Movement Activities for Young Children to Break the Ice

By Connie Bergstein Dow, author of From A to Z with Energy! 26 Ways to Move and Play

Movement Activities for Young Children to Break the IceHere are two playful movement activities that work well for the beginning of the school year, or anytime! Each includes a guide for presenting the activity as well as classroom management tips that help establish boundaries for the activity and keep children engaged.

Wacky Walking Machines
This is a good activity for the first days of school. The children sit in a circle to begin. They will move into the larger space and then return to their spots at the end.

1. Start by making up a movement to go with your name.
Have children sit in a circle. Ask each child to think of two movements to do when they say their name. The movements can be simple: two claps, lift and lower shoulders, nod head up and down, pat your head and knees, and so on. Go around the circle and let each child demonstrate their movements one by one as they say their name.

2. Try the movement standing.
Ask everyone to stand up and invite children to try their movements while standing. They keep the same movements but do them standing up. Give them a minute to try it.

Repeat the movements several times in a row.

3. Add a sound.
Now children add a repeating sound, as if they are turning themselves and their movements into a machine. Prompt them to try the movements and sound a few times in a row to create a repeating pattern.

4. Make your machine travel.
Have children travel around the space, still doing their movements and making their sound. You might say: Let’s all imagine we have an on/off switch. Okay, turn your switch to “on.” Begin to move very slowly and quietly. Now start to speed up to a regular walk and make a louder noise. Move all around the room, but be careful not to bump into the other moving machines in the room!

5. Finish the activity.
To finish up, have children begin to slow down and move back to their spot in the circle. You might say: Uh-oh! Your machine is winding down, so you are moving slowly and your sound is getting really quiet. Work your way back to your spot, traveling slowly now. You have just enough power to get there. Your machine is going to run out of power completely as you fall to the floor in slow motion. What sounds would your machine make to go along with your slow-motion fall? When you have landed on your spot on the floor, turn your switch to “off”!

6. Expand the activity.
Play music that evokes machine sounds while children are traveling around the large space. As children begin their slow-motion fall to the ground, play the music quietly and then fade it out as children finish on the ground. Here are some suggestions for musical selections:

  • “Swan’s Splashdown” or “Computer in Love,” from the album The In Sound from Way Out by Perrey and Kingsley
  • “The Robots” or “The Man-Machine,” from the album The Man-Machine by Kraftwerk

Consider these classroom management tips to help the activity go smoothly:

  • Identify a home spot for each child, evenly spread out around the circle. Mats, rugs, a tape mark on the floor, and so on, are helpful (especially early in the school year when children are learning about personal versus shared space). If these aren’t available, give the children a minute to establish their spots, noting where their spots are in the circle and who is sitting next to them, before you begin.
  • In the traveling machine section, don’t have children go faster than walking speed. Caution them to watch out for the other traveling machines.
  • The activity ends with leading children back to their spots and doing a slow-motion fall as their machines run out of power. This is a way to bring down the energy level and end on a quiet note.

Boat Ride!
This is a short activity that allows children to use their imaginations while they are moving and singing.

1. Imagine you are sitting in a little boat.
Say: Sit up tall and cross your legs. We’re going to take a trip! Get your oars ready! Let’s begin to row.

While children are rowing, lead them in singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”

2. The waves get bigger.
Continue by saying: Let’s imagine the waves are getting high. Put your oars in your boat and hold onto your ankles. Begin to rock back and forth. The waves are even higher! Let’s rock more as the waves get taller.

3. Fall in the water and swim.
Next, tell children that on the count of ten, you will all fall into the water. Count to ten as everyone rocks. The counting gets slower as the “waves” get higher.

Continue by saying: Swim around your boat. Don’t get too far away! See if you spot any fish while you are swimming. What else do you see under the water?

4. Finish the activity.
Say: Climb back in your boat. Imagine you have a nice fluffy towel, and pretend to dry off: your head, your arms, your whole body. Now it’s time to row back to shore!

Sing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” again while you row. Slow down the song and the rowing as you come to the end of the activity.

5. Expand the activity.
If you repeat Boat Ride! you can increase the time children are swimming (Did you do the backstroke?) and encourage them to “see” different things in the water. Did you see a seahorse? Did you see an octopus?

During the swimming section, add a musical selection that has an underwater theme. Here are some suggestions:

  • “Under the Sea” from the album The Little Mermaid: Original Walt Disney Records Soundtrack
  • “The Goldfish,” from the album The Best of the Laurie Berkner Band by the Laurie Berkner Band
  • “Baby Beluga,” from the album Baby Beluga by Raffi

Consider these classroom management tips to help the activity go smoothly:

  • Children will have the freedom to move and explore the idea of imagining they are swimming underwater. Make sure they understand that they are to swim around their “boats” (their spots), which will contain their movement. With this guideline, this activity can be done even with a large group.
  • During the swimming section, allow enough time for children to explore their ideas as well as ideas from other children that they might want to try. Continue the swimming for as long as children are engaged in the activity, and then prompt them to climb back into their boats.
  • Boat Ride! ends with bringing the energy level down, as the rowing and singing slow down.

Connie BergsteinConnie Bergstein Dow took her first dance class when she was four years old and has been dancing ever since. After attending Denison University and earning an MFA from the University of Michigan, she danced professionally in the United States, Venezuela, and Guatemala. Connie has had a long career as a dance educator and has written two books for teachers about integrating movement into the early childhood classroom, articles for magazines and journals, and verses for Highlights. She shares her passion for dance by writing, teaching, volunteering, visiting schools and libraries, and offering movement workshops to early childhood professionals. Visit Connie at

From A to Z with EnergyConnie is the author of From A to Z with Energy! 26 Ways to Move and Play

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