by Gill Connell, coauthor of A Moving Child Is a Learning Child (Free Spirit, Fall 2013) and author of the Moving Smart blog
Young kids don’t burn off energy—they learn off energy.
But it’s not because I say so. It’s because nature makes it so.
You see, the human brain is designed to use the body as a tool to capture and store critical information about the world. This makes the body the brain’s first teacher. I’m sure you see this every day if you work with young children. The more tangible, physical interaction children have with whatever it is they’re doing, the deeper their understanding of the subject.
But even more important is that as the body moves—and as the brain registers these physical interactions—the brain is busy at work building its own infrastructure, creating critical connections that form how it takes in and interprets new information.
In other words, movement is the starting point for wiring the brain for learning.
However, there’s a perception I find among some grown-ups who believe that movement activities belong outdoors while “real learning” is what happens indoors.
Quite the contrary, I say. (And, remember, nature says so, too.)
So here’s a simple idea to create movement opportunities throughout the day in the classroom, at home, and yes, outdoors too . . .
Transitioning from one activity to another is a normal part of every child’s day (and sometimes not the most fun part of the day). So why not use those moments to add a movement “snack”? I call these “motorvators.”
I recommend introducing one motorvator and sticking with it for a full day, or perhaps even a full week. This gives children a chance to practice the skill and develop confidence with it. Once they’ve mastered the skill, you’ll likely find they begin to experiment and create their own ideas for movement.
Here are ten quick ways to get you and your little ones “motorvated.”
Two-footed jumping is an important prerequisite to more advanced physical skills, such as hopping on one foot or leaping forward. Not only does two-footed jumping work to develop strong muscles in the legs, it also develops physical confidence. After all, it’s likely a child’s first sensation of defying gravity!
This is a terrific activity for building overall body coordination. The idea is to have one part of the body move while the other stays still. It can be tricky at first, so be sure to give children time to practice. If you keep at it, most should have it down pat by the end of the day! Start by having children get on all fours. Have them walk their hands out in front of them, leaving their knees where they are. Then walk the knees up to the hands.
Have children lie on their tummies and wriggle their way to the next location without using their arms or legs. Here you want children to work their core muscles—and their funny bones, because this one leads to high-energy giggles. Don’t forget to bark like seals!
Start in a sitting position on the floor. Have children lift their bottoms up, supporting their bodies on their hands and feet. Then have them walk forward (or backward for more advanced play). Watch to see who performs this skill with ease and who struggles with it. Those who tire easily may lack sufficient upper body strength, which is critical to the stamina needed for a full school day.
For this activity, pair up children in groups of two to four and have them leapfrog over each other to get from place to place. This is more than a quick high-energy burst for little ones. It also calls for group organization—who goes first is usually the first thing they need to work out. Try not to step in unless “negotiations” get confused or heated. Developing teamwork can sometimes be as simple as a game of leapfrog.
Masking Tape Maze
When I had my classroom, I ran masking tape in various directions all over the floor to create different lines and shapes for all kinds of learning activities. As a quick motorvator, have children transition from one activity to the next by walking on the lines. When they get good at that, have them try walking heel to toe on the lines. Or, for even more challenge, have them try walking backward.
Spot the Spots
Cut out different colored spots and tape them around the room—on the floor, walls, and furniture. When it’s time to transition, call out a color and have children make their way from spot to spot to get where they’re going.
Give every child a beanbag and have them balance it on their heads as they transition from one activity to the next. This will slow them down a bit and give them great practice in controlled movements, which is good for their spatial awareness. Once they’ve mastered walking, have them stoop down and touch the floor without dropping the beanbag. (Phew, that one’s hard!)
Under & Over
During each transition, have children climb under something (a desk, a chair, each other) in order to get to where they’re going. On another day, try the same game, but this time have them climb over something. Be sure to reinforce the activity by using the word “under” or “over.” Consider doing other activities throughout the day that create more opportunities to explore the concepts of “under” and “over.”
For each transition, have children form a line to create a choo-choo train. Be sure to appoint a new “engineer” each time so that everyone gets a chance to decide which way the train will go.
Let me know how it goes, and please share any ideas you have for “motorvating” your kids.
Gill Connell is a globally recognized child development authority, specializing in the foundations of learning through movement and play. She provides developmental expertise to parents, preschools, schools, and companies such as Hasbro, Inc., based on her 30+ years in preschool and primary education. She is the founder of Moving Smart, Ltd., which offers resources, tools, trainings, and workshops.
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