After a lot of thinking and mulling and some stream-of-consciousness writing (which I will spare you from reading) to get to an idea for this week’s post, I stumbled, as if by magic, on a great idea for spending time with your kids and getting them out of doors (and with a weekend that is advertising sun galore and temperatures in the high 70s, where else would you want to be but outside?).
Curious? Well, I’ve got two words for you: obstacle course.
I’ll admit, if your kids are much older than 11 or 12, this may not interest them all that much, but if they’re on board, it’s relatively easy to set up an age-appropriate obstacle course in your own backyard for your kids to run, jump, and careen through. It doesn’t require expensive equipment or loads of prep time—you can plan it out with your kids in less than an hour and another hour or so for set up and/or putting together a few minor pieces of equipment is all that’s required (I’m not trying to show off or anything, but I usually make whatever I need). I’ve done this a number of times as a Cub Scout den leader and, let me tell you, nothing gets eight-year-old boys going like an obstacle course … especially if you tell them you want to see how fast they can go.
So, here’s what you do.
1. Plan for approximately 10 stations for the kids to run through against the clock. I’ve included a sample program for kids about 7–10 years old:
- Balance beam (about five inches off the ground and simply a 4×4 beam on feet to steady it)
- Jump rope 10 times
- Soccer ball dribble through cones
- Frisbee toss at target (e.g. a tree)
- “River” jump: Set two lengths of rope four or five feet apart and parallel to each other and have the kids jump over “the river” between the ropes (for even more excitement, tell ‘em it’s lava)
- Ten-yard crab walk (hopefully, you remember this one)
- Up and over: Let them scramble over something big like a picnic table; just be certain it’s stable and won’t tip over.
- Rope swing: If you have a sizeable tree in your yard, tie a rope up in it and have the kids swing over yet another river or lava pit.
- Somersault five times (just make sure they don’t drink too much juice beforehand)
- Run backwards for 10 yards
2. Actually take the time to draw a scaled plan or map of your backyard and then lay out the course on paper. This is a great way to show your kids how maps work at a scale they can relate to (i.e. their backyard).
3. Following your plan, lay the course out in your backyard so that your kids can run through it safely and without having to navigate too many obstacles that are not intended to be part of the course (like guy wires on a tree or a bird bath). I find snaking it back and forth usually works better than trying to make it into a big circle. And don’t forget to include a start and a finish line!
4. Have your kids do some slow test runs to work out any kinks. You may also find that you want to rearrange the order of obstacles for better flow or to accommodate the layout of your yard.
5. Grab a stopwatch and have fun! Challenge them to run through it faster each time. Odds are as they familiarize themselves with it, they will indeed get faster and have a true sense of accomplishment. Or maybe one of the challenges is something they have trouble with at first, but figure out how to master.
And there you have it. Pretty simple and you’ve probably got most of the stuff on-hand already. Take note: This is just a sample course; you may want to come up with completely different challenges for your own kids. Just don’t forget to pick ones that are appropriate for your kids’ ages and abilities as well as your yard. If you know your child has trouble with some particular physical skill, this is a great opportunity in the safe environment of their own backyard to work on mastering it by creating an obstacle to help them develop that skill.
Enjoy your weekend. On your mark, get ready, get set … GO!
The writer of The Balanced Guy, Roman Horoszewski, is not particularly balanced but he’s trying to be. He makes an effort by not only doing “guy stuff,” but also by spending time with his three sons and wife while attempting to remain informed about the world around him. He and his family live in the Princeton, N.J. area. His blog is at thebalancedguy.blogspot.com.