More movement activities for fun and healthy development

Last week we suggested some physical activities that are known to boost healthy development – mainly related to sensory motor systems.

‘Sensory-motor’ refers to the relationship between information coming in from our senses and movement.  Sensory messages are picked up from our environment mainly through the ‘outer’ senses of vision, audition, touch, smell and taste but we also receive information from inside our bodies. These come from the ‘inner senses’ – in other words, those sensory organs we cannot see, for example, the proprioceptors (which tell us where our bodies are in space) and vestibular (which is responsible for our ability to maintain balance). We use all this information to make appropriate movement responses, to generate thought and feelings.

When children can move efficiently in response to sensory inputs, they find movement activities to be fun.   Some children have greater problems integrating the sensory information with motor responses.  It is possible that they don’t experience physical activities and challenges as ‘having fun’ and may try to avoid them.  These are often children who show clumsiness, dislike climbing on jungle gyms or swinging off monkey bars, find bicycle riding difficult, and so on.  They are amongst those who will benefit from planned and carefully chosen physical activities.  Remember, though, that they might need encouragement to engage in these and persevere until they are able to master them.

The activities last week were aimed at the vestibular system.  Here are a couple of examples to enhance sense of body position (or proprioception).

Fun with a hoop: For this activity, you’ll need one or two hula hoops and perhaps some cushions or a blow up mattress or lilo for introducing later changes.

The idea is to hold the hoop in different positions and ask the child to move through it without allowing any part of her body to touch the hoop.  Start with the hoop in a vertical position with the lower edge at about knee height so that the child can step through it.  It’s a good idea to tell the child that the hoop has a built-in alarm which will go off if it is touched (make loud alarm sounds when this happens and tell the child to begin again). The child is not allowed to dive through the hoop; the movement must be slow and careful.

Once the child has succeeded in climbing through the hoop, she returns through the hoop from the opposite direction.  Then ask her to think of a different way of getting through.  After this, change the position of the hoop – horizontal to the ground, tilted at different angles, etc.

You can add variations once the above becomes easy. For example, use two hoops, parallel and about two feet apart; perform the activity on an uneven surface, like cushions or an air mattress; add other items to get through without touching, like through the legs of a chair or table.

Fun with a rope: For these activities, you’ll need a fairly long rope – ideally about 6-8 metres.

  1. Have a tug of war. Hold tightly to your end of the rope and have the child try to pull you forward.
  2. Hold your end of the rope and have the child pull himself towards you, hand over hand or, even better, on a scooter board if you have one.
  3. Put a heavy object on one end of the rope and have the child try to pull it out. You can even park your car on one end of the rope if no heavy objects are at hand.
  4. Tie the rope to a post or anything else upright and swing it backwards and forwards. Have the child jump over the rope. Once this becomes easy, do it to a beat or to a rhythm.

Fun with a ball:  For these activities, choose fairly large, plastic balls. Soccer and netballs will be too heavy and hard.

  1. Kick the ball up into the air. Try to repeat this action so that the ball is sent into the air with each kick.
  2. Play a gentle version of soccer with him. Kick the ball back and forth between you.
  3. Dribble the ball across an open space.
  4. Put a target at one end of an open space and try to kick the ball so that it hits the target. You can also make pretend soccer nets by placing two objects on the end of the space and aiming to get the ball between them; or use a hoop and try to kick the ball through the hoop.

Fun with tools:  For this, the child will need a very sturdy chunk of wood (or ideally, a log lying in the garden), a hammer and some nails.  Don’t think a toy hammer will suffice – he’ll need a real one to get the job done!  The rest is simple. Let him enjoy hammering the nails into the wood.  If you have no wood at hand at all, use a large, dense piece of polystyrene, like those that are used to pack appliances.



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