As a mom and a physical therapist, I’m passionate about helping kids explore, stay active, and access their world. Movement plays a special role in developing a child’s cognitive and motor skills.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says children need at least 1 hour of physical activity a day. What you might not know is that exercise helps kids in a way that’s just as important to their overall development as it is to building a healthy lifestyle or even promoting good heart health.

Movement activates the parts of the brain connected to learning. In other words: your child learns through movement!

For children with special healthcare needs, all of this is still true. The activities may need to be more structured or adapted to their need, but every child benefits greatly from exploring their environment and experiencing moments of discovery.

The keys to help keep kids moving are to create an environment of exploration, keep it fun, and get outside as much as you can!

For children with mobility difficulties:

When children can’t move through the world as easily on their own, sensory experiences are a great way to help them be creative, independent explorers. Moving through and reacting to their world helps kids build important skills like understanding cause and effect and building hand-eye coordination.

  • When a child is in a wheelchair, help them explore their environment by making an obstacle course for them to practice their coordination and depth perception. You can have streamers they need to pass under, boxes to drive between, and a finish line to break through.
  • As long as children are dressed appropriately for the weather and aren’t medically restricted from being outside, the cold weather doesn’t need to keep them inside. Feeling fresh air and experiencing the various weather throughout the year gives them more understanding of the world.
  • Explore different textures like tree bark and leaves, feeling fresh air, touching snow, or dropping things into a puddle or pool. Take a check list and help them find rough and smooth surfaces, and warm and cool temperatures.
  • On really cold days, bring some snow inside! Let them touch and squish the snow, or drop food coloring into it.

For children without mobility difficulties:

  • Go on a park tour! Walk, bike, or drive to several playgrounds to explore and play on multiple environments and practice lots of movements. Get them crawling through tunnels or climbing with hands and feet.
  • Kids don’t need structured play to learn and have fun. For example, you can get your child started with a sled and the proper snow equipment in the backyard, but they will naturally find ways to create a game. My kids loved piling snow into the sled, or carting around an old stuffed animal.
  • If you’re going to have them sled, wearing a helmet is the best choice to keep them safe. However, kids don’t need a steep hill to have fun. The smallest slope is an adventure when you’re learning.
  • Kids will naturally explore their environment, so give them an interesting environment whenever possible.

Being from Iowa, I know there really are days that kids should not play outside. Here are some ideas to keep in your back pocket for those days!

  • Get moving with a dance party! You can make it as simple as turning music on and trying out new moves, or get more complicated by using electronic dance games like Dance Dance Revolution.
  • Scavenger Hunt: Hide something and make some clues. If they are old enough – they can try making one! If following clues is too tough, or if they can’t read, simply have them stay in one room while you hide something in another room.
  • Parent and Kid Yoga videos are a great option to stay moving with your child. YouTube is full of great kid-friendly yoga, dance, or exercise videos for kids.
  • Build activity into your routine! Take your cleaning up a level with the 10-minute tidy. For this game, everyone cleans up the house together as much as possible in ten minutes, literally running from place to place. Have everyone line up like a race before you start to increase the sense of competition and fun.
  • Before my kids were in school, I’d take them to the mall before the stores opened in the morning and let them run…and run…and run! We went outside or to the mall every day to keep them active. The mall is free, warm, and most even have a play place. Just make sure to bring your hand sanitizer, too!

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ChildServe improves the health and well-being of nearly 4,500 children each year through specialized clinical, home, and community-based programs and services. We serve children with developmental delays, disabilities, acquired injuries, and other special healthcare needs.

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