Movement is an essential part of children’s development. Babies use it to communicate their needs, toddlers use it to express their emotion and learn about their bodies in relation to the world, pre-schoolers use it to develop physical and social competence.
Movement gives children the opportunity to use all the multiple intelligences. While being physical they can use language (linguistic intelligence), explore (logical-mathematical intelligence), be alone (intrapersonal intelligence) or with other children (interpersonal intelligence), enjoy music (musical intelligence), and experience nature (naturalistic intelligence) and their bodies within the space they fill (spatial intelligence).
We can create opportunities for movement at playgroup for children at all stages of development; whether they are babies, crawlers, toddlers or pre-schoolers.
Babies begin absorbing information about the environment and respond to sights, sounds, smells, taste and touch from the second they enter the world.
Until about three months of age, a baby’s play will consist of mainly observing people and objects – learning to lift her head as she develops neck control and making random attempts to grasp anything held in front of her. Waiving arms and legs will become one of her favourite toys.
After three months they will gain enough control over hand and arms to grasp and examine small objects. Grasping soon becomes holding and discovering how to master hand-eye coordination. The hand to mouth exploration become seeing. They will discover and explore household objects once she can reach out, grasp and hold successfully.
They will practice and perfect these new skills with any toys you give them.
A baby needs lots of opportunities to practice and progress in her own time. One of the best ways to encourage activity is to join in. You are your child’s first and favourite playmate. Just by imitating your own physical movements your child is learning new physical skills.
Playing simple games in your daily routine can help your child’s physical development from a very early age. As you sing and talk to your baby she is not only learning to recognise your face, but also developing focus and body awareness.
Encourage your baby to lift their head as they lie on their stomach. Hold an object or toy in front of their face and gradually lift it up.
Lay your baby on their stomach again and place a toy in front of her just out of reach. This time put your hands on their feet to give her something to push against encouraging her to reach forward.
Play singing games and rhymes. Move your face, hands and arms around. Move a rattle from side to side above your baby’s head. Their eyes will follow the movement.
Allow plenty of opportunities for your baby to move their arms and legs freely.
Firmly attach a safety mirror to the side of the basket or cot. They will see it move when they wriggle near.
Place a large photo of your face, brightly coloured pictures, or toys within visual range to practice focus. As sight improves increase the distance at which you place the objects.
Hang mobiles above their cot. Junk and sound mobiles are easy to make from
- Brightly coloured strips of cloth
- Foil – varying shapes and sizes
- Foil containers
- Cut out paper shapes
- Soft toys
- Rattles, shells, bells and anything else that makes a noise to encourage baby to search for the sound source with her eyes – change as baby loses interest
- Streamers suspended from mobiles to catch the breeze when baby is outdoors on a rug or in a pram
Play ‘peep-bo’ with your hands, babies’ hands, a scarf or a piece of material.
Provide toys that make things happen, rock or make a noise when baby moves or kicks e.g.:
- Soft toys, blocks with bells inside, rattles to kick against and jingle in her cot or basket
- An old sock or stocking filled with crinkly paper to make crinkly sound
- An activity mat with different textures and shapes to explore
- Interesting things strung across pram or cot to swing freely so baby can reach up and touch and swipe
Developing hand-eye skills
Encourage reaching. Lie your baby down or prop with cushions in her cot or on a rug on the floor. Place objects to grasp and explore with hands and fingers. They could include:
- Safe variety of household objects e.g. tough plastic cups, spoons, jelly moulds
- Light stuffed toys, soft balls made from stuffed pantyhose or socks
- Soft squeaky or musical toys
- Activity centres that encourage baby to use hands in different ways to make sounds by pushing, pulling or dialling
- Playmats with inbuilt activities and toys
- Pop up toys
- Stacking or nesting cups and rings
- Bead frames
- Soft blocks for examining and stacking
- A scrunchy bag – stuff an orange net with crinkly paper and knot at both ends
Provide squeezy bath toys and containers at bath tine. Introduce hide and seek games. Part – cover a toy with piece of material. Show your baby how to find it by grasping the piece of material.
Make a scarf-pull out box. Knot several brightly coloured scarves together. Tie one end to the bottom of an ice-cream container. Show your baby how to pull them out through a hole in the lid.
Touch and Physical Contact
Touch is the most developed of the sense at birth. It is not only a physical assurance of your presence, but has a significant role in encouraging physical well being and muscular coordination. Stimulate your baby’s awareness and enjoyment of their own body:
- Stroke and massage your baby
- Gently pull soft scarves over the fingers and toes
- Pour and trickle water over arms, legs, body at bath time
Tickle, cuddle and hug your baby. Lift them up and down as you change nappies and bath them.
Play clapping rhythms with their hands. Move their arms and legs around.
Babies love being bounced up and down with their legs braced on your lap or a firm surface.
Play body rhymes and games with fingers and toes e.g. This Little Piggy, Pat-a-Cake, Round and Round the Garden. Make or buy a textured play mat or textured books to explore and enjoy together.
A baby gains control over their trunk and learns how to roll as their central nervous system matures and core strength develops.
By six months most babies can shift their weight to roll from one position to another. Once able to crawl, babies can shift their weight to roll from one position to another; whether to lie down, sit, crawl or pull themselves up to stand. This new mobility creates freedom to physically move and explore the environment. The physical games your baby has enjoyed so much will become more robust.
Hand skill activities
Hand skill experiences encourage development of find finger control, the interplay between your child’s small and large muscle groups and development of hand-eye coordination.
Encourage attempts at self-feeding with small pieces of finger foods and a spoon to grasp.
Make posting boxes with different sized holes and an assortment of objects to post. Roll balls down tubes inserted at an angle in one side through a hole in the opposite side of the box.
Show your baby how to fill a container with toy animals, plastic cups, soft beanbags, balls or anything unbreakable.
Encourage your baby to have a go.
Provide simple puzzles with large knobs to lift out pieces.
Provide cars and wheely toys to push, pull or roll back to you. Roll a large inflatable beach ball and encourage them to bat it back. As your baby becomes more mobile show them how to push and chase rolling toys.
Large Muscle Play
Rolling, stretching, sliding, bouncing, crawling, kicking and rocking all encourage hand foot and eye coordination. As children enjoy these physical experiences they are growing in body strength, control, balance, agility, flexibility and spatial awareness.
Get down on the floor and play a crawling chasing game together. Encourage your child to chase you as well. Pretend you are different animals and make animal noises.
Washing baskets and large cardboard boxes are fun to crawl in and out of. Push ends out of several boxes and line them up to make a tunnel to crawl through. Sometimes add textures to the floor or hang streams for children to crawl through.
Make a tunnel from circular ribbing to crawl through. With an adult either end stretch tunnel between feed and hold open with hands.
Blow bubbles outdoors to crawl after and chase. Explore simple playgroup equipment together. Play follow the leader – crawl around furniture, under the tables in and out. Fill an empty wading pool with cushions and large beanbags. Bounce and roll.
Place lots of safe low things together to climb over and around.
Set up an obstacle course with:
- Cushions and covered foam blocks
- Cushions of varying shapes and sizes
- Boxes and washing baskets
- Blankets and beanbags
Investigate your local toy library for toys and equipment to extend your child’s growing physical expertise.
TODDLER & PRESCHOOLERS
As a child grows their physical abilities develop and allow them to do more.
While no two children are the same, generally children aged 2 ½ - 3 ½ tend to run and fall often, walk up stairs one step at a time, jump with two feet and stack blocks one of top of another. They can move fingers independently and are starting to learn how to cut with scissors.
Once children turn 4, they usually can walk a straight line, hop on one foot, pedal and steer a tricycle skilfully, run, jump, hop, skip around obstacles with ease, stack ten or more blocks, form shapes and objects out of clay or play dough, hold small objects in the pincer grip, climb ladders, steps, trees and playgroup equipment and easily catch, bounce and throw a ball. By the time they turn 5, most can learn to skip, throw a ball overhead, catch a bounced ball, ride a tricycle skilfully, balance on either foot for a short time, walk down stairs alternating feet, jump over low objects, run, gallop, tumble and run on tiptoe.
Toss small bean bags into a large doggy bowl, through hoops or into boxes. To make small bean bags, put some grains on of material, fold each square over and stitch each edge securely closed.
Boxes are ideal for tunnels and obstacle courses to climb over, under, through, in and out. They can be kicked, pushed, made into blocks, used to hide in or sit in and pulled along by an adult to become a car.
Put ten medium-sized cardboard boxes close together on two straight lines so children can step from one to another. Start slowly and repeat, gaining speed each time.
Offer different sized boxes such as empty wine casks, shoe boxes, cereal boxes, white good boxes, grocery boxes and toothpaste boxes.
Playing with big blocks draws on a child's ability to use large muscle groups to move blocks around and small muscle groups to either balance them on top[ of each other or make them interconnect.
Make blocks from carpentry off cuts sanded smooth, foam off cuts covered with material or milk carton blocks. To make milk carton blocks cut a two litre milk carton down, fold it in on itself to form a cub and tape closed. Duplo, big wooden blocks and construction sets are commercially available from quality toy suppliers and can be borrowed from toy libraries.