Here's an article reprinted from The Homeschool Court Report 2015 by HSLDA, "Don't Take the Bounce Out of Tigger!" I think you'll find it useful.
Do you ever feel like the Disney song got it all wrong about there being only one Tigger? Does your preschooler seem so bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, pouncy, and fun, fun, FUN that you’re surprised she doesn’t actually bounce off the ceilings, too?
You are not alone!
The thing is, it’s natural for preschoolers to be high energy and need constant movement. In fact, scientists are finding that movement is essential to proper brain and body development. Your child develops motor skills and coordination through active play and practice. She actually needs to run, climb, jump, and act out what she is thinking. Your preschooler may seem to be in constant motion much of the time. This is because she uses her body to convey thoughts and emotions that she still can’t describe through language. Moving her body also helps her better understand many words and concepts that are new to her.
For example, if you start talking about an airplane, she may spread her wings and ‘fly’ around the room. While at times this level of activity may be annoying and distracting for you, it’s a necessary part of her learning process and her fun.
It is recommended that preschoolers need two or more hours of active play time every day. But how do you incorporate two hours of active play in every day? It’s not as hard as it might sound. You can weave movement throughout your child’s day in a way that works for your family. Here are three tips to help you do that.
TIP # 1: Tie your abstract lesson to something your child can pick up, play with, or stomp on. If you’re talking about the planets, gather up nine balls and lay them out in the yard. Your kids can simulate planetary orbits by picking up the balls and running past each other. If you’re talking about a historical event, break out your toys and act it out! Preschoolers learn better when they can play through their material.
Manipulatives are incredibly valuable for preschoolers. Anytime you can have them count physical items, you’ve just taken care of the wiggles and given them a math lesson at their level of development. A great thing for early math is to practice matching dominoes. Set out a tile and see if they can find another tile with the same number of dots. That covers matching and counting skills.
If your child struggles with sitting still and doing a workbook, have her put it down and try acting out the questions with her toys. One HSLDA editor’s daughter developed her pre-multiplication skills by getting out her toy Octonauts and superheroes, standing them in groups of 5 or 10, and counting them up by groups. Or if your older kids are studying history, break out the toys and let your preschooler act out famous events. Connecting an abstract subject to a tangible, fun activity makes it easier for her to understand and remember it. Your children can even learn about the fall of Jerusalem by acting it out with a plastic Darth Vader and Stormtroopers!
TIP #2: Mix studying and exercise together. Active play is great for counting. Have your child jump up and down and count each jump. Then say, “We did five jumps! So if we do one fewer, how many jumps do we have?” Then have him count them out to see if he was right. This tactic also works for jump rope, somersaults, cartwheels, laps around the yard, and any other physical activity that you can count. On a related note, there is no rule against
doing math and playing dress-up at the same time. If you have a small princess, feel free to put on the fancy dress, break out the magic wand, and start counting frogs. You are allowed to be silly . . . and while your child is playing imaginatively and working out her wiggles, she is also learning math.
Music can also be your friend in this endeavor. It’s surprisingly easy to make music a part of your normal life. You can sing and dance as you’re picking up the living room, or while taking a break from another lesson, or just because you feel like it. You’ll be introducing your children to rhythm, tone, and musical style, while also giving them a morale boost and letting them deal with their wiggles. It’s a win-win-win-win-win—and who
doesn’t love that?
TIP #3: Find teachable moments within your everyday life. Remember that you’re teaching ideas and topics at the most introductory level. So no matter what your child is learning, it will probably be relevant throughout your day—even when you’re on the move. One practical way to do this is to find real-life tasks that are developmentally appropriate for your child. Preschoolers often love to be helpful. So as they’re following you around, think of little errands they can run. “Can you go bring me a pencil? Can you set this on the stack of books in the living room? Please go put these forks on the table.” That saves Mom a trip and keeps your kids occupied and happy. And when you need to take a break and get some fresh air, turn that into a learning opportunity. This is a low-stress way to introduce children to botany. Find out what trees and flowers are near your home. As you walk past them, name them for your children—and once they get the hang of it, have them tell you the plant’s name. If you’re teaching colors, talk about the different colors that you run across. Then ask your children to bring you a red leaf, a green pine needle, or a brown acorn. By the time you get home, you’ll have covered important subjects at their level, helped them connect their learning to the world around them, and let them burn off some youthful energy.
Mixing up different activities throughout the day benefits children in all sorts of ways. They learn to anticipate and wait for the next activity, develop the social skills both to play alone and to play with other children and adults, and practice transitioning focus and concentration from one activity to another. Day by day, in addition to physical strength, they gain proficiency in and control of their emotions, cognitive processing, and communication abilities.
By giving your preschooler abundant opportunities to be bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, and pouncy, you’ll be boosting her growth and maturity. Enabling her to release all that wonderful energy in a positive way will reduce frustrating moments for you and your child and keep the fun, fun, FUN! in every day. You might even decide to try a bounce once in a while yourself!
“My child won’t sit still. How do I teach him?” I actually love this question, because the answer is so simple, so fun—and brings so much relief to moms: “Don’t make him sit still! His play is his work, so let him move around and play. But you direct his play so that he’s learning and developing mentally, physically, and emotionally through it.”
In the preschool years, play-based learning is the best way for kids to learn. Young children are in the process of gathering information about the world and learning how to do just about everything—so work and play are pretty interchangeable to them. As a mom to eight daughters, foster mom to many children, and now grandmother to 20 grandchildren, I find that an easy way to help preschoolers gain new skills and get some wiggles out is by inviting them to help me with age-appropriate jobs around the house that also offer movement opportunities.
For example, as preschoolers, my kids were delighted to take a turn pushing the cordless vacuum, wiping down windows, or standing on a stool at the sink to help with dishes (which mostly meant enough water ended up on the floor that we moved onto mopping next!). Sometimes we doubled our fun during chores by playing music in the background or singing silly songs together.
Speaking of music, my preschoolers especially loved movement-oriented songs that encouraged them to jump up, sit down, turn around, jump like a frog, crawl like a worm, fly like a plane, etc. Such music prompted them to use their imaginations at the same time they moved their bodies. Some of my children’s favorite play-based learning activities are also hits with my preschool grandchildren these days. My grandbabies develop fine motor skills through putting large and small puzzles together. They cultivate cooperative play and release energy through building with blocks, making towns with their cars and houses, playing with their “cooking toys,” baby dolls, and dress-up accessories, and building forts from chairs, sheets, and sofa cushions.
My young grandkids enjoy practicing their gross motor skills through indoor activities that involve large motions, such as coloring on paper, drawing on a large easel, or measuring and pouring in the corn kernels bucket or the water table. Outside, my little wigglers revel in digging in the garden, pushing the mini-wheelbarrow, and watering the plants. Another timeless outdoor hit in our family is playing with bubbles! I have large wands on hand for the kids to encourage gross motor play through large arm movements, running around the yard, and jumping and reaching to pop bubbles. This flexible energy outlet never fails to deliver great fun whether my preschool grandchildren are playing with siblings and cousins or by themselves.
One of my daughters recently invented a side-splitting, wiggle-busting version of hopscotch: Her kids love to stomp and jump on bubble wrap. My daughter drew a hopscotch grid with a permanent marker on the back of the bubble wrap, then secured it to the floor with masking tape. The kids love to play hopscotch—it doesn’t even feel like they’re learning their numbers and counting—and now they can bring an outside game inside!
I hope these stories of how my preschool kids and grandkids have learned and grown while constantly moving inspires you with fresh ideas and new ways to expand play-based learning for your own child. Now, won’t you invite your little wiggle worm to get up and go move?