Friday, February 7, 2014

Preschool/Toddler Obstacle Course

It's been a long, cold, snowy and icy winter here so far, with no sign of the weather improving anytime soon. It's no wonder that the little ones visiting the library are feeling antsy--they've been cooped up for weeks with little space for running around! What better reason to offer a library program that rich with play and that exercises gross motor skills and fun muscles* at the same time?

That's what we did at my library for our toddlers and preschoolers, and boy oh boy was it a hit! I set up a number of "obstacle" activity stations throughout our program room, and after an initial welcome and some stretching to loosen up, the kiddos were free to play at whatever obstacle stations they pleased. The obstacle options were:

Small Tunnel - I set out a medium-length, see-through tunnel for kids to crawl into and roll around in. Of course they found additional ways to use the tunnel, too, including as a vertical tube of "hiding" and as a chute down which to toss balls.

Big Tunnel of Awesome - This zig-zaggy tunnel was created from four big furniture delivery boxes that I saved when my branch got some new meeting room chairs in the fall. I pieced them together with the help of a colleague and some book tape, and the boxes fit well while also allowing mid-tunnel "secret" exits in case any child had an in-tunnel freak out. Never fear; the children were completely in love with the Tunnel of Awesome. I witnessed some pretty stellar play happening in and around this tunnel, my favorite of which was a little girl pretending to be a little pig while her dad was the big bad wolf. The power of play to connect to literacy, anyone?

Hoop Jumping - I set five hula hoops on the floor so the kiddos could jump from hoop to hoop.

Parachute with Foam Balls - Some of the children had fun playing with the parachute; some with the foam balls; and some with the parachute and balls together. In addition to the motor skill action here, there was plenty of chatter about colors.

Sack Hopping - With a set of jumping sacks and a duct tape alley drawn on the carpet, children worked on not only hopping, but also figuring out how to get in and out of the sacks. I demonstrated plenty of silly ways to get in and out of those sacks, too.

Baby Station - Even though the program was geared for toddlers and preschoolers, I knew baby siblings would be in attendance as well. I set out one of our story time rugs in a corner of the room, and on there I placed our soft blocks and two wooden play centers. This station was a perfect congregating point for caregivers with their little ones, while still within easy view of the action of the rest of the room.

Drawing Station - In the midst of all this running around and gross motor skill development, I thought it prudent to include a drawing station to provide downtime and some fine motor work. With crayons and paper set out on tables at the far end of the meeting room, I invited kids to draw pictures of their own imaginary obstacle courses. The results were pretty great, and I loved getting to hear the kids talk about what they were going to build at home.

Our program was originally scheduled for just 30 minutes, but I didn't have a problem with families opting to stay a bit longer. Everyone was just having so much fun! I also set out a number of books from our non-fiction collections that focus on at-home and rainy-day games for young children. I had a number of outstanding conversations with caregivers throughout the program about the benefits of all these gross motor movements and the importance of play.

When it comes down to it, there's no need to feel more cooped up in winter that we absolutely have to. And there's nothing quite like running a bit amok to emphasize that.

An excellent rendering of an imaginary obstacle course.

*I can't believe I just used the term "fun muscles."


  1. Another fun and creative idea from the Amy-mind! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks, Marge! Caregivers were happy to give their kids a chance to get out some of that pent-up energy, and I was happy to have an opportunity to talk about why that's important.

  2. This is so awesome! I could see myself altering this program for my middle schoolers.

    1. I'd love to see a middle school version, Diana!


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