Let’s get physical


Deidre Pate Omahen


Children feel better and grow stronger when they feel the joy of movement. This is especially important for children who have physical limitations. Here are some fun ideas to help you begin your day of physical play.


Create a hide-and-seek dressing game. Pin an exercise to several pieces of your children's clothing, such as flap your arms like a bird 20 times, climb up and down the stairs two times or dance across the room for five minutes. Hide the clothing around the room and have your child find them, do the activities and get dressed in the process.

Morning stretching

Get out a sturdy rope or rolled up beach towel or sheet and have your children play tug of war. Draw a line with tape and put pillows around for kids to fall on. Start with traditional tugging, but then mix it up a bit and have them tug to the left, tug to the right, tug up high over their head and down low towards the ground.

Morning play activity

Make an inside or outside obstacle course. Here are some fun examples: In one corner of the course have your child roll dice to determine how many seated or standing jumping jacks to complete, in another corner have them draw a playing card to determine how many times they have to touch their toes and in another have them roll like a log while singing, "Row, Row, Row Your Boat." Other ideas: crawl through tunnels (you can use boxes), walk like a wheelbarrow (you hold their legs up off the ground, and they walk on their hands) and teach them to do the crab walk (legs and arms bent with hands and feet on the ground, tummy up towards the ceiling). Part of the course can include a large ball to bounce, roll, throw or spin around with. The Rib-It-Ball by Bill and Bud Inc. is a good choice. It is multi-sensory and has ribs to grab.

Afternoon play time

Start a pickup game. Bring some sports equipment like baseballs and bats to the park and find other children to join in a baseball game. Start with the bases close together and gradually move them farther apart to encourage walking/running longer distances. If hitting a baseball with a bat is a challenge, try the ESPN Better Batter Baseball by Fisher-Price/Mattel.

Time to refuel

With your focus on being physical, use lunch to reinforce healthy nutrition. Plan a lunch with protein, fresh fruits, nuts (if your child can tolerate them) and don't forget to sneak in those vegetables.

Late afternoon playtime

Get ready for an Olympic skating competition. Gather up some old shoe boxes and have children step into their "racing skates" and glide across the floor in a skating motion. Encourage them to swing their arms to get that full bilateral body motion. Fun Slide Carpet Skates by Simtec takes this idea a step farther.


When it is time to wind down, talk about the day and have your child set goals for the next physical day of play. Learn what they liked and disliked to hone in on activities that reward them physically and emotionally.

Learn More

With so many toys to choose from, picking the right ones for a child with disabilities can be difficult. That's where AblePlay, created by the National Lekotek Center, comes in. Its independent toy reviews and ratings help parents find the best toys to match their child's abilities and interests. Search for AblePlay-rated toys at www.ableplay.org.

Deidre Pate Omahen is a mom, a Chicago Special Parent advisory board member and director of programs at the National Lekotek Center in Chicago.


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