As a society we're coming to realize the importance of outdoor play. It's particularly crucial for kids with disabilities to get out and get moving. So here are some ideas to build a day of outdoor play.
Before you burst out into the sunshine, make sure your child gets a healthy breakfast to fuel their activities. Children with disabilities are often at risk for overheating, so pay particular attention to hydrating kids throughout the day and don't forget to lather on sunscreen before heading out.
Before the temperature gets too warm, begin with a bike trip. You can cover a lot of ground, get great exercise and deliver adventure, exploration and a sense of accomplishment. Fortunately with many of the new bikes and trikes out there, this activity is available to more and more children of varying abilities.
We have two to check out. The Buddy Bike-a new twist on tandem-places the child in front of the adult. The parent can keep an eye on the child while the kid gets a front row view of the world. Another great model is the YBike. This unique hybrid calls for less balancing than a typical bike and is propelled by a child's feet on the ground versus pedals.
Luckily, there are now many adaptive bikes appropriate for children with special needs. To research more, go to lekotek.org for a list of adaptive product companies.
Try bike paths rather than busy streets. Some of my favorites are the Illinois Prairie Path in DuPage County and Fullersburg Woods Forest Preserve Loop.
There are two activities kids have gravitated to for centuries. The first is throwing stuff and the second is knocking stuff down. You can invent your own version of activities for either of these concepts. Be creative and allow kids to use their hands, wiffle bats or their whole bodies to push, tumble and roll.
Build a pyramid of canisters, plastic cups or containers and let kids either toss at or topple into them (this works with wheelchairs, too).
Little Tikes has versions for both tossing and tumbling with its TotSports Bean Bag Toss (with adjustable difficulty levels and auditory feedback) and TotSports Bowling Set (with easy finger holes and balls that rattle). Both work great indoors or out.
Outside is the perfect place to get down and dirty (another activity kids have loved forever!). This might involve playing in the sand, making mud pies or rolling down an incline on the lawn. For children unable to roll, put them on a sheet and pull them around for fun, stimulation and laughs. Speaking of mud, Little Tikes even makes a table set called Makin' Mud Pies that brings the mud or sand to wheelchair or easy access level and includes a mixer and sink.
End your kid's day with a soothing bath and quiet time by asking them to share their favorite memories from their day in the sun and you share tales of exciting outdoor adventures yet to come.
Deirdre Pate Omahen is director of programs at the National Lekotek Center in Chicago, a member of the Chicago Special Parent advisory board and a mom.