It took a while to arrive this year but Spring has finally sprung. In fact the last few days have felt a little bit like summer! Flowers are dazzling in their colours; birdsong is loud and clear; the vitality of the first flush of green leaves is mesmerising; bare feet and sun glasses are de rigueur. As for the sunshine, well, that puts a smile on everyone’s faces, boosts our Vitamin D and puts a bouncy spring in our step.
As we and the world around us shake winter off, it’s that spring in our step that forms the focus for our May Outdoors Column. Getting everyone outside is less onerous (although sun cream definitely rivals the winter layers!) and the kids are positively bursting out the door to play in the ever increasing daylight. The garden, the riverbank, the park, the woods, the fields, the beach; wherever it may be, outdoor spaces provide incredible natural playgrounds, for all of us. Add in the natural obstacle course idea to that space and we immediately have another fantastic activity and/or distraction which offers endless opportunities for exercise, movement, games, creativity, wellbeing and quality family time. And one that you will be dragging the kids home from! They can be super simple with just one stick or log or they can be transformed into a flowing assault course worthy of an Olympic Games.
So, where to start? Sometimes there are so many options for play that we don’t see any at all. Or we are moving so fast through life that we don’t give ourselves, or our families, enough time and space to use our imagination, be creative or actually stop and really see the environment around us. A little bit of intention when going outside can be powerful. Be mindful. Have an inkling of an idea up your sleeve and be amazed at what your children will come up with if you plant the smallest of seeds.
Stop… and look around you. Ask: what can you do here, what can you create in this space? Allow time for thinking, looking and discovering. Don’t be too quick to rush in and fill the gaps. It’s not always easy but if the children take ownership of the process and run with their own imagination the rewards of seeing the process through, playing with something that they themselves have created and seeing others play their game, or use their ideas, are huge. You may need to plant a seed by suggesting something to start with or balancing along a log in an exaggerated fashion or asking what happens if they join more than one activity together. Once they’ve begun they will be off!
As with so many things, when you start looking for things to include in a natural obstacle course you will see them everywhere! But if the term natural obstacle course presents an obstacle in itself, here are some ideas to help inspire you:
• make a log or stick into a balance beam;
• jump over logs/stones/paths/ditches/streams/people, or create markers to jump over;
• stepping stones might be in a burn, or simply between stones in a path or tree stumps;
• use sticks to create a zig zag path to jump, hop or skip along, keeping between the edges;
• vault over or jump off fallen trees or boulders;
• swing from branches, add markers to make a landing zone;
• climb up to a specific branch or fork in the tree;
• create circles with stones/leaves/branches and jump or hop between them, do different actions;
• in each one, use them to combine different elements of the course;
• roll down the hill or walk backwards to get to the next activity;
• use sticks to create a high jump or limbo pole;
• make a stick into javelin and see how far you can throw it;
• make a target and use fir cones/stones to test your throwing skills.
Take it up a level for older kids:
• add friends and divide into competitive teams;
• devise a points scoring system;
• ask each person to come up with an activity they like and then add all them altogether;
• can your older child(ren) create something suitable for your younger child(ren)?
• do the obstacle course in the style of an animal/creature of their choice;
• make it a Mini Olympics, create natural medals or crowns, find a stick to use as a starting gun and/or microphone to introduce the events and competitors;
• time it - practise makes perfect and beating your own score instills the very same sense of success and improvement that screen games enable, without the screens.
Natural obstacle courses are fun and stimulating. They can be super simple with just one stick or log or they can be transformed into a flowing assault course worthy of an Olympic Games. Creating them is an easy way to combat boredom and the idea that there is ‘nothing to do’ outside. It’s also a magical way to join in with the fun, after all, there is little more our children want from us than for us to play with them.
NB We try hard as a family and a business to ‘Leave no Trace’. It’s magical to find somewhere to play and it is even more magical if everyone who arrives after you has the same experience. Try not to leave built structures behind and never cut, saw or carve any living plant or tree. And most importantly of all, take anything you bring with you away with you, even biodegradable waste. It’s vital that we teach the next generation to respect and care for our environment.
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