When beautiful fall days turn into gray, wintry ones that get dark at 4pm, you need ideas of things to do indoors, including sneaky exercise games for the kids. Or, why not build an obstacle course for your kids? They'll love the challenge of having to complete each task, and you'll love the energy it can burn off and time it will keep them occupied. The best part? You can build this one with things you already have around the house. So read on for our guide to building your own in seven easy steps.
Gather any or all of these supplies: empty paper towel rolls or toilet paper rolls, a bouncy ball, flashcards, a kitchen spoon or ladle, kitchen tongs, a bucket or other large cup, pillows or couch cushions, a sheet or blanket, alphabet magnets, coins, dice, marbles, junky toys you get in a party goodie bag, a spinner from a board game, a toy that rolls (like a car, bus, or doll stroller), a bandanna or scarf, tape or yarn, and a book.
Map out some space for your course—it doesn’t have to be a lot! I do these for my daughter in the spare room of our apartment. Place a piece of tape, or a piece of yarn, at the “starting line.”
Pick a silly move your kid can do at the starting line to begin the obstacle course. A few ideas: strike a pose, do a dance, do three jumping jacks, spin around three times, pretend to be a certain animal—you get the idea.
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Pick a challenge, like balancing a book on your head, to move from one part of the course to the next.
Decide on some fun ways that your kid can get from obstacle to obstacle. A few ideas: crab walk, bear walk, slither like a snake, walk backwards, walk sideways, dance, walk with eyes closed, walk with a book on her head, and so on.
Set up some bigger physical obstacles. A few ideas: Drape a sheet between two chairs, where your child has to crawl under or limbo under. Pile some pillows that your kid has to “mountain climb” over. Put a small bouncy ball on the floor, which your kid has to pick it up with her toes and drop it into a paper towel roll suspended above a bucket. Place a toy that rolls at one station and have your kid push it with his nose to the next station. Have your kid push the bouncy ball with her nose across the floor into the paper towel roll (tape it down so it doesn't move).
Mix in small motor skills, too, such as carrying a toy via soup ladle. Up the challenge with a blindfold.
Mix the larger physical obstacles with smaller ones for fine motor skills. A few ideas: Pile some marbles or junky party favor toys on the floor next to some tongs or a ladle. Now, at this station, your child must transport each toy or marble, using the ladle or tongs, to a bucket or bowl at the next station. Make it more complicated by having her wear a blindfold. Or, set up a jar of alphabet flashcards or magnets and have her reach in, pick one, and say a word that begins with that letter before she can move on.
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Sneak in educational lessons with letter, color, or number challenges, depending on your child.
Personalize these ideas for your kid. Are you trying to work on numbers? Use a spinner from a board game at one station—he has to spin it and count to that number or do that station a certain number of times. Are you trying to teach the value of different coins or how to tell time? Make one station about identifying coins and their value, while blindfolded. Does she need to work on her handwriting? Have one station with letters to trace on paper.
The idea is to make a course suited best for your child. If all you want is to burn energy because you’re trapped inside during the winter, make every station about spinning, crab walking, climbing, and doing jumping jacks. A good way to tire them out is to make a station where a task is repeated over and over, like having them roll a pair of dice and do a certain move that number of times, or move a pile of something back and forth. If you have small hand weights at home, use them! Your kid will be thrilled to get to use grown-up equipment in the game.
A final tip: Make sure you time how long it takes your child to do the course, because when she finishes it, you can say, “Great! Do you think you can beat your time?”
All photos by the author