For me, the playground was an intimidating frontier. Charlie had significant developmental delays. I had no idea how to play with her at a park and it hurt to see her peers run circles around her. In this post, I share a few ideas that worked for us.
Charlie’s motor skills were very limited for quite a while. Her hands were fisted longer than they should have been, she couldn’t roll over, and she wasn’t strong enough to hold a toy. During this time, I laid Charlie and her stuffed animal toy on a blanket near the playground. She liked to hear the sounds of other kids and look around. It encouraged her to turn her head which helped with her toriticolis.
As her therapy progressed, she improved and gained head control. Yet, she was unable to sit. Charlie’s dad and I took turns playing on the playground equipment with Charlie on our laps. We took it slow and supported her where she needed it.
When Charlie was able to sit supported, she took on the swings. She liked to lean up against the front of the swing and stabilize herself with her arms. I gently pushed the swing so that it barely moved.
After Charlie’s first birthday, she started to sit independently and was interested in other kids. That stage posed different challenges. Charlie wanted to play with her peers but her physical delays limited her interactions. During this phase, I took a king sized flat sheet to the park along with several toys. Charlie played on the sheet near the playground and other kids often joined her.
Charlie’s skill set continued to improve. Before she could walk and stand, I looked at playground apparatuses and brainstormed ways for her to use it. As she crawled, she bounced over bridges and used the jungle gym to practice standing. I encouraged her to touch and explore the mulch, grass, dirt, and other textures.
Now, Charlie is almost two. She is starting to walk and is beginning to climb. In response, I have adapted our play again. The stairs at the playground are perfect for her to practice on. Due to the open design, I am able to assist her with the motions and can catch her as needed. She also enjoys climbing (with my assistance) up the jungle gym. I let her do the work she is able to do. When she is feeling brave, she will try a solo ride down the small slide. Of course, she is still a fan of the swings.
Honestly, the playground was a tough venue for me. A few times I went home fighting back tears of frustration or hurt. To come up with play ideas, I focused on what Charlie could do and thought of ways to utilize or incorporate the skill. There was a lot of trial and error involved. But, it has been worth it. The playground is one more place to encourage skill development and Charlie loves to play outside.