space and setup. The good news is that with a few basic pieces of playground equipment and minimal space, an instructor can create a fun and effective obstacle course that challenges and engages children.

Cones, chairs, benches, ladders, sidewalk chalk and other readily available tools can be used to create barriers that kids learn to navigate under, over, around and through. Obstacle courses do not need to be elaborate. The benefits from this type of physical challenge come from children having to create and modify various movement strategies in succession. For example, they may have to crawl along a zig-zag line, step over a line of cones and then walk backward on a line for balance. Participants not only have to quickly figure out how to navigate each novel task, they must quickly switch movement strategies for each challenge.

When creating obstacle courses, consider the different locomotion skills children must learn. Activities such as skipping, crawling, jumping and shuffling should be included as movement strategies through the course. To create challenges associated with obstacles, consider the different ways a movement progression could be modified (e.g., over, under, around and through different pathways). With this loose framework, creating obstacle courses for kids becomes fun and easy.

Below are five examples of simple obstacle courses using minimal space and the following equipment:
1. Sidewalk chalk
2. Cones
3. Bench/chair(s)

Each course consists of four movement challenges. While more challenges can be added to each course, children’s capacity to remember successive movements is limited. Most educators experience greater success using fewer challenges, particularly when working with kids eight years and younger.

Instruct children to enter the course in succession, waiting until the first child has completed the first challenge before the next child begins the course. Station 4 is merely a return to the first station. No setup should be required for this station. Repeat each course for one to three minutes. These courses are fun and effective by themselves or can be used as part of a larger circuit.

Course 1: Jump, Shuffle and Roll
1. Using sidewalk chalk, create a meandering line on the ground using the space available. Instruct the children to shuffle along the line, following the path created by the line. For indoors, create a path by placing jump ropes in configurations on the floor.

2. Create a line of cones with roughly 20?30 inches between each cone in the space available.

3. Set up a bench/chair(s). (Note: Be sure to use chairs that have space for kids to move underneath.)

Movement: 1. Shuffle along chalk path => 2. Jump over cones => 3. Crawl under chair => 4. Roll back to the starting line

Course 2: The Balancing Crab
1. Create a line of cones with roughly 20?30 inches between each cone in the space available.

2. Using sidewalk chalk, create a meandering line on the ground using the space available. For indoors, create a path by placing jump ropes in configurations on the floor.

3. Set up one or more benches or chairs. (Note: Be sure to use benches or chairs that have space for kids to move underneath.)

Movement: 1. Crab walk while keeping hips above the cones => 2. Jump side to side over the chalk line => 3. Step on and off the bench/chair(s) => 4. Heel/toe walk backwards to the starting line

Course 3: The Animal
1. Set up one bench or chair.
2. Create a line of cones with roughly 20?30 inches between each cone in the space available.
4. Using sidewalk chalk, create a meandering line on the ground using the space available. For indoors, create a path by placing jump ropes in configurations on the floor.

Movement: 1. Skip a circle around the bench/chair => 2. Shuffle backward in and out of the cones => 3. Run along chalk path => 4. Animal crawl back to the starting line

Course 4: The Galloping Gopher
1. Using sidewalk chalk, create a straight line on the ground using the space available. Any line on the floor/ground will suffice.
2. Lay out the cones in a “Z” formation with roughly 15?20 feet between cones in the space available.
3. Set up one or multiple bench/chair(s). (Note: Be sure to use benches or chairs that have space for kids to move underneath.)

Movement: 1. Lateral step-over balance along the chalk line => 2. Gallop around the cones (Z formation) => 3. Crawl under the bench/chair => 4. Bound back to the starting line

Course 5: Crawling Chaos
1. Create a line of cones with roughly 20?30 inches between each cone in the space available.
2. Set up one or multiple bench/chair(s). (Note: Be sure to use benches or chairs that have space for kids to move underneath.)
3. Using sidewalk chalk, create a meandering line on the ground using the space available. For indoors, create a path by placing jump ropes in configurations on the floor.

Movement: 1. Crawl in and out of the cones => 2. Step over the bench/chair(s) => 3. Hop side-to-side over the line (switch legs halfway) => 4. March backward to the starting line

Equipment such as agility ladders, balance beams, BOSU® balls, hurdles and high boxes may also be used to create even more dynamic challenges. Adding implements that must be carried, bounced, dribbled or thrown and caught can increase the novelty and challenge of the different stations. For example, a child could skip in and out of the cones while bouncing a ball. Prior to adding implements to obstacle courses, make sure there are enough available so waiting for equipment doesn’t become a distraction.

Creating obstacle courses to help kids improve their fitness and physical literacy can be both simple and fun. Consider the “obstacles” you may have access to and start engaging your kids to move today.

It's never too late to learn and to expand your client offerings! Check out other ACE Certifications or ACE Specialist programs, such as the Fitness Nutrition Specialist program.

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