Thursday, October 30, 2008

Halloween Game: Ghost Dancing

I just asked Grant, my 4-year-old grandson, "What was your favorite game that we played at your preschool’s Halloween party today?" He replied, “Try to keep your ghost up in the air.”

He and his other classmates loved this active play game that required some open space, music and white balloons to make “ghosts.” Teachers/parents can set the tone for this game by explaining that their “ghost” (white balloon) has been stuck in the attic for almost a year and wants to come out and play with them; try not to let the ghosts touch the floor or they might want to stay forever! The kids are exuberant as they jump and dance, keeping their ghosts up in the air. Hoots and howls abound!

Materials needed for this activity:
Balloons, blown up (a 9” or 11” helium-quality balloon works well)
Indoor open play space
Music (Halloween music is fun for this) and Music Player

How to play:
1. Start with children sitting in a circle.
2. Give each child an inflated balloon "ghost." (If you are working with very young children or children who may be tempted to chew on broken balloons, blow up the balloon inside a knee-high stocking. This will keep the balloon pieces contained if the balloon should accidentally pop.)
3. Tell the children that when they hear music they are to stand up and keep their balloon up in the air with their hands. When the music stops they are to catch their balloon and sit down as quickly as they can.
4. The game continues with the starting and stopping of music, usually continuing as long as the length of one song. Make the game more difficult by stopping and starting the music at shorter intervals.

Besides the obvious FUN, children will benefit from this activity by—
  • Getting physical activity, which is any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that results in energy expenditure
  • Getting health-related fitness, defined as components of physical fitness that are related in a positive manner to health and well-being—cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility and body composition
  • Building gross motor skills by using the large muscles of the arms, legs and trunk
  • Practicing listening skills by following directions
  • Building space awareness, which means knowing where the body can and should move in relationship to other people in the play space
  • Understanding shared space as all of the designated play space that can be used by everyone
  • Engaging in cooperative play, which are games and activities that the participants play together rather than against one another

Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Where Have All the Swing Sets Gone?

As I visit preschools and observe children playing outside I am continually reminded that the swing set that was once a staple on every playground is now absent. Swing sets seem to be disappearing like dinosaurs of an era long gone—they are becoming extinct!

I’ve heard the reasons. Children can pinch their fingers while grasping the chain; other children can run in front of a child swinging and get hurt; swings present a safety hazard on the playground. Strict federal guidelines, state licensing and the insurance costs make it impossible to keep swings where they once were. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission Handbook for Public Playground Safety requires that swings be set apart from any other structure, with a clearance both in front and back equal to twice the height of the swings, and six feet of clearance on either side. That’s sometimes most of the space in a typical preschool playground! And the standards also call for costly new playground surfacing beneath swings to cushion falls. There are certainly unsafe swing sets out there but to totally eliminate them has created some unexpected developmental delays for many children. Swing sets are being torn down but nothing is being erected in their place that offers the same contributions to a child’s physical, cognitive and social development.

When a child is swinging, both the vestibular system and proprioceptive system are being activated. The vestibular system is comprised of several structures in the inner ear. When the head tilts in any direction fluid moves small hairs within the structures and their movement lets us know our position in relation to the earth’s gravity. This is how we know when we are in motion. The proprioceptive system gathers information from the muscles and joints to tell us our body position and posture. Swinging naturally helps children to develop balance and coordination. The visual connection between vestibular and proprioceptive systems is also developed through swinging, as swingers use visual cues to adjust their balance and movement. The influence of these systems plays a major role in the developmental milestones of sensory processing and gross motor skills for children. And let’s not forget the relationship between swinging and social development. Whoever thinks that swings don’t promote cooperation never heard best friends say, “I’ll push you, if you push me.”

Do the benefits of swings outweigh the risks?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Moderate to Vigorous Physical Activity (MVPA)

Physical activity simply means movement of the body that uses energy. For health benefits, physical activity should be moderate or vigorous and add up to at least 30 minutes a day.

Moderate physical activity means you are exercising but not pushing or exerting yourself. Your heart is beating, breathing increases, but you won’t break a sweat. Brisk walking, hiking, riding a bike on level terrain and shooting a few baskets are examples of moderate physical activity.

Vigorous physical activity means your heart is beating fast, there is a large increase in breathing (conversation is difficult or broken) and you sweat. Jogging or running, riding your bike uphill and playing a high speed game of basketball are examples of vigorous physical activity.

In future discussions on this blog, I will share materials and equipment as well as give you many ideas of how to include moderate to vigorous physical activity on a daily basis in your program.

Recent studies conclude that children who attend school with more resources and better-educated teachers have significantly higher levels of MVPA. Do you incorporate MVPA in your classroom?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Why Should We Get Our Kids Moving?

There is a new epidemic targeting our young children and it’s called childhood obesity. Children are less active and consuming more junk food. The amount of “screen time” from TV, computers, Internet and video games contributes to the lack of physical activity and unhealthy eating choices. Diseases once thought to affect only adults—heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol—are now common in children. If this trend continues, children of this generation are not likely to live as long as their parents. Research shows that by influencing children early in their lives to adopt active and fit lifestyles and make healthy nutrition choices, childhood obesity can be prevented and even reversed. Childhood obesity also lowers self esteem, affects relationships with peers and contributes to poor self image. These social and psychological consequences impact children’s ability to feel accepted and learn.

One of the biggest reasons to get kids moving is because of the growing evidence that shows physical activity enhances brain function and academic performance. Physical activity fuels the brain with key nutrients, like oxygen and glucose. A lack of oxygen to the brain results in disorientation, confusion, fatigue, sluggishness, and concentration and memory problems. Moderate to vigorous physical activity gives the brain its needed nutrients. It improves short-term memory, creativity and reaction time. It not only increases blood flow to the brain, but also speeds recall and reasoning skills. Mental focus and concentration levels in young children improve significantly after engaging in structured physical activity. All things being equal, a physically active child will have an advantage in learning versus an inactive child. Fit kids are smart kids!