By Rachel Butler, COTA/L
More and more research is being published that shows the benefits of movement for learning. As a result, elementary school teachers are incorporating movement breaks into their schedules and some middle schools are bringing back recess. Preschool children seem to be constantly moving, so why incorporate more movement into their classrooms? Isn’t that already build in naturally during free play, outdoor play, and transitions?
From birth to age three, young children are constantly taking in information from their world and their bodies. During the preschool years children are categorizing, refining and expanding on all of that information that they have absorbed. Just as they are learning to sort colors, shapes and letters, and navigating relationships with their peers, they are also learning more about what their bodies can do and what makes their bodies feel good. Teachers report a rise in the number of children in preschool classrooms who seem to lack foundation self-regulation, motor, and postural skills necessary to feel safe in their bodies, follow classroom routines, and play appropriately with their peers.
What would be the value of adding a movement-based activity corner?
Many preschool classrooms are filled with activity corners for imaginary play, art, block building, reading, and life skills such as kitchen play. Providing a movement center in the classroom, with specifically designed movement activities allows children to choose the types of movement that make them feel good as well as to practice new activities and challenge themselves. For children who seek movement, which is an ever-increasing group, they have a designated place in which to satisfy that need. For children who don’t naturally initiate movement, they have the opportunity to observe their peers engaged in specific movement plans, giving them multiple demonstrations and new ideas. For children who avoid or have difficulty with movement activities, having a specific curriculum of movement activities in the classroom helps teachers to track their progress with regard to motor development while creating teacher opportunities to facilitate guided participation.
If designed and presented well, the inclusion of movement centers into preschool classrooms can be a wonderful addition to more traditional classroom management techniques. When children are provided with avenues to move their bodies in safe and organized ways in the classroom, they often naturally seek these activities on their own. Teachers can also encourage children to use movement activities when they see children demonstrating a need to move their bodies.
For a child jumping up and down when talking to a friend, the teacher should say: “Oh, it looks like your body want to jump, let’s go together to find the jumping spots”. For a child throwing toy blocks, the teacher could say “It looks like you feel like throwing things. Lets go find the bean bags and throw them in the basket”
Simple Ideas for Movement Center Materials include:
- Stepping Stones
- Bucket Stilts
- Spin Disks (aka sit and spin)
- Jumping dots
- Rocking Chair
- Yoga mat with picture cards/Kids Yoga Book
- Taped line for walking (with bean bags to balance on head – or tray to cary with ball to balance)
- Rolling pin with taped line in center to roll on a taped line on the floor (match lines- child crawls or bear walks)
- Basket (against wall) to throw bean bags or beanie animals into. 1-3 taped lines on floor at different distances so children can challenge themselves.
- Cars to drive on a tape “road” to facilitate crawling for shoulder stability while pushing cars)
Depending on availability of space in the classroom, all activities can be out at one time or they can be rotated throughout the school year. Prior to use by the children, activities should be demonstrated by a teacher (either to a group or individually) to set expectations for safe use and ground rules should be set for how may children can use one material at a time.
Unsure if a movement center is right for your classroom?
Try introducing just one activity at first and observe how the children use it and what children are drawn to it.
Not sure what to introduce?
- Make a list of the types of movement the children are naturally seeking throughout their day. Start where you see the greatest need.
- Don’t be discouraged if the first activity that you introduce is not automatically a big hit. Take time to assess the make up of your classroom and try again.
Establishing a movement curriculum in the classroom may take time, but it will be worth all of your efforts when you start seeing the children choosing and enjoying these activities throughout their day to support self-regulation, motor skill development, and organized movement.