Thursday, December 17, 2009

Obstacle Courses = A"maze"ing Fun!

Versatile and inviting, an obstacle course can be great fun for young children, and a course is easy to set up inside or out. Weather permitting, consider setting up the course outside. Fresh air can help energize brains and bodies!

An obstacle course is an arrangement of physical challenges or tasks, using simple equipment, set in a line or route around an area. For young children, moving around, over, under and through an obstacle course promotes motor planning abilities, physical skills and movement concepts. Colored yarn, chalk, traffic signs or hand and feet prints can be used for the children to follow. Depending on the age of the children, start with 4 to 6 tasks or events that make a simple yet challenging course. Spread out the obstacle course as much as possible. Adapt, add and change the course to fit your location and abilities of the children.

Before children attempt any obstacle course, ask them to watch as you or a child demonstrate the “how-to’s” (verbally describe directions for each task). Next, line up everybody behind each other at the start of the course and tell them to follow the leader through the course while you describe the physical challenges they are attempting. Emphasize that the obstacle course is not a race and they should not speed through the activities. The teacher or adult leader should stress to the children to keep some space between them. If a “traffic jam” does occur, tell the children to please wait patiently while the person in front of them completes the challenge on the equipment before proceeding ahead.

Having a theme or focus for an obstacle course provides structured physical activity for children because it is purposeful play with a clear goal. An all-time favorite is the “The Super Daring Obstacle Course.” It’s adventurous because of the "maze" of obstacles and the “perilous dangers” the children are challenged to avoid by correctly maneuvering through the course. “Dangers” are pretend and explained with great fanfare, such as the “quicksand” area or the “bottomless swap.” The more creative and imaginative the adventure, the more the children will love it!

The Super Daring Obstacle Course:

1. Start--place a pole, rope or piece of clothesline between two cones to make a crossbar for jumping over. Place a hoop on the ground on the other side of the rope or crossbar for children to jump into. Children jump over the “flaming” rope/bar and land with two feet in the hoop.

2. Jumping Pattern--place 4 hoops in a hopscotch pattern. Children jump with two feet into the first large hoop; straddle jump (feet apart) into the medium hoops placed side by side; end with two feet together again in the last large hoop.

3. Bridge Walk--place a rope lengthwise on the ground or set up a balance beam. Children try to walk heel-toe from one end of the beam/rope to the other, balancing above the “bottomless swamp.”

4. Helpful Turtles--place 4 to 6 spot markers, Hop Around Steps or Balance Pods in a row 6- 12” from each other. Encourage children to step or leap from one spot marker (shells of turtles to help them avoid the “quicksand”) to the next as they travel on their adventure.

5. Tunnel of No Return--set up a cloth or nylon tunnel or use a large box. Children creep through quietly on hands and knees to avoid waking the “alligators.”

6. Perilous Path--set up 4 to 6 cones in a row about 2-4’ apart from each other to make a pathway. Children to travel in a zigzag pattern, snaking their way around and through without waking the “snakes.”

7. Stop--place a tumbling mat several feet away from the last cones of the Perilous Path. Children run to the mat and fall down on it or log roll to the end, survivors of The Super Daring Obstacle Course!

8. Direct children to the start of the course as you inevitably hear them ask, “Can we do it again? Can we do it again?”

As I once heard a child say, “The obstacle course is THE BEST thing I like at school!” It’s a wonderful thing for preschool teachers and early childhood caregivers to include as part of physical activity or movement programs.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

2009 Toy of the Year: The Ball!

This year, the ball officially bounced into the National Toy Hall of Fame (NTHOF) at Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York. It is the only museum in the world devoted solely to the study of play as it illuminates American culture.

I had heard about this museum and always wanted to visit it. Recently, I happened to be in Rochester to conduct some teacher trainings and I finally had a chance to go to the museum.

For me, a mixed review; it was big and glitzy and much more commercial than what I had envisioned. However, I did like the many quotes about play embellished all over the walls and learning about the museum’s history. I couldn't wait until we got to the part of the museum that housed the Toy Hall of Fame. Last year the stick was inducted into the NTHOF, and I wanted to see how it was displayed. Another disappointment! It was ensconced in a little cube behind glass! But, I do love the idea of objects being recognized for their play value and do appreciate what the museum represents—PLAY!

The LEGO® exhibit is opening next month. LEGO®s were inducted in 1998 and then named “Toy of the Century" in 2000. My son grew up with LEGO®s, and now his two sons are enjoying them with the same passion as they build and discover. I like to claim that LEGO®s laid the base for my son’s current career in e-commerce. He didn’t have a computer or techno gadgets growing up, but he did have many open-ended toys, including sticks and balls for playing outside! I’ve praised the play-value of a ball before because it inspires fun, movement and creative play.

How do toys make it into the Toy Hall of Fame? They must meet the following criteria for induction:
  • Icon-status: the toy is widely recognized, respected and remembered

  • Longevity: the toy is more than a passing fad and has enjoyed popularity over multiple generations

  • Discovery: the toy fosters learning, creativity or discovery through play
  • Innovation: the toy profoundly changed play or toy design

I really like to talk about and share my ideas concerning toys and educational materials for young children. Many times, as a consultant for Discount School Supply, I am asked to give input on new products being developed. This too, is one of my favorite jobs-- especially after seeing an idea become with a finished item for play! Why do some toys literally disappear and others last for a lifetime?

Today there are so many toys that do more on their own than the child does playing with them! Let’s not forget the classic toys beloved by many generations that perhaps, you too once played with: blocks, baby dolls, jump ropes, hoops, crayons, puzzles, marbles, trains, etc.

Parents, grandparents, teachers, caregivers of young children: ‘Tis the season of gift-buying and present-giving, and I say, “Get on the ball!” Make sure that you put toys into the hands of the children in your care that inspire creativity, discovery, and learning through play!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Snickelfritz Partners Switch

September signals new beginnings. School has started and children are meeting each other for the first time or reconnecting with old classmates. This game is a good icebreaker or get-acquainted activity.

Indoor or outdoor space with boundaries.

How to Play:
1. Children find a partner and stand back-to-back.

2. The teacher or game leader calls out a body part and partners react quickly to touch the part mentioned. For example, the teacher might say, “Hands to Hands.” The partners turn around, face each other, and touch hands to hands.

3. When the teacher says another body part, the partners then put those body parts together (releasing the last round’s pairing.)

4. Other body parts the teacher could call out:

Shoulder to Shoulder, Knee to Knee, Hip to Hip, Ankle to Ankle, Elbow to Elbow, Knuckle to Knuckle, Wrist to Wrist, Toes to Toes, Side to Side.

5. Whenever the teacher or game leader says, “Snickelfritz Partners Switch!” all players must hurry and find a new partner that they haven’t already been paired with in the game. With the new partner, they stand back-to-back again, ready to listen. Play resumes with the teacher calling out different body parts.

6. Giving the command, “Snickelfritz Partners Switch!” frequently gives children a chance to interact with all members in the group as they have to find a different partner every time.

7. There is no right or wrong way to connect body parts to each other. Point out the different ways that partners completed the challenge.

8. The teacher may give the same command twice in a row to keep the players alert.

9. Avoid calls such as Head to Head, or Nose to Nose where kids are forced to share breathing space.

10. A fun way to end the game is to give the command, “Hug to Hug,” as teacher says, “Thanks for playing the game with me.”

11. Challenge older children to each touch different body parts as they are called out. For example, the teacher might say, “Ear to Knee.” One child will place his/her ear to the partner’s knee. Other commands may include:
Shoulder to Shoulder
Knee to Knee
Hip to Hip
Ankle to Ankle
Elbow to Elbow
Knuckle to Knuckle
Wrist to Wrist
Toes to Toes
Side to Side

Learning Outcomes/Goals:
1. Physical activity: Any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that results in energy expenditure
2. Listening skills: Ability to follow verbal directions
3. Tactile stimulation: Body learning from the sense of touch, skin contact and pressure
4. Body awareness: Knowing and understanding the whole body and its parts and function
5. Space awareness: Knowing where the body can and should move in relationship to other people in the play space
6. Shared space: All of the designated play space that can be used by everyone
7. Cooperative play: Games and activities that the participants play together rather than against one another

Thursday, August 20, 2009

No Less Recess!

A first grade teacher recently called me in a panic. She was very upset because her school board was considering eliminating recess from the school day. She did not want her school to be one of the nearly 40% of U.S. elementary schools to eliminate or are considering eliminating recess (according to the American Association for the Child’s Right to Play.) This policy is being implemented in part because of increased school accountability and student testing procedures, and the belief that time could be better spent on academics. My friend asked me to help her make a case to keep recess for the physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development of children.

The term recess refers to a break during the day to allow children the time for active, free play. During recess learning occurs in ways not possible inside the regular classroom.

Benefits of recess:

· It’s physically important! Physical movement is essential for healthy growth and development. Active play and movement helps prevent weight gain and weight-related diseases. Young children learn about their bodies’ capabilities and how to control their bodies through active movement. Exercising their own choices in the practice of physical skills, such as running, climbing, jumping, chasing, traveling, batting, kicking, catching, balancing, hanging, swinging, stretching, pushing and pulling can happen during active play in a way P.E. classes do not (Council for Physical Education and Children, 2001*.)

· It’s cognitively and academically important! Physical activity fuels more blood to the brain, thus giving it greater oxygen and energy supply and increasing the number of connections between neurons. These connections make the brain better able to process a variety of information, leading to improved retention of facts, a greater understanding of concepts, and subsequently higher academic achievement (Healy, 1998). Students who get a break are much less fidgety in the classroom. (Jarrett et al., 1998*) And, unstructured play gives the child an opportunity to exercise a sense of wonder, which leads to exploration, which leads to creativity.

· It’s emotionally important! Chemicals secreted by the brain during and after exercise enable it to deal better with stress and anxiety. (Healy, 1998).

· It’s socially important! Traditional recess activities encourage children to take turns, negotiate or modify rules, and interact cooperatively. Recess also gives the classroom teacher another opportunity to assess the child's social skills. And, group play allows children to interact with peers and to watch and learn from other children.

Did you know the U.S. Army requires that soldiers be given a 10-minute break every hour during training sessions in order to maintain productivity? Professors are required to give college students the same. Teachers’ contracts often include a daily 30-minute preparation time that offers them a break from class work plus duty-free lunch. And we know parents would complain if they didn’t get at least one break at work.
How can we expect young children to work all day with few, if any, breaks? I believe children should not only be allowed a longer recess at lunchtime but also a 15-minute recess break in the morning and afternoon.

While there are arguments against recess, I can find no research that clearly supports less recess as beneficial. The available research suggests that recess can play a very important role in the learning, social development, and overall health of children. I support my friend, and any other parents, preschool and elementary school teachers and caregivers of young children making the argument: no less recess!

*As cited by

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Animal Movers

This is a fun activity for preschoolers and is another great way to incorporate movement in what could be a passive lesson. When young children are learning about animals, teachers often encourage the children to describe the animal, make the animal's sounds, talk about the habitat of the animal, etc. Part of learning about an animal can include understanding how an animal moves and modeling that movement through active play. This is an activity idea from the Preschool TeacherQuickSource:

Animal Movers
Goal: Introduction or enhancement of balance and control during locomotor movements.
Before you start: The teacher may want to prepare several Animal Poster Cards or pictures of animals, and a large room or safe movement area.
Let's Get Started:
1. Show the children one of the animal pictures.
2. Discuss the movements of that animal.
3. Have the children move around the space pretending to be that animal.
4. Repeat the activity with a different animal.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Beat the HEAT with COOL Games

It's summer time and in many places it’s hot, hot, hot! Don’t let the heat keep young children inside all day. A fun way to cool off is with some wet and wild water play—whether you’re 3 or 63 years old! Kids of all ages will enjoy these splashy summer games and activities that encourage movement, physical activity and cooperative play.

Drip, Drip… Drop!
Every participant in a swimsuit
What You Need:
Water source and a small plastic bucket or cup

How to Play:
1. The teacher, parent or caregiver has all the children sit in a circle
2. One child is chosen to be “IT” and leaves the circle
3. IT holds a bucket of water and stands outside of the circle
4. S(he) walks around the circle saying “drip, drip, drip…” as s(he) drips water
from hands and fingers onto the heads of the children sitting in the circle
5. When IT says “drop,” the entire bucket of remaining water is poured out onto one child
6. IT runs back to their place in the circle with the wet child running behind them.
7. The wet child is now IT and fills up the bucket to resume the game of
“drip, drip…drip…DROP!”

What if …
Children don’t want water on their heads? Designate another body part that IT can only drip or drop the water on (i.e., hands, shoulders, knees, etc.)

The game ends when everyone in the circle is wet.
It’s a cool way to end a hot day through fun and play!

Jump the Stream!
Children dressed to get wet, barefoot (or in shoes that can get wet) and a teacher/parent to hold the water hose
What You Need:
Water hose
How to Play:
1. The teacher, parent or caregiver has all the children stand in a circle
2. The adult squats down in the center of the circle holding the water hose
3. When the water is turned on the adult turns around slowly, keeping the steam of water from the hose close to the ground
4. When the stream of water gets close to the kids they are to jump over it to avoid getting wet
5. Each time the adult completes a full revolution, s(he) begins to turn a little bit faster and raises the stream slightly higher off the ground

While the object of the game appears to stay dry, young children often have the most fun getting squirted by the hose and, of course, getting very wet!

Outdoor playing area with designated boundaries
Children dressed to get wet
What You Need:
Foam ball, Plastic bucket of water, Cones to mark off boundaries
How to Play:
1. The children should be scattered around the playing area
2. One child is selected to be “IT”
3. IT is given a foam ball and soaks the foam ball in water.
4. The game begins with IT chasing the other children, trying to tag/touch them with the wet ball
5. When IT tags someone with the wet ball, that child becomes the new IT and the game starts again

Touched players are “waterlogged” and can be spotted very easily by the water dripping off the spot where they were touched.

Water Brigade!
Children dressed to get wet
What You Need:
Foam balls for each player, A water table or tubs filled with water, Buckets (one for each player)
How to Play:
1. Fill water table and/or one or more tubs with water
2. Set up empty buckets 10 (or more) feet from tubs/table
3. Give each child a foam ball
4. Children stand at water table/tubs with their foam ball
5. The game begins with each child thoroughly soaking the foam ball with water
6. Instruct the children to run to the buckets at the other end and squeeze the water out of their balls into the buckets
7. The game continues with the children running back to the water tubs, resoaking their foam balls and running to their bucket to wring it out and fill their bucket entirely.

This can easily turn into a fun summer team sport with partners at either end tossing the balls to each other for soaking and wringing. Being physically active with a purpose makes this game a real winner!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Abracadabra! Scarf Magic!

The thin, nylon juggling scarf has unlimited possibilities of play value. This loose material is lightweight and easy for children of any age—infants, toddlers, preschoolers and school-aged kids—to manipulate and use to promote gross motor and fine motor development. Scarf play helps with hand-eye coordination and encourages movement of eyes and hands to cross the midline important pre-reading and writing skills for young children.

Teachers, parents and other early childhood caregivers don’t have to be a magician to conduct age-appropriate activities that involve all children in scarf play; just follow the child’s lead and have fun!

Here are some ideas:

--Throw the scarf in the air with one hand and catch with the other.
--Toss & try clapping once or twice before catching the scarf.
--Hold the scarf together with a friend as you move together around the classroom.
--Toss the scarf in the air, spin around and catch it before it falls to the ground. Try looking at the world through the fine mesh fabric. What do you see?
--Throw the scarf up in the air and clap until it touches the ground and count how many claps it takes.
--Move around the room with the scarf on a body part; try not to let it fall.
--Toss the scarf and try to have it land on different body parts (hand, elbow, foot, back and head.)
--Catch and toss with a partner.
--Pull out the CD player and put on some favorite music and dance with the scarves.
--Play “Follow the Leader” where the child at the head of the line does a movement with the scarf and all children will copy that movement (waving scarf overhead, swinging arms back and forth, jumping with the scarf, galloping with the scarf, etc.) When the music stops the child that was at the front of the line goes to the back and the next child in line becomes the leader. The music starts again and the game continues until everyone has had a chance to be the leader.
--Use the scarf to sing the following song and do the appropriate movements:
Shake to My Lou (Tune: “Skip to My Lou”)
Shake, shake, shake to my lou, shake, shake, shake to my lou, shake, shake, shake to my lou, shake to my lou my darling. (Shake scarf in front of body)
Other verses you can add:
Shake up high, shake down low (Shake scarf overhead, then down by feet)
Shake to the right, shake to the left (Shake scarf on one side of body and then the other)
Shake it out, shake it in (Shake scarf with arms extended to the sides, bring arms together in front of body)

The scarf also lends itself to exploring colors and shapes. Ask children what shape their scarf is. Can they make the scarf into a smaller square? Can you make it into a triangle? Can it become a rectangle? Discuss the geometric properties of each shape as they are made. Place all the scarves on the floor in color groups to see a graph of colors. Talk about sorting, quantities, more/less.

Use your imagination and be creative with the scarf… It can be a tail on a horse, a wing of a butterfly, the cape of a hero, a kite... The children can turn it into anything they can imagine and have fun as they incorporate movement into their day.

What else can you do with your scarf?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

BRAIN FITNESS! Connecting Exercise and Learning

I recently attended a presentation by Harvard Psychiatry Professor and best-selling author, Dr. John Ratey. He wrote SPARK! The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, which I read. I was very interested in hearing about his research, especially with the of No Child Left Behind Act (which requires schools to raise students’ test scores in core academic subjects) and the resultant cutbacks in physical education classes and recess.

Dr. Ratey began his presentation by stating that he is on a mission to put exercise, recess and play back into our schools. Being an early childhood and school age active play advocate myself, I was thrilled. He shared emerging research and case studies that correlate exercise with a wide range of brain-related benefits: improving attention, reducing stress and anxiety, and staving off cognitive decline.

Ratey says that exercise is the single most important tool people have to optimize brain function. He doesn’t claim that exercise makes kids smarter, but he says it can make them more ready to learn. The prefrontal cortex-- which plays a major role in executive function (thinking processes that involve planning, organizing, abstract thought or self-control) -- is most affected by exercise. Laboratory studies in mice and humans show that exercise prompts the brain to produce greater amounts of a protein called BDNF, brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which Ratey likes to call “Miracle-Gro®” for the brain. It encourages brain cells to sprout synapses, which are crucial to forming the connections the brain needs in order to learn. BDNF also strengthens cells and protects them from dying. Other research also suggests that exercise plays a role in neurogenesis, the production of new brain cells, in middle-aged and older adults and in laboratory animals.

Ratey shared a case study that I found interesting: At Naperville Central High School in IL, many students participate in 45-minute early-morning fitness-based PE sessions where they can choose from more than a dozen activities (treadmills, elliptical machines, stationary bikes, jumping rope, lifting weights, running, etc.) Students on average raised their grades by one letter just by participating in this “Learning Readiness PE Class.” This is a new approach to PE, and I find it confirms for me the research mentioned above that exercise helps prep the brain for learning.

And what about our youngest learners? Ratey emphasized that young children love to move and should be engaged in play activities that are vigorous and fun. For our young children, we need to provide instant and active involvement for every child. He mentioned a new book by Stuart Brown, Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. He said that every early childhood teacher should have it. Ratey states on the jacket cover: “This is one of the most important books I have ever read… Without play and physical activity, we can’t cultivate the skills necessary to handle changing times… Anyone who cares about the future of our world should read this book. It is a gift.” I gave myself the gift of Brown’s book, PLAY and Ratey’s book, SPARK. Perhaps you will consider doing the same for yourself or any preschool, school-age or early childhood educator, caregiver or parent you know.

Current statistics show that some 37% of U.S. schoolchildren are overweight, one in five American 4 year olds are obese and only 6% of schools now offer physical education five days a week. At the same time, kids are spending an average of six hours per day in front of a screen of some sort—television, computer or handheld device. Inactivity is killing our brains as well as our bodies.

The more we know about brain development and the importance of play, the better teachers and parents we will be. Keep moving, keep learning!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Trikes: 3-Wheeled Freedom!

The weather is turning warmer and invites us all to go outside for some active play. Trikes are a great way to engage young children outdoors. For 12 years I was the “Outdoor Teacher” at a preschool. I pulled out the tricycles, “big wheels,” bicycles, scooters, wagons and pedal cars daily. They were always very popular with the children, and riding toys such as trikes offer many opportunities for children to grow physically, socially, emotionally and cognitively. Toys that children can ride on their own offer opportunities for them to feel autonomous, develop gross motor skills, role play and to learn to follow rules. You know the educational benefits exist, so here are some ideas to help get you rolling:
First, remember that children should wear bike helmets when riding wheel toys. The helmet should sit on top of the child’s head, not tilted back at an angle. Make sure the strap fits securely and that the buckle stays fastened. (Visit the Consumer Product Safety Commission for more information at Helmets should only be worn while riding and should be taken off during play, especially on a playground as a child’s head may get stuck in playground equipment while wearing a helmet, causing serious injury. Children who associate wearing a helmet with riding a trike from the start are more likely to adopt the habit permanently.
For safety reasons, the space for using riding toys should be distinct from the equipment areas. If possible, choose a part of your playground with a hard surface and set up a safety zone. Provide vehicle pathways with adequate staging areas and routes in and out with painted or lines for parking spaces of trikes and bikes. You can enhance children’s use of this area by adding traffic signs, chalk road markers, directional arrows and cones to control traffic. Build a ramp so children can drive their trikes into the “garage.” Invite children to be riders or traffic officers; this will help involve children who are not on a trike and creates an opportunity for cooperative group play.
Prop boxes can extend trike play activities, too. A “hospital” prop box, for example, can turn bike riders into ambulance drivers and non-riders into “doctors.” Children also enjoy using tricycles in conjunction with fire station, police and mail delivery props. Similarly, you can introduce ideas or materials to support gas station or car wash dramatic play that can include practice of counting and learning currency. Whatever props you choose to use, whether elaborate or entirely imaginary, the result will be fun!
Riding a trike puts the child in the “driver’s seat,” providing that sense of power and freedom. To pedal a trike and keep one’s balance are abilities worth a lot in the life of a preschooler!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Belly Swinging and Spinning is Good Brain Food!

I was visiting a preschool recently. The young children were outside playing and I found myself standing and observing the children on the swings. A four-year-old child was draped over a swing seat on his stomach while swinging back and forth. At the same time he was spinning around and around as the swing chain twisted high above him. Soon he could twist it no more and then, propelling himself in the opposite direction, he spun around and around as the chain untwisted-- his small arms extended as if flying in space, a great big smile on his face. I smiled back, happy that he was stimulating the mind/body connections. He was in the process of repeating the action, when from across the playground came a loud voice commanding him to stop belly swinging and informing him it was against school rules.
Children are innately programmed to spin, swing and be upside-down. When children are spinning and swinging, special receptors in the little “vestibule” of the inner ear are stimulated and communicate a sense of where the body is in space. This vestibular system controls the sense of movement and balance.
I often mention "brain food" in my workshops. Physical activity is good brain food for young children. When a child is swinging and spinning, they're having fun, but their little body and brain is also unconsciously telling them that they need this kind of movement for a healthy sensory "diet." Swinging and spinning helps kids regulate their bodies. It helps them focus and increase their body awareness. Young children do not get dizzy as easily as adults do because connections between balance and other systems are still being formed in the first eight years of life. We, as adults, take our sense of balance and our fundamental understanding of our place in space around us for granted. For children, those abilities are still developing, becoming more complete and connected. We need to give children opportunities for movement and physical activity so they can develop these crucial abilities (and so they won’t be bouncing off the walls when the teacher needs the child to sit down and be attentive.) Remember that teacher who was shouting at that child to stop belly swinging? I wished that early education teacher could have instead celebrated the child’s movements and his need to feed his body and brain-- one belly swing, one belly spin at a time.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Games With Heart

Valentine’s Day is just a heartbeat away and provides an opportunity to share friendships, promote cooperation, and just have some plain good fun while participating in non-competitive, active games. Pick and choose from these games –or play them all to your heart’s content… Or, better yet, for the benefit of your heart!

Give Your Love Away
Materials needed: Heart-shaped piece of paper or small heart-shaped pillow or ornament
How to play:
1. Sit all children in a circle
2. One child is chosen to be “it” and leaves the circle. The space where “it” sat is still open.
3. “It” holds the heart and stands outside of the circle.
4. Teach children the following verse or chant:
Love is something
If you give it away,
Give it away, give it away,
Love is something if you give it away,
You end up having more.
5. Children are to chant the verse as “it”, holding the heart, walks around the outside of the circle.
6. On the last word of the song, “it” drops the heart behind a child’s back.
7. That child picks up the heart and runs after “it”, who is heading back to his place in the circle.
8. The child holding the heart is now “it” and the children start chanting the verse again as “it” walks around the outside of the circle, dropping the heart behind someone who has not yet had a turn.
9. The game ends when everyone has “given their love away.”

Musical Hearts
Materials needed:
Red yarn or red masking tape or red Mavalus Removable Poster Tape or sidewalk chalk
Music (with the words “heart” or love” in the title—i.e., “The Heart of Rock and Roll” by Huey Lewis and the News or “The Love Shack” by The B-52’s) and a music player.
How to play:
1. Using red or pink yarn or tape make giant red heart shapes on the floor or carpet. (If you can play outside, draw hearts on cement or asphalt with red or pink chalk.)
2. Direct children to stand outside of or beside a heart.
3. Play theme-related music and instruct the children to walk around the hearts, making sure not to touch any hearts while the music is playing.
4. When the music stops, children are to find a heart to stand in. More than one child in any heart is okay and encouraged.
5. The game continues with the starting of the music and children leaving a heart and traveling around the hearts. When the music stops, they once again jump into the nearest heart.
6. Use a variety of locomotor movements, such as marching, tiptoeing, galloping, hopping, skipping, jumping and running as children move around the hearts when the music is playing.
7. Challenge the children by stopping and starting the music at shorter intervals.

A Heart of Stone
Materials needed:
Heart doilies (one for each child)
Music (with the words “heart” or love” in the title—i.e., “The Power of Love” by Huey Lewis and the News) and a music player.
How to play:
1. Each child places a heart doily on top of their head.
2. Play theme-related music and instruct children to walk around the space while balancing the doily.
3. If the doily falls off a child’s head, he must turn to stone (freeze).
4. To remove the "spell," another player picks up the fallen doily (while placing his hand on his own doily on top of his head) and hands it to the player turned to “stone,” who places the doily back on his head. The spell is broken and he becomes “unfrozen.”
5. After a “thank you” and a “you’re welcome” are exchanged, the players proceed to walk in the open space, heart doilies on head.
6. The game ends when the song is over.
These fun Valentine's-themed games for your early childhood/preschool classroom or for young children at home can add an enjoyable active play element to your Valentine's Day parties or celebrations this year. These simple games are easy enough for even the youngest children to participate, and teachers or parents can also tweak them to best fit the needs of the kids in your care.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Kids on the Ball!

We can promote brain development by providing equipment that helps facilitate movement in our early childhood classrooms and/or home environments. A favorite piece of equipment that I like to use with young children is the exercise ball (a.k.a. gym balls, physio balls, stability balls, fitness balls, therapy balls or Swiss balls.) These large, colorful balls attract kids and help build neural connections in the brain. They are great for working on balance, coordination, postural control and sensory integration, which is the ability of the brain to receive, organize, interpret and use the vast amount of sensory information that enters the body and neurological system through both external and internal stimuli. Try some of the following activities and watch children line up to have their turn with the ball:

  • Tummy Roll - Holding onto their legs and arms, have a child lay face down (on their stomach) on top of the ball and roll the ball back and forth. Belly laughs begin as the child rocks and rolls, enjoying the sensations produced from this movement which activates the vestibular system in the inner ear. The vestibular system takes in messages about balance and movement from the neck, eyes and body; sends the messages to the central nervous system for processing; and then helps generate muscle tone (which allows us to move smoothly and efficiently.) Rocking and rolling also provides kinesthetic and proprioceptive input—awareness of sensations that come from receptors in the muscles, joints, skin and tendons.
  • Bouncy Time - Sit a child on top of the ball and hold their hands or body and gently bounce the child up and down. Sing a song or recite a nursery rhyme as you bounce the child to the rhythm. Rhythm and rhyme facilitates language and memory while bouncing enhances the respiratory system.

  • Play Ball - Roll, dribble or bounce and catch the exercise ball with a child. This addresses bilateral integration, the coordination of the two sides of the body.

  • Pizza Dough - Have the child lie tummy down on an activity mat or carpeted floor. With consistent pressure, roll and press the exercise ball up and down all over the child’s body. Say, “I’m rolling out the pizza dough nice and flat.” Ask, “Want me to press harder? Not so hard? More? Tell me when you want me to stop.” (Give the child the chance to be in control and to guide the activity.) Say, “It’s time to add the toppings to make you extra delicious! Here’s some pizza sauce.” Rub the child’s arms, legs and back with your hands. Continue with, “Here’s some pepperoni,” and with palm flat, press a hand on back of body in several different places. “Chopped onions would be tasty, too.” Using side of hand, move it up in and down along their body in a chopping motion. When you and the child agree that s/he’s “done,” pretend to put “the pizza” in a pretend oven.

There are so many ways to incorporate active play and movement with large sensory balls in early childhood classrooms. Children from preschool to school age will literally have a ball! What are some ways you use them in your school activities or with kids at home?