“The best classroom and the richest cupboard is roofed only by the sky.”
- Margaret McMillan (1925)
It’s important that we educate and encourage young children to be physically active and enjoy the outside. By doing this from a very young age, this enjoyment of being outside and physical activity will hopefully stay with children through adulthood.
Most pre-school children in the UK spend an average of 120-150 minutes per day doing physical activity. However, this is 30-60 minutes less than recommended by the Government for children who are capable of walking. Reducing sedentary behaviour (sitting down) has many benefits including improved cardiovascular health, the development of movement and coordination, and contributing to a healthy weight.
Here are some ideas to get your children physically active:
Balloons are endlessly fun to play with and a good way to help develop children’s hand-eye coordination. Set a timer and challenge your children to see how long they can keep a balloon off the ground for – this is great for practising balance and steadiness! You could also encourage team play skills by asking children to hit the balloon back and forth across a table or floor space.
Walk like an animal
Can you hop like a frog, waddle like a duck, gallop like a horse or crawl like a bear? Put some music on and see who can do the best impression of each animal! These whole-body exercises are great for letting children experiment with creating their own versions of movement. These exercises are also a good way to help children develop their gross motor skills.
Bubble blowing is a wonderful sensory experience that will delight children of different ages. It’s also a great way to help children identify body parts. Challenge everyone to pop the bubbles with their fingers, elbows or even their noses! Bubble blowing introduces children to early speech sounds with ‘b’ and ‘p’. For example: “Bye-bye bubbles” or “Pop the bubble!”
There are many lessons to be learnt whilst flying a kite. Children can learn about the physics of kites staying in the air, as well as the best kind of weather for doing this activity. Kite flying also helps develop hand-eye coordination and gross motor skills. To make the experience even more memorable, help children to design and make their own kites.
Obstacle courses are a great way to engage in risky play and build children’s confidence around taking risks safely. As well as helping children develop their gross motor skills, you can help them practise fine motor skills. Interspersed between activities such as jumping/crawling/balance beams, why not add challenges such as picking up 5 cotton balls with tweezers and dropping them in a bucket, or tying a pair of shoes?
Walking in the outdoors
Everyone feels so much better when they’ve been outside! By encouraging children to walk outside, this will really benefit their coordination and balancing skills and develop their muscles. Walking on an uneven terrain (such as grass or the beach) are great places for children to start using different muscles to the ones that they use for indoor flat floors.
Why not use the resources that you find on your walk to either make up a game or to use in a creative activity i.e. leaves, pine cones, stones? The list is endless! Catch bugs and look at them through magnifying glasses. Extend this by talking about where these creatures live and what they would eat.
Photo scavenger hunt
Scavenger hunts can be carried out just about anywhere. They help children boost their observation and teamwork skills as they work together through the clues. To carry out a photo scavenger hunt, you’ll need to take photos of specific features (flowers, bushes etc.) whilst the children can’t see you. Print and laminate these images. Now, let your children study the photos and then go ‘hunting’ to identify exactly where these were taken!
Physical movement can help children develop in many ways. It doesn’t just advance their gross and fine motor skills, it also helps their cognitive abilities too. Early childhood is a time when children generally perceive their physical abilities to be quite high, which means they are open to trying out new activities and challenges. Laying a good foundation for high physical activity levels in the Early Years can help children maintain this behaviour into adolescence and even adulthood. This is very important for children’s optimal health and well-being across their lifespan.