Large Motor Play and Learning

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As a big girl, she’s doing so much more large motor play and soaking up things like a sponge.  Sometimes I have to take a step back and intentionally think about how to interact with her during activities as to not interrupt or inhibit the awesome things she’s engaging in. 

I am currently serving as a Smart Play Ambassador with the Minnesota Children’s Museum and each month we explore various topics and share the educational learning opportunities at the museum as well as apply it to our own lives.  This month I am writing about large motor play and learning.  Without a doubt, kids need large motor play.  And you know what? Sometimes, we need our kids to have large motor play too.  I have been guilty of saying, “We need to get out of the house and move!”  But did you know that all of that movement is good for the body but also the mind and helping your child learn?

From the Minnesota Children’s Museum:

Running, jumping and climbing not only lower obesity rates in children, but it also contributes to endurance, balance and flexibility. Overall, physical play supports healthy muscle and organ growth.  Movement and large motor play is also necessary for healthy cognitive development and effective learning. Creative problem-solving, memory and attention span, as well as verbal and non-verbal communication skills, are all strengthened during physical play (Carlson, 2011). Despite the many benefits of physical play, children’s active play has decreased by 50 percent over the last 40 years (Juster, Ono & Stafford, 2004), largely due to more time in front of the screen and spending fewer hours in unstructured play or recess.

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With fall here, I try and get my family out every night because I know the winter will be here before we know it.  I recently upgraded Stella from her Dora starter bike to a big girl Princess bike-big news in the Seuffert house.  Man can she zoom on that thing.  Honestly, it was also sad for me, look at her in that picture, almost screaming out, “I’m a big girl.” As a big girl, she’s doing so much more large motor play and soaking up things like a sponge.  Sometimes I have to take a step back and intentionally think about how to interact with her during activities as to not interrupt or inhibit the awesome things she’s engaging in.  Anyone have Dora fans at their house? Well here’s an easy way to do some interacting following a simple “MAP” acronym:

Make Observations: When making observations, keep the focus on the activity or the actions of your child, and try not to insert too much judgment or value on it. For our biking girl, I’ve made statements like ”You bike so fast it is hard to keep up.  You must love being on your bike.” 

Ask Open-Ended Questions: Asking the kind of question where there is no right or wrong answer is more accepting and allows for your child’s creative thinking to shine.  “What’s your favorite thing about riding your bike?”  Expect odd responses to open-ended questions, Stella responded, “Wearing my helmet!!”  Well, ok then.

Pose Challenges: Challenging your child will extend their thinking and provide an opportunity to try out some new, emerging skills. Challenges you pose may come in the form of a statement you make, a question you ask, a move you do, new material you introduce, or a book you read.   “Can you name 5 things we saw on our bike ride today?”  You might be very surprised at their reactions, observations and ability to tackle a challenging question!

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September 21, was Worldwide Day of Play, what did you do?  I asked a few Twin Cities moms to share their experience doing some large motor play and to do some intentional interactions with their children, check out what they had to say below.  In celebration of Worldwide Day of Play and the new Blue Man Group Making Waves exhibit at the Minnesota Children’s Museum I’m giving away a four pack of passes to the Minnesota Children’s museum, just share with me your recent experiences of large motor play and any observations you’ve made in the comments section of my blog or Facebook page for a chance to win! I’ll pick one winner on October 11.  This is an awesome new exhibit, our family checked it out last weekend-Wes enjoyed playing the PVC pipe music with flipflops!

Grave Family

 It amazed me that a plain balloon could entertain our entire family for so long and that by asking a few open-ended questions the simple act of hitting a balloon up took a fun and imaginative twist!

Renae and Nait Grave
Tristan (3) and Mila (1)
Minnesota Children’s Museum Members

Recently we blew up a balloon and Tristan started hitting it into the air (monkey see, monkey do….his little sister wanted to do the same thing.) We were able to leverage the MAP parenting actions by making observations about how good he was at hitting it up and asking questions about what he was doing. That’s when the creativity of his game was shared and he told us the floor was “hot lava” and he was hitting the balloon up to keep it out of the lava. We challenged him to count how many times he could hit it up before it hit the floor and he was also able to practice counting during the active playtime. We all got in on the fun and there were different challenges posed during the game like “what else could we use to keep the balloon out of the lava” and he came up with ideas like everyone use your feet/head/hands/pillows to hit the balloon. It amazed me that a plain balloon could entertain our entire family for so long and that by asking a few open-ended questions the simple act of hitting a balloon up took a fun and imaginative twist!

Brown Family

Meghan & Dakota Brown
Gabe (4) and Josie (16 months)
Minnesota Children’s Museum Members

I asked the open-ended question, “What do you think about us biking today and not riding in the car?”  As he is swerving back and forth in front of me, he says, “I think it’s a good idea, Mom.  I can see all of the parked cars and the stop signs and the other bikes much better!”

The other day I got a flat tire on my car, so instead of driving to pick Gabe up from preschool, I biked to get him.  He was so excited to attempt the ride home on his 2-wheel bike, while Josie rode in the seat behind me.  On the way (trying not to distract him too much!), I asked the open-ended question, “What do you think about us biking today and not riding in the car?”  As he is swerving back and forth in front of me, he says, “I think it’s a good idea, Mom.  I can see all of the parked cars and the stop signs and the other bikes much better!”  I had expected him to say something about liking to go fast or zig-zagging around, but he was savoring the experience in a much different way than I thought.  He liked slowing down and being a part of the world instead of driving through it at 30 mph.  As we rode into our alley, I asked another question, “How does biking make you feel?”  His first response was, “Tired!”, but then he said, “It makes me strong like Hulk!”  I love that he is enjoying using his body to move through the world, and to notice how sometimes slowing down can help you experience your surroundings in a different way.  I am so glad we had that flat tire today!

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Leah and Mike Boulos
Ella (3.5) and Miliana (1)
Minnesota Children’s Museum Members

As a middle school literacy coach, I highly value all that physical play has to do with cognitive growth. One of the keys to literacy success is one’s background knowledge, and physical play certainly enhances this. Without the physical activities we have exposed her to, I don’t think she’d be the creative, social, and smart little monkey that she is! 

When Mike and I bought our house 6 ½ years ago, we imagined the pitter-patter of feet running around the house.  Our girls have certainly yet to disappoint us with that.  Our daughters have crushed any notions anyone could have had of girls not needing to run and jump and climb.  On Worldwide Day of Play we incorporated family favorites throughout the day.  First, Miliana enjoyed crawling and hiding in our playhut and tunnel.  Ella popped in and out of there playing peek-a-boo with her!  We also explored our playset in our yard.  Ella has mastered the rock wall, and is working on pumping as she swings.  Miliana loves hanging out in the little hideout underneath and cruising along the edges. But the majority of our playtime outside inevitably involved one of Ella’s favorite activities-riding her bike.  She has had a balance bike since 18 months, and recently got her first “pedal” bike, as she calls it!

As a middle school literacy coach, I highly value all that physical play has to do with cognitive growth.  I followed the MAP strategy and here’s what our MAP interactions sounded like that day: Making Observations: “Ella, you have been riding your bike the whole time we’ve been outside this morning!  You are lifting your feet up more and going a lot faster than you used to!” Ask Open-Ended Questions: “Can you tell me how you balance when you ride? Why did you start moving faster?  What do you want to try next?” Pose Challenges:  “I bet you could ride the whole length of the driveway.  Maybe we can take your training wheels of your new bike and practice balancing on that one!” Following the “MAP” strategy was great for Ella, who is always coming up with creative answers to our questions because she is pondering and processing life every second of the day! I feel that the non-judgmental and open nature of the observations and questions allow a child to grow and not search for that correct answer.  She was a late talker, but has always been exceptionally mechanical and physical.  This has led her to become an independent thinker and problem-solver.  One of the keys to literacy success is one’s background knowledge, and physical play certainly enhances this. Without the physical activities we have exposed her to, I don’t think she’d be the creative, social, and smart little monkey that she is!

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1 thought on “Large Motor Play and Learning

  1. Thanks, Alice! This is a great post. I can relate – I recently signed Emmett up for a tumbling class through community ed, mostly for selfish reasons — I wanted an excuse to get out of the house on cold winter weeknights :). But, watching him and the other toddlers explore the gym equipment, make up games and learn how to move their bodies in different ways showed me how much they are actually learning in these quick, 30-minute sessions. Plus, he’s a much happier boy when we get home … The freedom to play/learn in new ways is refreshing for both of us!

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