Need some ideas for movement activities for preschoolers? These are great activity ideas to try at home with your kids and can also be done with a class of children.
What are Movement Activities?
Movement activities, also called gross motor activities, are games, actions or activities of any kind that engage the large muscles of the body, thereby building gross motor coordination.
Movement is a natural state for children and as long as they have enough freedom to play and be, they will seek out regular movement through their play activities.
While free play is essential, there are many kinds of movement and gross motor activities you can initiate with children that will get the large muscles working together.
You may want to try a game or activity if you can tell kids need a break from intense activity, if they have not had much outdoor play, if you’d like to help them build skills, or just to have some fun, bonding time.
Through movement activities, you can work on skills such as turn-taking, cooperation, vocabulary development and social skills, or gross motor skills such as strength, balance, hand-eye coordination, agility and speed.
What are the Benefits of Movement Activities in Early Childhood?
During early childhood, regular physical activity is crucial for children’s development. Without movement, children would not grow properly and would have severe developmental delays.
Children’s brains grow and develop through learning and the main method through which children learn is by moving and exploring their world.
We see this in babies who spend hours every day moving around, exploring everything and anything.
This remains the case right through the preschool years as children still need tons of movement to continue to grow.
This is where too much screen time and sedentary activity can cause harm and why this should be controlled and never allowed to fill up the majority of a child’s playtime.
Here are some of the benefits of regular movement activities for children.
1. Physical Development
A child’s physical development occurs through movement.
Various physical milestones must be reached by various ages and therefore a child’s environment must be conducive to having the opportunity to move constantly.
In recent times, the term Container Baby Syndrome has been coined because nowadays babies are so often ‘contained’ in equipment that inhibits their natural tendency to move.
From birth right up until children are ready for formal schooling, they need complete freedom to move and be active.
2. Better Fine Motor Skills
Before children develop the fine motor control needed to perform tasks like writing, they must develop their gross motor skills. Gross motor coordination is a prerequisite to fine motor coordination.
Babies develop from the head down, and from the centre towards the outside of their body. In other words, they develop control of their head first, then neck, core, etc.
Later, they learn to use their arms and legs. The fingers, toes and other small muscles of the body develop last.
A child who has well-developed gross motor coordination will have greater success with fine motor activities such as feeding, dressing, tying shoes, drawing, completing activities at preschool and later on, writing.
3. Improved Concentration
Regular movement improves a child’s concentration. Providing small children with regular brain breaks helps them to re-energise and refocus on a task.
The more children are exposed to activities that strengthen their concentration and frequent movement breaks to extend their focus, the more their attention span increases over time.
4. Increased Brain Development
Children who are moving are sending oxygen to the brain. Oxygen is crucial for proper brain functioning and therefore increased circulation results in increased brain activity and the ability to learn effectively. [source]
5. General Health
Children who move generally become adults who move, and adults who move are far healthier than adults who don’t move.
Regular physical movement is necessary for overall health and well-being throughout life. Instil this habit at an early age.
18 Movement Games and Activities for Preschoolers
Here are some ideas for fun kids’ activities to try at home or at school. You don’t need any fancy equipment and you can improvise with many household or outdoor items.
These games are suitable for 3, 4 and 5-year-olds, but some can be adapted for 2-year-olds too.
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Hopscotch is an old favourite and one of the best active games for kids.
It teaches balance, eye-foot coordination and even some early maths skills.
2. Rolling Around
Pretend to be logs of wood and, with arms stretched overhead, roll around the grass. Then move hands to the sides and roll around.
Rolling is good for coordinating the back, neck, shoulder and hip muscles, and building strength.
If you have a sloped garden or can find a grassy bank at a park, rolling downhill is lots of fun and is a great movement activity.
You can also lay a blanket on the grass, hold one end, then ask your child to lie on the other end and roll themself into the mat, then out again.
3. Who Am I?
This activity promotes fantasy play and thinking skills, along with building gross motor skills.
Choose different animals and pretend to move like them. Take turns guessing what animal the other person is.
Try suggesting different categories to make it more challenging, such as animals that jump, fly or run.
Here are some creatures to try to imitate:
4. Obstacle Course
Set up your own obstacle course in the garden and get those large muscles working.
With a bit of imagination, you can set up a course out of waste materials or things found around the house and garden. Change them regularly to make the challenge more interesting.
Here are some ideas for your obstacle course:
- Old tyres to jump into or climb over
- Boxes to climb into or use as tunnels to crawl through
- Planks of wood as balance beams
- Tree stumps
- Plastic cones (or bottles filled with sand) to weave through
- A ladder laid down on the ground (to hop into)
In this version of tag, as you catch and tag someone, they must freeze until someone else touches them and they are unfrozen.
This is best played with the whole family or class.
Chasing games teach children to move their bodies in space effectively (not bumping into people and objects as they move) and improve their speed and reaction time.
6. Simon Says
Simon Says is a fun game of following instructions that are usually movement based.
One person is nominated to be Simon and must give instructions that the rest of the players must follow. However, they must only carry out the instructions that begin with “Simon says…” and not follow instructions that do not begin with the words “Simon Says”.
Although this game primarily develops listening and attention skills, it is a great opportunity to build gross motor skills too.
Here are some fun Simon Says ideas with a special section of commands that will work the larger muscles.
7. Tight-Rope Walkers
Pretend to be tightrope walkers and practise the skill of balance and concentration.
All you need is a piece of string laid on the floor or elevated slightly and tied to the legs of chairs.
Walk along the string, placing one foot carefully in front of the other without losing your balance and “falling off the tightrope”, or “falling into a river of crocodiles”.
Or get children to walk along a curb or other narrow, slightly raised platform.
Young children enjoy symbolic play and you could even dress up for this one.
8. Jumping on Paper Plates
Lay some paper plates outside – fairly close together – and pretend to be frogs jumping on lily pads, or animals crossing the river by jumping over rocks.
As your children’s balance and coordination improve, move the plates further apart and in various directions so they have to map out a safe path.
9. Scavenger Hunt
The simple act of being outside in the fresh air and running around in nature is a necessary movement activity.
Why not try something fun like a nature scavenger hunt?
On a sheet of paper or cardboard, draw or paste pictures of objects found in nature and race around the garden or park looking for these items.
Or, make a card with pictures of insects – like in the example below – and walk around the garden with your children finding as many of these creatures as you can.
Try and take a picture of them when you find them.
10. Ladder Jumping
A ladder is a great tool that can be used in a variety of ways. A jungle gym ladder (that can be removed), rope ladder or regular household ladder can all be used.
Lay the ladder flat on the grass and jump in between the rungs. Practise jumping on alternating legs and also hopping with two legs together, which is more challenging.
Hopping and jumping are important milestones in physical development.
Encourage your kids to walk along the side edges of a ladder to build balance.
11. Hula Hoop Contest
Hula hooping is a fun activity your kids will thoroughly enjoy. Being able to swing a hula hoop around your hips is no easy skill so it will take a lot of practice.
Older preschoolers may be able to balance the hoop for a little while but you can still let younger preschoolers or toddlers play with the hoop to try the movement.
When your kids build some skill, have a contest and see who can swing the hoop around their hips the longest.
12. Jack and the Beanstalk
Do you have a jungle gym at home or at the park with a ladder your children can climb up? Why not tell the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, and act it out together?
When Jack climbs up the beanstalk, climb up the ladder together and then tell the parts about the giant’s house while sitting at the top of the jungle gym.
This will be an exciting variation on storytime and will help your kids build strength and practise the skill of climbing.
13. Jump Rope
Learning to skip is an important gross motor milestone for preschoolers. The best way to introduce this movement is by teaching them to jump over a moving rope.
Tie a rope to a chair or other post and, holding the other end, swing it slowly back and forth as your children jump over it. Increase the height and speed as they improve their skill.
When they start mastering the skill of jumping, introduce a skipping rope.
14. Listening Game
Play a movement listening game that involves listening carefully to and remembering multiple instructions.
Make up a series of silly instructions – such as “jump up three times, run around the tree and hop back with feet together” – and see if your kids can do them in the correct sequence and remember them all.
Start with only two instructions for younger children and add more as their age and skill allows.
15. Bean Bags
Bean bags are found in every preschool, and for good reason. They are an excellent resource for practising motor skills and you can use them in multiple ways:
- Throw and aim beanbags into laundry baskets
- Balance them on your head, or the back of your hand, while walking along a rope
- Throw them and mark how far they landed, trying on each turn to throw them further
- Crawl with a beanbag balancing on your back
- Throw and catch a beanbag
- Play bean bag toss (cornhole game)
Here are more bean bag activities to try.
16. Long Jump
Have a long jump competition with your children. You are not competing against each other but against your own records.
Mark off a starting point. Jump off the starting point and put a piece of tape where you land.
Then keep trying to beat your record, moving the tape each time you go further.
Take turns trying to better your own distance.
17. Balancing Contest
Have a competition with your children and see who can balance the longest, or put a timer on if you don’t want them to lose every round and see if they can beat their previous times.
Stand and balance on one leg, then the other, with eyes closed, etc. Place a bean bag on your head and see how long you can keep it there while on one leg.
18. Catch Bubbles
Kids love the thrill of chasing bubbles around the garden or playground. This activity doesn’t have to be reserved for only toddlers.
Make a game out of it and see how many bubbles your kids can pop each time you blow out a set. This is excellent for practising eye-hand coordination.
If you are playing with a few children, make a rule that each child must catch one bubble and two children can’t touch the same bubble.
This will work the reflexes and teach children to make quick decisions and move their bodies through space carefully.
As you can see, finding ideas for movement activities for kids does not have to be complicated.
Simply use your imagination and whatever objects and tools you have lying around and create a quick, basic game.
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