Want to help improve your child’s balance, body awareness and movement skills to boost their development and put them on the path towards a lifetime of fitness and wellbeing? It’s all about play! We met Andrea Webb, Health & PE teacher at Nexus International School (Singapore), who shared 10 fun activities we can all try at home now…
Growth and development in the early years is about much more than hitting milestones at the right time: from building upper body strength through tummy time as a baby, to learning how to crawl, walk, balance and control objects, these movements are the building blocks behind mastering daily activities such as holding a pen correctly, using scissors or even sitting in class with good posture. So what’s the secret to teaching kids how to move confidently, gain strength and flexibility and learn how to control objects? Playtime.
As a mum herself, Andrea Webb is passionate about helping kids to feel confident in their own bodies and enjoy a lifetime of fitness. “It all starts by learning through movement”, explains Andrea. “Play and movement impact the overall growth and holistic development of a learner.”
“Sadly, there’s been a huge shift in the kind of games and activities kids do today, and children have lost a lot of the key skills developed from playing card games, clapping games and skipping,” says Andrea. As a result, fine motor skills, coordination and spatial awareness have been affected. “Slouching over smartphones and tablets leads to poor postural control and core strength,” she adds. Time to rediscover some old-school fun together!
Try these activities at home that will help your child develop general strength, balance, object control and body awareness. They don’t cost the earth (some don’t cost anything at all) and the time you spend playing together will be priceless!
1. Nursery rhymes – with actions!
For older babies and toddlers, singing nursery rhymes together is a lovely bonding activity – but learning to follow all of the actions to ‘I’m a Little Teapot’, ‘Wind the Bobbin Up’ and ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ is also fantastic for motor skill development.
2. Bring out the shaving foam!
Believe it or not, shaving foam can be a fantastic tool for play – best done in the bathtub, of course. Spray it on the wall in a figure of eight, and get your child to follow the shape, alternating hands. It’s a great sensory activity for little ones, and cross-body movement is vital for developing fine motor skills.
3. Walk the line
Help your child develop their balance and spatial awareness with this easy exercise: place a skipping rope on the ground and get them to follow the line, one foot in front of the other. Make it more challenging by making the rope follow large curves or a smaller, squiggly path.
4. Jump, jump, jump!
Toddlers can take a while to learn how to jump – show them how to jump for height by bending your knees, swinging your arms, taking off and stretch to touch the sky, pushing off with the balls of your feet and making a soft landing with bent knees. Then you can try jumping on the spot or jumping forwards from a line with two feet together; jumping over a progressively higher stick or obstacle; jumping down from a height; jumping sideways and back and forth.
5. Start skipping!
How often do your kids play with a skipping rope? It’s time to rediscover skipping – combining the movements of lifting knees, swinging arms and stepping and hopping may not come so naturally, so try teaching your child to skip by using a hula hoop, which is easier to control. Try skipping backwards and forwards!
6. Wheelbarrow walks
Maintaining upper body strength is particularly important for girls age eight and above, says Andrea – it’s essential for postural control and stability, and without good upper body control, fine motor skills such as handwriting and tabletop work at school can be more difficult. Wheelbarrow walking is great for upper body strength: hold your child’s feet and let them walk on their hands!
Remember playing tug-of-war in the backyard with your siblings as a kid? Get into this old-school game and your child will build upper body strength and better stability.
8. Animal antics
Copy the movements of different animals to help little ones master new movements such as hopping, crawling sideways and trying new things! Hop like a kangaroo, gallop like a horse, do the chicken dance and leap across the floor like a monkey! Want a challenge? Try the crab walk: sit on the floor with hands on floor behind and feet flat on the floor in front, lift the bottom up and walk hands and feet backwards or forwards, keeping your bottom off the floor. These are all great for building upper body strength, core strength and stability.
9. The one-bounce challenge
This easy activity is excellent for developing object control and coordination. Place a hula hoop on the ground and stand on each side of it. Let your child bounce the ball once in the hoop, you catch it on the other side and take turns. Want to make it trickier? Try balls of different shapes and sizes – move from a large round ball to a rugby ball to a tennis ball!
This fun activity teaches kids object control and how to master the underarm roll. Make an at-home bowling alley by filling plastic water bottles with sand or rice and knock them down by rolling a ball! Remember to keep your eyes on the target, swing the ball backward and forward, step forward with the opposite foot and bend your knees to roll the ball. Start with a two-handed roll and then progress to a one-hand roll for a challenge!