During the preschool years, children use their bodies to play and learn while developing the various motor skills they’ll use throughout their lives to stay physically active and healthy. Your guidance will help them build a strong foundation of physical skills that will help them complete everyday activities and participate in various sports. In Encouraging Physical Activity for Preschoolers, Steve Sanders, EdD, discusses how you can help preschoolers understand the best ways to skip, gallop, run, jump, etc. Here are just a few of the movements and activities you can do with preschoolers to ensure they have the physical skills they need to lead a healthy lifestyle:
Marching – Preschoolers can develop a sense of rhythm while marching to the beat of music. Practice marching in the school building or on the school yard. Be sure to invite other groups of children to march with you. Here are a few ideas to get you started with marching activities:
Explain to children that they are in band and that you’re all going to be practicing marching. Use two sticks to strike or drum together to keep the beat.
Move to the beat, and emphasize raising the knees high in the air each time you and the children take a step.
March at different speeds by beating a drum or striking sticks together slowly or quickly.
As children understand the difference between slow and fast marching, add in an arm swing. Say, “Bend your elbows and swing your arms high in the air.”
As children’s marching skills improve, add obstacles for them to march around and talk about marching in straight, curved, or zigzag pathways.
Running – Running helps build children’s endurance and is the basis of most sports they’ll play later in life. To get preschoolers started running, go outside and run with them. Mark off a running course at the park or on the playground, and place balls, cones, or hoops throughout the space for children to weave around. You can help children run better by asking them to run fast—this requires them to use their arms and legs in opposition and to swing their arms for an efficient running pattern. It’s best to start with short distances (around 20 to 30 yards) and increase the distance when children are ready. Remember, you’re teaching preschoolers the mechanics of running while having fun (the distance they run doesn’t need to play a big role).
JUMPING AND LANDING
Box Jumping – Jumping down from a step or off a wooden box is a great way for children to learn how to safely jump and land. Keep in mind that many children will be more successful at jumping down rather stepping over an object because it’s easier to get both feet to land at the same time. Do not allow young children to jump from a height of 10 inches or more. Instruct children who are jumping to bend their knees, place their arms behind their bodies, and swing their arms forward as they propel off the box. Make sure you emphasize the importance of landing on two feet and remaining on balance without falling over. You may want to consider putting a mark on the ground to help children focus on landing on a target.
Jumping Rope – Learning to jump rope is an important part of one’s childhood. A seven-foot rope with plastic beads tends to work well with preschool-age children. When children are first learning how to jump rope, the emphasis should be on jumping off on two feet and landing on two feet. Here are some instructions you can give children as they learn to jump rope:
Hold the rope by both handles in front of your body with thumbs on top pointing down.
Make sure that the middle of the rope is flat on the floor.
Step over your rope.
Bend your elbows up to your ears.
Move your arms forward, and swing the rope over your head.
Let the rope hit the floor.
Jump over the rope; you take off and land on two feet. (Make sure children know not to jump while their rope is in the air. Jumping once the rope has hit the floor will help them keep their balance.)