As a Physical Education and Early Childhood Teacher, I get so excited when I can incorporate learning and movement. There are so many benefits from having children move while they learn. First, it makes learning fun! When children are having fun they want to keep learning! And second, movement stimulates the brain by providing more oxygen and initiating the release of what I like to call happy hormones (hello norepinephrine and dopamine)!
Here are some of my favorite movement activities for preschoolers. They are listed in order of how often I use them with my children at home and in my preschool classes.
1) The Sleeping Game
We learned this game from a wonderful preschool teacher, Mrs. Robin (my mom). It has been a game changer! It's probably our most used game because It is so versatile when it comes to topics and ages. Plus, it’s hard to find a child that doesn’t want to play.
How to play:
Tell your child/children when you call out “sleeping, sleeping everybody sleeping,” they will pretend to fall asleep on the floor. While they are pretending to be asleep, say “when you wake up you are going to be a (insert an animal or character name).” Then say “wake up.” Children stand up and walk around acting out and making the sound of that animal. If they are unsure of how to create that animal you may need to model it for them first (we usually play the game with the students to help those who are unsure of what each animal looks like).
Sleeping, sleeping, everybody sleeping
When you wake up your going to be a (animal)
2) Dance Party
We dance every day in preschool. Sometimes, it is for a brain break and sometimes it is to learn a new concept. Here are some of my favorite songs that I can just turn on and watch the magic happen!
Freeze Dance by the Kiboomers (This song is also fun with a ribbon wand or scarf)
The Floor is Lava by the Kiboomers (We put hula hoops on the ground for the kids to get in when the song says, “the floor is lava.” You could also have them stand on chairs)
Stand Up, Sit Down by Patty Shaluka
This one is simple. Give each child a balloon and turn on any music. Challenge them to keep the balloon from touching the floor.
Races are my go to when my kiddos need to get some extra energy out or when we need to stay in for recess because of the rain. Living in Southwest Washington, rain happens a lot!
Races are simple. I have the kids line up along a wall and tell them, “When I say (name a fruit or vegetable) you are going to (name a race action).” It looks something like this:
“When I say strawberry you are going to gallop across the room.
Pineapple, carrot, strawberry
(students gallop across the room)!”
The kids love when I try to trick them with other words. Use words that start similar to teach phonics at the same time (e.g. stream, straw, strong). This is also a great strategy for transitioning from one activity to another during learning times.
Here are some ideas for race actions with helpful explanations how to instruct preschoolers to do each action:
Gallop: Hop, one foot then the other foot one at a time.
Skip: Bring one knee up into the air then do a little hop with the other foot.
Crab walk: Sit on your bottom, put your hands behind you and your feet flat on the floor in front of you. Then, Lift up your bottom and walk backwards with your hands and feet.
Army crawl: Lay on your belly, pull your body across the floor using only your elbows.
Side shuffle: Turn to the side, move with your feet apart, then feet together.
Hop like a bunny: Hands out front like paws, and do little hops.
Hop like a frog: Touch your toes then jump high in the air.
Stand and spin: Spin one way then stop and spin the opposite direction half way so no one gets too dizzy!
Roll like a log: Lay on the floor with your hands in the air and roll across the room.
Pencil jump: Jump with your hands straight in the air, Don’t bend your body.
4) Mr. Alligator
I found this game on a blog called childhood 101 several years ago. When I first played it with my preschoolers, it was a little challenging. So I simplified it and it has become one of our favorite games. In our class, Mr. Alligator wears an alligator hand puppet (but you can definitely play without one).
How to play: Line up all the children at one end of the room except the person who is Mr. Alligator. Mr. Alligator stands in the middle of the room. All the other children yell, “Mr. Alligator, Mr. Alligator, can we cross the river?” Mr. Alligator then replies “yes” or “no.” If Mr. Alligator says “no” the kids then repeat, “Mr. Alligator, Mr. Alligator, can we please cross the river?” You will notice we add please the second time.
I then encourage Mr. Alligator to say yes this time (so far I have never had anyone tell me no after we say please)! Once Mr. Alligator says “yes” the kids run across the room and Mr. Alligator tries to tag someone. The first person he tags becomes it. If they have already had a chance to be it, I choose someone else who has not had a turn.
*It's helpful to let everyone have the same amount of turns with preschoolers!
A few years back we added gymnastics to our preschool. It has been so fun! I am not a gymnastics instructor, honestly I never even took a class as a child. My only experience with gymnastics comes from sitting in on a few mommy and me classes at the local gym with my own toddlers. Needing some guidance, I found this book: The First Three years of Acro, Gymnastics and Tumbling by Gina Evans. It was a great resource to teach me the basics of gymnastics. If there was a move I didn’t understand, I could easily find it on YouTube. The book also added some fun songs and warm up activities directly targeted to preschool age kids. Pretty quickly I began creating my own moves. My kids also started to create their own exercises that became a THING that we did during every class!
One of my favorites was doing the butterfly stretch, the kids started to tell me where their butterfly was flying to. In every gymnastics class we would go around the circle and talk about where each child’s butterfly was going, the kids got pretty creative!
Gymnastic equipment can be expensive. We have bought one or two things at a time to build up our stash. Buying them second hand can be a really good way to save money. If you can only choose a few pieces of equipment at first, these are my favorite:
Gymnastics equipment is a great way to keep kids active inside. Last spring when school shut down and my own kids were distance learning, I actually brought home the gymnastics from the preschool. My preschooler, kindergarten and 2nd grader played on them for hours every day!
6) Obstacle course
I have used obstacle courses with my own kids and my preschoolers for years. They are usually a favorite and work great for kids ages 3-16 and take little to no setup depending on how you do them. We love to time ourselves and do it over and over again trying to beat our time. If you don’t have a timer, counting works great too! Here are a few ways you can set up an obstacle course:
- Playground Obstacle Course (no set up): Go to your neighborhood park and design an obstacle course using the playground equipment.
*For example: climb up the ladder, run across the bridge, go down the slide, go across the monkey bars (younger kids may need help with this), jump over the swing (or crawl under it), two spins on the spinny thing and touch the fire pole!
- Sidewalk chalk Obstacle Course: Use sidewalk chalk to draw an obstacle course on the sidewalk. You can include, hopscotch, lines to jump over, squiggly lines to walk on like a balance beam, circles to jump on.
- Indoor Obstacle course: Sometimes the weather keeps us inside and our kids just need to move. Setting up an indoor obstacle course is a great way to get your kids moving on wet or cold days! Here are a few ideas you can use to set up an obstacle course inside:
- Run up or down the stairs
- Set a broom across two chairs to limbo or crawl under
- Set pillows on the ground and hop from one to another
- Make a balance beam out of painters tape on the floor
- Toss a ball or bean bag into a bucket
- Put chairs together in a line to crawl through (if you have one of those fabric play tunnels you can set that up
- Make a tire run out of hula hoops
- Stack cups and knock them over
I hope you and your preschooler will enjoy these activities. I appreciate the hours of fun they have provided for me and my children at home and at preschool!