Monkey bars and water balloons: Playtime exercises preschool bodies and minds

April 19, 2012 | Posted in: Early Learners, Elementary

Your preschooler is a ball of energy, darting from one spot to the next, running from the playroom to the kitchen, skipping from the swing set to the sandbox. You wonder at times if they’ll ever stop moving long enough to sleep.

Rest assured, this physical activity is an important part of your child’s healthy development. It’s part of a natural process by which children develop strong bodies and healthy motor skills they’ll need as they progress through their school years.

From a young age, your children are using their bodies to react to their environments. For example, young babies lie on their stomachs and push themselves up on their forearms. Not only does this type of activity help strengthen the muscles from the fingertips to the toes, it also allows the brain to receive sensory information from the hands and other parts of the body that make contact with a surface. The brain also receives information from the eyes (“This is what the world looks like at a different level”), ears (“and things sound differently”), even the nose and mouth (“Yuck, this blanket tastes rough when I fall back against it with my open mouth”).

Physical activities naturally have the added effect of strengthening the muscles they will need to use in school when learning such skills as reading and writing. It’s important for your child to begin school with the proper strength and physical development to take on new learning challenges so that they can, for example, hold a pencil properly and hold their body upright for periods of time.

The more opportunities children have to strengthen their bodies by engaging in a variety of physical activities from the time they are very young, the better prepared they will be to learn once they become school-age.

Here are some ideas for building physical strength:

  • Trunk and shoulder strength are needed for sitting for lengths of time, maintaining proper eye contact and stabilizing the arms for reading and writing. Hit the playground when possible – there is plenty of equipment to give kids a natural way to develop upper body strength.
  • Wheelbarrow walking. (Very young children can be held at the middle or by the thighs until their upper body strength develops to a point where they can support the entire length of their body while being held at the ankles.)
  • Rolling and pushing each other in wagons or loading and pushing toy vehicles filled with gravel or other materials.
  • Carrying buckets filled with water to make sand castles or to help wash the car.
  • Hand and finger strength are needed for writing, holding pencils, cutting, pinching and picking up small objects. Try kneading dough for bread or pizza, or decorating cookies with sprinkles. Squeezing activities also help develop hand muscles – try squeezing sponges filled with water, playing with play dough, or squirting a water bottle filled with water.

Give children frequent opportunities to move and play. They don’t need to be accomplishing anything specific. They just need to be out there doing things.

For more information on the importance of play for young children, check out these resources:

  • “Play: It’s the Way Young Children Learn.” Read story
  • From Playpen to Playground–The Importance of Physical Play for the National Center for Physical Development and Outdoor Play: “Motor Development of Young Children.”

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