During the winter months, cold weather and school closings can lead to frequent stay-at-home days. While children are drawn to TV and electronics, there are many benefits to promoting physical activities and sensory motor play. Here are a few OT approved, fun indoor activities to foster fine and gross motor skills for a variety of ages.
Create an Indoor Obstacle Course
Create a circuit using household furniture and other items. Use pillows to roll or tumble across. Try to jump between washcloths or traverse the living room furniture without touching the floor. This activity encourages physical activity, including increasing core and extremity strength, as well as motor planning skills. Plus, it can be easily varied to suit your child's age and abilities.
Build an Indoor Fort
Grab a few bed sheets, blankets and pillows. Use some rubber bands and clothespins to secure sheets to dining room chairs or furniture. Encourage your child to build her own fort. This activity takes time to build, which requires sequencing, visual spatial skills and motor planning skills. Afterwards, your child may spend hours hiding out, reading, playing games or relaxing within her new fortress. Additionally, forts can create a calming effect on one's nervous system.
Princess and Knight Battle Bags
You will need a few brown paper bags and a marker. Decorate each bag with letters, math problems, sight words, characters or emotion faces (sad, happy, confused, mad). Next, find something that can be used to knock the bags down, like a kitchen ladle or a child designed magic wand/cardboard sword. Place the brown paper bags in an upright position, and have your child cross the room knocking them over. To make this activity more challenging try to set a record. Time your child and see if she can beat her high score or have your child identify the letter, emotion, etc., on the bag as she knocks it down. This activity will facilitate visual spatial awareness, visual scanning, motor planning, midline crossing and eye-hand coordination.
Bake Valentine's Day Cookies
Baking is a sensory rich activity that enhances sequencing, measuring and mixing. Making cookies is accompanied by different smells, tastes and textures. Let your child help with measuring, combining and mixing ingredients. Have her squeeze frosting from a bag and decorate with small sprinkles and candy. These activities will foster arm and hand strength, grading of force (while she pours and measures ingredients), bilateral coordination and grasping skills.
Yoga is a great form of exercise for adults and children. Weight-bearing exercises help to build core and extremity strength. Additionally, the proprioceptive input (sensation from your muscles and joints) and attention to one's breath has a calming affect on our central nervous system and mental well-being. Yoga will challenge your child's body awareness, balance reactions, motor planning, endurance and strength. Yoga poses (such as the cat-cow, bridge and triangle, and forward fold) are helpful with the integration of primitive developmental reflexes.
Blue Tape & Yarn Games
Use blue tape to create boxes, shapes and letters on the floor. Don't worry, the tape can be easily applied to a variety of household surfaces without damage. Have your child practice hopscotch, jumping with two feet together or throwing stuffed animals at targets. Use the blue tape to make a road for your child to crawl, animal walk or drive her matchbox car through. Depending on your child's age, have her call out sight words, math problems or letters as she jumps from each tape box. Place a piece of yarn across the room to make a net for a game of indoor balloon volleyball or secure the yarn to multiple surfaces to create a human spider web. The possibilities are endless. These games provide plenty of room for creativity and the fostering of gross motor, visual motor and core strength.
This activity can be as long and adventurous as you would like depending on how many clues are used, where they are placed and their complexity they are (riddles, handwritten codes, word play, etc.) You can encourage your child to practice reading by including sight words. This game also facilitates problem solving, receptive language, visual memory and scanning, and encourages attention to task as she navigates around the house looking for clues. Make this activity more rewarding by adding a "mystery prize" to the final location.
Engage your child's senses and curiosity by building a sensory box. With hundreds of options for items to put in the sensory box, the possibilities are limitless. Here are a few suggestions to help get you started:
Consider the touch and smell that certain textures add (coffee beans, pine cones, cinnamon sticks). Encourage your child to search for objects within the texture, using tweezers to pick up beads, rice or other small objects. Sensory boxes are ideal for helping your child foster grasping skills. Plus, they enrich your child's ability to tolerate touch and smell sensations. Try using various textures, whether dry or wet, to invoke a sensory rich experience.
Brittany White, M.S., OTR/L is an Occupational Therapist at the Treatment and Learning Centers in Rockville. To learn more visit TTLC.org.