Playing outside provides more benefits than just fresh air. When the sun is out and the weather is warm enough to spend playtime outdoors, it is the perfect time to work outside on some activities to enhance your child’s motor skills. For children with developmental disabilities, time spent outdoors can be very valuable for both gross motor and fine motor skills and development. Having lots of space and new terrain makes for a new set of challenges, but also a new set of goals to be reached and achieved! Any of the activities listed in this handy guide can be modified or simplified as needed.
The term “developmental disability” encompasses both intellectual disability and physical disabilities. Some developmental disabilities are only physical, such as blindness from birth. Other developmental disabilities are physical and intellectual, such as those stemming from genetic or birth causes, like Down syndrome and fetal alcohol syndrome. There is value in everything a child experiences while outside, from exploring, to exercising, to socializing.
Below are 10 (plus one bonus!) outdoor spring activities for kids with developmental disabilities that will help to promote gross and fine motor skills.
Nature offers unique sensory experiences with sight, smell, taste, and touch. Your child has a lot to learn when given the freedom to explore the world around them, whether on a small backyard exploration, or a nature hike on a nearby park trail. Walking on uneven surfaces, such as hills, trails, or different surfaces like sand, rocks, stones, woodchips, etc. are challenges in themselves, and help build strength and endurance. Lying in the grass, watching the leaves rustle in the breeze, picking up dandelions, and smelling flowers are all sensations waiting to be discovered.
Collecting things on a nature walk is a fun exploratory activity. Encourage participants to work independently, exploring and collecting things like acorns, stones, leaves, or flowers. Then, have everyone meet up to compare what they have collected.
Incorporate different games on your walks, as well. Tell stories. Sing. Play follow the leader. Listen for nature sounds, and identify what animal or object is making the sound. Feel the objects you collect, like pine needles, dirt, or leaves. Smell the flowers. Or, bring a magnifying glass with you to inspect anything you find.
2. Coloring with Sidewalk Chalk
Sidewalk chalk is a fun activity for everyone, and it promotes movement and endurance. You can play sidewalk games like “hopscotch,” draw lines to follow, or mazes to find your way through. Activities like these encourage your child has to squat down, which strengthens his or her legs and torso. Meanwhile, learning how to properly hold the chalk helps with fine motor and grasping skills. Another fun sidewalk chalk activity is to trace your body. Have a participant lie down, and outline his or her body, or outline a friend. Then, let your child color in the outline’s face, outfit, etc.
3. Painting Outdoors
There is no better place to make a mess than outdoors! Lay some large painting pages down on the ground, fill a few pie tins with colored paint, and let your child paint as “big” as he or she can imagine. Having your child use his or her hands, feet, and body to paint encourages use of major muscle groups.
Rock painting is another fun outdoor that combines painting with an exploration activity. Finding the perfect rocks to paint is an adventure in itself, with gross motor skills being developed along the way. The painting aspect incorporates the fine motor activities of working with a smaller surface and smaller paintbrushes.
4. Outdoor Toys
Outdoor toys like jump ropes and hula hoops are great for outdoor play, as they encourage larger movements. Ribbon dancing sticks, bubbles, and many other toys encourage your child to use his or her imagination. These types of toys also require your child to stay in continuous motion with his or her arms and body, making this a stimulating activity.
5. Water Play
All children love splashing around in the water when the weather permits it. What many caregivers do not know is how key water play activities are to enhancing gross motor skills. Fill buckets of water, a baby pool or water table. Add scoopers, bath toys, squirt toys, or any object that will strengthen hand muscles and work in water for fine motor strengthening.
6. Team Sports
Playing catch, dribbling a ball, or kicking a ball back and forth, are ways to help your child develop hand-eye and hand-feet coordination, as well as motor planning skills. Have some space? Play volleyball with a balloon or beach ball, but allow players any number of hits on the ball to keep it off the ground and in play. Another favorite is parachute play. If you have a parachute, you can play a wide variety of games. You can add balls and “make popcorn,” or throw the parachute above your head and have participants run underneath while it is in the air. Adding a team element can also help in developing social skills, such as taking turns and learning good sportsmanship.
7. Yard Work
If you have gardening or maintenance projects to do around the house or yard, let your child help you! Collecting sticks, pulling weeds, planting flowers, using the hose, and raking leaves are all ways to help your child strengthen arm and leg muscles, work on balance and endurance, and so much more.
8. Visiting a Playground
If you have a local playground, plan a visit to use the equipment to strengthen your child’s muscles. At the playground, try and find a balance beam, or use a short curb, or even a line in a pathway! Have participants walk on the line for as long as they can, one foot in front of the other. Find the monkey bars to practice hanging. Swing on the swings to provide sensory stimulation. The play equipment usually has different levels that require using steps and slides to navigate. Doing so is a great way to work on spatial awareness, depth perception, and balance, just to name a few. Playgrounds engage multiple gross motor skills, and are among the best places to practice social skills with the other children who are sure to be there!
9. Outdoor Dance Party
Exercise to some music with your child and show off your dance moves! Pick out some good songs and encourage creative movement to music. Participants can dance to the beat of their own drum and move freely. Play Simon Says, starting with very simple, everyday movements like marching in place, stretching arms up, or touching toes. First, do the movements and have participants follow along with you. Then, say what to do, but do not move; have the participants listen and follow your directions.
Another fun, music-based game is Freeze. To play, stop the music and tell the participants to hold whatever position they are dancing in until the music begins again. No one needs to be “out” in any of these games; just have fun, and see what silly poses you and your child strike when the music stops!
10. Riding a Bike or a Scooter
For more physically able children, riding a bike or a scooter will help develop coordination, endurance and strengthening muscle groups.
11. Kite Flying
…And one more for good luck!
If you find yourself at the park on a perfect, windy day, try flying a kite, and see how high you and your child can send it soaring! With the perfect conditions and the right equipment, kite flying can be exciting, enjoyable, and challenging motor activity for all participants.
These are just a few activities that you can do outdoors on a nice Spring day, which will successfully get children with developmental disabilities to burn energy, and have fun doing it.
Integrity Inc. is a non-profit, community services organization. We provide alternative, community-based, in-home care, and rehabilitative therapy services to treat intellectual and developmental disabilities in Little Rock. Located in Central Arkansas and licensed by the Division of Developmental Disability Services of the Department of Human Services (DHS), Integrity supports qualified adults in their homes by providing habilitation training, enabling them to be mainstreamed into the community, rather than institutionalized and isolated.
The Integrity Day Care, and EIDT -Early Intervention Day Treatment Center, provides a nurturing center for regular daycare, as well as for children with special needs.
Visit our website, or call us at (877) 452-9504 to learn more about how Integrity helps qualified individuals be independent in their community. Check out Integrity’s Blog to read about Home Care, Habilitative Therapy, Disability Services, Elder Care, Foster Care, and Child Care Services.