Children learn so much when playing at the park. These 4 skills also help a child eat a wider variety and improve their concentration for more efficient eating:

  1. Creativity and Forming Ideas Relating to Eating- pretend and imaginative play sets the scene for social interactions. Eating is a very social activity.
  2. Proprioceptive Sensory Skills – this helps a child learn about the “push” and “pull” sensations on their body – how hard to press, how much force to use. Getting proprioceptive input also helps children “reset”
  3. Crossing the midline is known to improve brain communication between the left and right sides (read more on midline crossing here)
  4. Getting a sense for where they are in space and their balance prepares children for sitting for longer periods of time (aka more than 5 minutes at the table)

It’s no secret I am a big fan of sensory play!  Like the time I encouraged you all to embrace mess, explained why playing with food outside of mealtimes is awesome and watched my girls get messy with this edible paint and vegetable activity.

Simone’s Video Explaining the Value of Gross Motor and Imaginative Play at the Park on Developing Feeding Skills

Whilst playing at the park, there are a range of skills being developed and different bodily systems being engaged.  Most local parks have a range of play equipment that is similar to what is shown in my video, otherwise you may have some similar things at home too.

So what is being developed during park play? (not an all inclusive list)

Balancing works our vestibular sensory system which helps improve our sense of spatial orientation. It also engages the proprioceptive sense of contacting our feet to the surface.  This all helps get feedback loops happening for kids and prepares them for motor planning tasks better (like planning HOW to eat each item of food they will be presented). A moving/bouncing bridge is also brilliant for some more unpredictable vestibular system processing! With unpredictability like that on a bouncy bridge, it’s no wonder kids are scared of walking across it!  Especially when others may be on it and moving it in unexpected ways (like jumping).

Crossing the mid line is when we move one body part into the zone of an opposite one.  Activities that have a child cross their mid line build pathways in the brain. This helps them build various motor and cognitive skills (like reading!) Some mid line crossing activities include:

  1. Scooping sand or bark from one side of the body and putting it into a bucket on the opposite side of the body without switching hands.
  2. Crossing a balance beam with obstacles in the way
  3. Spinning a large wheel with a hand over hand action (some pirate ship parks may have them)
  4. Using stepped, single hand holder monkey bars (where you only have enough room for one hand)

Swings activate the core muscles.  Also, being on a swing allows us to integrate the vestibular system (feedback about the movement) and get proprioceptive input (getting feedback about where we are).

Sand is a sensory seekers joy and a sensory avoider’s nightmare. Sand play is great for a range of reasons – I love it for the sensory resilience building and stimulation on the feet and hands (I would love it more if it didn’t also want to come home in the car with us!)

Imagination can be used so much in everyday situations and the park is a brilliant enabler. The shop front is a classic piece of equipment in the park. I often use this as an opportunity to introduce some fun banter about the foods that we are going to have for lunch.

Transition Skills

All of these inputs are great, but whilst kids are in “play mode”, how is it possible to move them to the lunch table for a happy mealtime?

1) Give a warning system (5 min, 2 min, 1 min) and use it consistently (when out and when at home) in a positive tone. Children will also be much happier if they are reassured that they can play again after lunch – make sure that you allow time for this.
2) As you move to the eating area give them an element of control / imagination – eg. “where would you like the picnic blanket set-up, in spot A or B?”, “Can you carry the bag for me to that table?”, “Can we pretend to be space rockets on the way to the table?”
3) Have an activity at the table for a prepare to eat routine – this can just be a quick round of Simon says point to your elbows, eye brows, knees, chin, nose and ears.  Blowing bubbles is also really great.
4) Ask your child choose one item at a time from a communal lunchbox avoids them feeling swamped by the task at hand.
5) Stay positive and instigate clean-up time in a timely manner.

What is your child’s favourite equipment at the park?  What sensory systems do you think it works on?

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