For decades, early childhood educators have created expert learning areas within their programs to improve the cognitive, social, and emotional development of young kids. This is a superb achievement. Sadly, very few early childhood education programs have added learning centers which focus on a kid’s physical development. The reasons for this are diverse and include time, space, and money limitations; and even the misperception that teachers need to be fitness professionals before they can bring physical fitness activities into the classroom. The fact is that all teachers can slot in a fitness learning center into their program. Here’s how you can begin.
A Few Basics: What Fitness Is and Is Not
Every class has some kids who are very lively and some who are not. Just because a kid is lively and energetic, however, does not mean that he or she is physically fit. While such a lively kid may have better body composition than a dormant child, he or she may still be weak in three other key measures of a kid’s fitness level:
- Cardiovascular patience
- Flexibility; and
- Muscular strength
The Obvious and Not So Obvious Benefits of Fitness
While the clear benefits of fitness are enhanced strength, patience, flexibility, and cardiovascular capacity, the less obvious benefits are just as significant. These include:
1. Heightened body consciousness and healthy personality,
2. enhanced listening and social skills,
3. The ability to use movement as a means of original look, and
4. The early development of enduring fitness habits.
Incorporating Fitness into Free and Structured Play
Fitness activities can be integrated into both your free play and structured play programs. In free play, just allow the kids to decide or make up activities using their bodies and the equipment you provide. Besides physical benefits, this technique allows kids to contribute without the pressure to perform; the kids set their own goals and decide their own activities. This approach supports shy kids to try new things without the pressure of peers while benefiting the active learner who has a native need to learn by doing. To make the most of the space and keep kids involved, alternate the equipment you use from day to day.
In structured play or circle time, you direct the kids in the activity you wish them to follow. Your creativity, eagerness, and ability to understand your kids are keys to achievement. To help you decide the right activities and music follow these guidelines:
- Think like a kid. Then move like one.
- What is the age of your kids? Which of their skills are in need of further development?
- Make the activities fun. If it’s fun for you, then it’s almost certainly fun for them.
- Use themes that tie into the weekly or monthly activities and the current curriculum.
Suggested Games by teacher training course for Free Play (Ages 2 1/2-6)
In free play activities, the teacher provides the equipment, but leaves kids free to make their own games. Here are some examples of what you can do with simple, low-cost duck-tape and felt.
- Hop-Scotch: Use your duck tape to simply create hopscotch lines on the carpet.
- Balance Beam: Place a big strip of duck tape on the carpet for kids to follow. Create lines, zigzags, shapes, letters, or numbers.
- Long-jump: Just mark the starting line with duck tape and let the kids jump as far as they can. They’ll do this easy activity again and again.
- Cut-outs: Cut pieces of felt into unusual shapes that are big enough for kids to stand or sit on. Turn on the music and let kids play games created from their own imaginations.
Suggested Games by preschool teacher training for Structured Play (Ages 2 1/2–6)
In structured play, the teacher sets the example or leads the activity. Use the following suggestions during your next group activity.
- Tie your games to a familiar book, song, or poem.
- The song “The Incy wincy Spider” is great for kids “act” out physically by crawling like spiders.
- Of all the stories, kids seem to enjoy acting out the story of The Three Little Pigs. Lead your kids through each part of the story by having them use their bodies to act out each scene—building the houses, running from the wolf, blowing the houses down.
Other Fun Fitness Games
- Body Parts Game. First, place one felt square in front of each kid on the floor. Then say a body part for the kids to place on their felt sheet. This game develops body awareness.
- The Penguin Game. Kids need one sponge ball each. The teacher asks kids to place the sponge ball between their legs and move like a penguin around the room.
There will be days when you’re exhausted and don’t feel irritated, but once you start the class, hear the music, and start moving with the kids you will see how much fun the kids are having that you will begin to have fun, too. Have an open mind and allow yourself to enjoy the class as though YOU were the kid.