Whether you are facing a long car trip, a rainy afternoon, or just need to release some wiggles – creating an obstacle course is a great way to get to get kids calm and happy.

Research shows that when we change our physical state – through movement or relaxation, for example – we can change our emotional state. – Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, The Whole Brain Child

 But sometimes it’s hard to know how to start the obstacle course.  It is also tricky to make it engaging enough so that kids can keep the momentum up.

I find narrative is the best way to make kids both love the course and stay the course!


Create the story of the obstacle course

  • Use plot or characters your child loves.  If they are in a dinosaur phase or obsessed with a certain Disney movie – go for those characters but re-invent the narrative!
  • If you want to create an original story, use story cards or Story Clap to practice structure and beginning-middle-end.  Use the tale your kids invent as a launchpad for your story
  • use improv to help make the story together and don’t be afraid of randomness or silliness!
  • find a clear conflict so that you add drama to the physical adventure. Boost your kid’s bravery by adding in “scary” elements but in a playful way!

Involve your kid in the obstacle course set-up

This is great practice of “planning” – a key executive functioning skill.  When they map out the route and the direction they can take ownership over the game but also strategize the most fun and challenging route they want.

  • Set up the path/track together so that it is challenging and fits with your narrative..
  • Create a clear physical challenge (this adds to the drama!).  You could take on a character or simply use the setup to add the conflict (“The floor is made of hot lava!”)

Add gross motor challenges to the obstacle course

Depending on what your child needs to work on, this is a great opportunity to practice skills they may need help with for big muscle development.  (“Hop from the sofa to the pillow”. “Summer-salt three times to get down the hall!”)

Add in some Yoga, Deep Breathing, or even Animal Yoga along the path.

Learn about why the obstacle course is a good way to chill out

It is always empowering to learn about why certain games help kids.  We love our expert weigh-in from Dr. Belinda Bellet from Brooklyn Heights Behavioral Associates whose explanation of the “cognitive triangle” is a great way to understand how this game makes for calm kids.

Record the obstacle course

If you loved the story you made, find a clever way to document it.

  • Take a time-lapse video of your kids going on the course!
  • Record the story as a voice memo
  • Draw squares on a paper and kids can make the cartoon of their obstacle course.  They can draw the main dramatic event in each square and create their own graphic novel!

However you decide to make your obstacle course, enjoy the story behind the jumping, leaping and slithering.

See you next week!


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