Winter and Holiday Active Play Ideas

‘Tis the season for holiday celebrations and parties–whether they are in the classroom or with the family. What to do that is age appropriate for children and doesn’t involve sweet treats or a screen? The following active play ideas can be done indoors or outdoors depending on the space available and the weather. It’s time to begin the festivities and liven up the party!

Wrapping Paper Breakthrough. Set up boundaries using Cones or Hop Around Steps 15 to 24 feet apart. Two adults at the “finish line” hold a sheet of wrapping paper (~ 22” x 24”) with each hand on a corner. When you say, “Get ready, get set, run,” the child at the “start line” (with the palms of his hands touching and pointing forward) runs and breaks through the wrapping paper! 

Reindeer Pull. Distribute a Jump Rope to a pair of children. The two children are hitched together by one child placing the rope around the waist of his partner who is a Reindeer (i.e., “Rudolph”) and the other child is “Santa” holding onto the rope ends or handles. When “Santa” gives the signal “Giddy up” the Reindeer, “Rudolph” is to gallop, moving forward. Add some fun holiday music, such as “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” When the music stops, have the children switch places, taking turns being “Rudolph” and “Santa.” This is a favorite activity as children go prancing around!

Snowball Throw. Give each child two pieces of white 8 1/2-by-11 inch scrap paper or 9-by-12 inch inexpensive easel paper. Have them wad each piece of paper up and make two “snowballs.” Divide the game playing area in half by placing a jump rope or clothesline on the ground. Divide the children into equal numbers and place them facing each other on opposite sides of the rope. Have the guests drop their snowballs onto the ground. Tell them to pick up their snowballs (one at a time) and throw them across the rope to the opposite side when the music starts. (I like to play the song “The Heat Is On”). Now we have a good old-fashioned Snowball Throw going on! The Snowball Throw is over when the music ends. For instant cleanup, have the children try to make a basket as they toss their snowball into a waste basket or brown paper grocer bag.

Holiday Musical Balloons. Give each child an inflated balloon. Christmas Colors: Red and Green. Hanukkah colors: Blue and White. Kwanzaa Colors: Black, Red and Green. I like to use 9” or 11” balloons that are of helium quality, as they are “thicker skinned” and do not pop as easily. Let each child write (help if needed) their name on the balloon with a permanent marker. Have children sit down in the open space. Instruct them to stand up and keep the balloon in the air using their hands when they hear music (play rockin’ holiday tunes). When the music stops they are to grab their balloon and sit down immediately. The game continues with the children “keeping” their balloons in the air when the music is playing and holding their balloon and sitting down when the music stops. Provide further physical challenges by asking the children to keep the balloons in the air with different body parts: one finger, an elbow, a knee, a foot, their head. Be creative!

Hang the Stockings. Christmas is coming and its time to hang the stockings on the fireplace. How fast can you do it? String a clothesline between two chairs or two trees. Provide baskets of assorted Christmas stockings (regular socks will work just as well) and spring-type Wooden Clothespins. Young children find enjoyment just in hanging them up. Its a fine motor skill, challenging children to use the small muscles in their fingers. Divide older children into teams and have them “beat the clock.”

Indoor Ice Skating. Attach paper plates to the bottom of children’s shoes with big rubber bands or by wrapping masking tape around the shoe and plate. The children are now ready to skate away. This technique works great on carpet. For hardwood or tile floors, simply wear a thick pair of wool socks. Add some music (i.e., “The Skater’s Waltz”) and play freeze skating. When the music is playing, “All Skate.” When the music stops, children freeze in place.

Ring the Bell. Hang a bell or Jingle Wrap from the ceiling or beam. Have children stand inside a Hoop and throw a Beanbag or Foam Ball and try to “Ring the Bell.”

Very Merry Christmas Wish. This game is based on the old Duck Duck Goose/Tisket a Tasket song activity. Have all the children sit down in a circle and choose one child to be “It.” “It” walks around the outside of the circle, holding the jingle bell or Jingle Wrap, while the group sings (to the tune: “A Tisket a Tasket”)

It’s Christmas, It’s Christmas,
And all our friends are with us.
I’ll choose the one to give my wish
a Very Merry Christmas!

The child walking around with the jingle bell rings it and then drops it behind one of the children sitting there. That player picks up the bell and runs after “It,” who is running around the circle back to his place in the circle. The player holding the jingle bell is now “It” and walks around the outside of the circle, dropping the jingle bell behind someone who has not yet had a turn. The game ends when every player has had a chance to ring and drop the bell.

Scrambled Eggs and Icebergs. Tell the kids that when they hear the words “scrambled eggs,” they are to jog around in the open space without bumping into each other. When they hear the word, “icebergs,” they are to freeze in place without falling down. Tell them you’ll also give them other movement commands, such as “jump,” “march,” “tiptoe,” etc. When they hear the new command, they must switch to the new movement. Try to trick them by repeating a command twice in a row!

No Child Left Inside! Extend Your Classroom Outdoors

Take your classroom outdoors! There is a huge focus on the Outdoor Classroom now, due in large part to Richard Louv’s book, “Last Child in the Woods,” which ignited a renewal of the return-to-nature movement for children. I grew up in the 1950s and 60s where we spent most of our childhood outside in natural settings, with lots of unstructured free time, and little or no adult supervision. Today many children are preoccupied with electronic devices, inside and in front of screens, eating junk food, and lacking in physical activity, let alone contact with nature. October 14-20 is “Take It Outside Week!” Head Start Body Start National Center for Physical Development and Outdoor Play (HSBS) created Take It Outside Week in 2009. The third week of every October marks a time to celebrate the natural world and encourage educators, families, and caregivers to make time outdoors an important part of young children’s daily lives. I support this and encourage you to visit my October 2011 post where I shared ideas and activities that you can include in your Outdoor Classroom.

My first job as an early childhood educator was that of an Outdoor Teacher at a parent co-operative preschool. Back then, in 1977, no one had even heard of a preschool teacher having a job as the “Outdoor Teacher.” Our preschool was behind a church and the classroom doors were always open to the outside playground which had a climbing structure anchored in sand and a bank of swings (three to be exact). My job, come rain or shine, was to organize and prepare the outdoor environment–taking out the wheel toys, sand toys, water tables, and setting up some outdoor learning centers, whether it be carpentry or an obstacle course.

This play yard was not in a natural setting. There was no grass nor trees to be found, only asphalt, an occasional bird or insect…and lots and lots of active children. It was probably the most popular area of the school. I discovered that my outdoor environment offered all the learning opportunities that one would typically find indoors–experiences in math, science, nature, social studies, dramatic play, art, music, language and literacy.

The outdoor program developed critical thinking, discovery, problem solving, and cooperative skills while supporting children’s continuous growth and learning–physically, socially, emotionally and cognitively. As the Outdoor Teacher for twelve years I was an observer and supporter of child-initiated play. During this time, I also took classes in child development, early childhood curriculum, music and movement, sensory motor integration, perceptual motor development, and physical activity and its connection to brain development. I eventually taught those same classes at several community colleges.

I am now traveling and sharing what I’ve experienced and learned as an Early Care and Education Teacher and Outdoor Teacher. I offer workshops and trainings on the Outdoor Classroom, doing some “Sharin‘ with Sharron” on what I have learned as an educator. On November 9 from 10:00 – 11:30 AM, I will be presenting a workshop at the 2012 NAEYC Annual Conference & Expo in Atlanta, Georgia titled, “NO CHILD LEFT INSIDE! Meeting Curriculum Standards with Concrete Outdoor Experiences.” Come join me and learn how to plan and implement outdoor activities that meet your learning outcomes and objectives even with limited outdoor space and resources.

Here’s one activity that promotes language, literacy and physical development that can literally be “rolled out” on the play yard.

ABC Walk & Toss
Materials Needed:
Alphabet Floor Mat with Markers (ABCWALK)
Alphabet Beanbags (ABCTOSS)
Classroom Activity Baskets (CATCHY)
Set Up:
Roll out the ABC Floor Mat in available space.
Put alphabet beanbags in plastic baskets.

Let’s Get Started:
Ask children to:
1. Find the letter that their name starts with on the mat and jump on it 5 times.
2. Toss the beanbag letter that their name starts with onto the matching letter on the mat.
3. Match all the alphabet beanbags to the matching letters on the mat.
4. Walk, jump or hop on the alphabet stepping stones while saying each letter.
5. Match the lowercase markers to the uppercase letters on the mat.
6. Match the lowercase markers to the lower case alphabet beanbags.
7. Sort the alphabet beanbags by color in the corresponding baskets.
8. Give each child one alphabet beanbags and ask them to find the matching letter on the mat and stand on it.

1. With older children you can move on to recognizing the sounds of the letters. Say a sound of the alphabet and have the child stand on the letter represented by that sound. You can also have the child stand on each letter and indicate which sound the letter makes.
2. Using the alphabet beanbags, give one to each child and ask him/her to line up along the mat in order, following the order of the alphabet. You can also do it with the lowercase letter markers or the lowercase letters on the alphabet beanbags.

Learning Outcomes/Objectives/Standards:
• Language Development–Listening, Following Directions
• Literacy–Alphabet Knowledge–Letter recognition–Uppercase and lowercase
• Literacy–Alphabet Knowledge–Begin to recognize that letters have sounds
• Mathematics–Classification–Recognize when two things are the same
• Mathematics–Classification–Sorting beanbags by color to corresponding basket
• Physical Development–Fine & Gross Motor Skills
• Eye-hand coordination–throwing beanbag to matching letter
• Dexterity and Control–able to manipulate beanbag
• Balance and Control–able to balance when walking, jumping, etc.
• Locomotor Movements–walking, jumping, hopping

Discount School Supply® Product Recommendations:
Alphabet Floor Mat with Markers (ABCWALK)
Alphabet Bean Bags (ABCTOSS)
Classroom Activity Baskets (CATCHY)

This Rope’s Not Just for Jumping!

The jump rope is one of the most inexpensive and versatile pieces of equipment your child or school can own. The jump rope has been neglected, made available primarily for girls, and has been used for a single purpose: jumping. The rope should be 7-8 feet in length and be flexible and pliable. With a little imagination and creativity, look at the rope and think of all the things you can do with it besides jumping.

Snakes: Two people hold each end of the rope and wiggle it by the feet of the children like it’s a snake. The object is that the kids have to jump over the “snake.”

Walking the Snake: Place a 16’ jump rope on the ground in a zigzag pattern. Invite the children to walk on the rope as if it were a tightrope. This simple activity builds a surprising number of skills! Eye-foot coordination…balance…taking turns…and more.

High Water – Low Water: Two people hold each end of the rope. Children take turns leaping over the rope. Increase the height after everyone has had a turn. Provide a mat for safe landings.

Wind the Clock: One person spins around while holding one end of the rope. The rope is swung around in a circle along the ground. Children jump over the rope as it nears their feet. The children usually chant a nursery rhyme like “Hickory Dickory Dock” or some other rhyme to make it more fun.

Jump the Brook: Two ropes placed on the ground in the shape of a “V” become the “brook.” The ropes touch at one end and are angled so that each jump across the brook is longer and becomes a bigger jump.

Rope Obstacle Course: Thread a rope between the slots or notches in the top of two cones for jumping over or crawling under. Make three circles with three ropes. Jump from one circle to the next. Lay a rope in a straight line that is to be followed or straddled. Place two ropes parallel to each other and one foot apart. This can be a path for walking, jogging, jumping or hopping.

All Aboard: Young children don’t really have the coordination to jump rope, but they can hang onto the rope with a bunch of their friends and pretend to be a train. Make your very own Wooden Train Whistle and with a “Choo! Choo!” children can move from place to place while having fun!

Make A Shape: Ask children to place their rope on the ground and make a circle. Call out directions for children to, “Jump into the circle. Turn around inside the circle. Jump out of the circle. Walk around the circle. Put your foot in the circle. Put your whole body over the circle.” After children know the game, move on to other shapes such as a triangle or square.

Remember, most of these activities can be accomplished using your homemade Bread Bag Jump Rope or even a thick piece of yarn.

Discount School Supply® Product Recommendations:
Nylon Jump Ropes (RPST or JMPRP16)
Angeles® Tumbling Mat (TMAT)
Obstacle Course Activity Set (OCSET)
Wooden Train Whistles (CHOO)
Jumbo Roving Yarn (ROVING)

Let’s Go Outside and Play!

Ask a child what their favorite part of the school day is and they will most likely say, OUTSIDE! October 16-22 is “Take It Outside!” week. Open the door and turn your learning environment inside out. Share the wonders of the natural world with young children while increasing moderate to vigorous activity, fostering creativity and imagination, activating all the senses, extending children’s language skills, encouraging loud and unstructured free play. The many health benefits of outdoor play (vitamin D exposure, increased immunity, better sleep, lower stress levels) create happy and healthy children. Here are some ideas of what you can do in your Outdoor Classroom:
• Roll down a grassy hill. No hill? Pull out a tumbling mat and have children roll like a log from one end to the other.

• Pull out the parachute and move it like the wind, gently blowing (slow and soft movements up and down) or create strong gusty gales (fast and quick shaking movements). When the wind blows in the autumn, leaves fall from the trees, twirling and dancing in the wind. Place some real leaves on the parachute and have the children shake the parachute accordingly as you describe how the wind is blowing, either gently or more briskly. After a big, stormy strong wind the leaves have all scattered. Children will have fun as they “rake” up the leaves that have blown (shaken) off of the parachute.

• Pick up a stick, find a rock, climb a tree, look for bugs, smell the flowers, collect leaves, go on a nature hike, dig in the dirt, jump in a puddle, have fun in the mud.

Go on a hike and count tree rings!

• Play “I Spy Outside.” Take turns saying, “I spy something _____” and then together run to that object.

• “Wanna Play Chase?” Children just want to run and it’s always fun to run with or after someone. Tell the children to always ask the person they want to chase, “Wanna play chase? I’ll chase you first and then you can chase me. On your mark, get set, go!”

• Move like the animals — fly like a bird, slither like a snake, scamper like a squirrel, walk like a bear, jump like a frog or a rabbit.

• Set up a Nature Scavenger Hunt. After assessing your playground or yard, make a list of things that the children have to find. The list might include an acorn, a Y-shaped twig, a pinecone, a clover, a pillbug, a gray rock, or whatever else might be in the immediate environment. Naturally, the list will depend on the season and the age of the hunters.

• Make a Sidewalk Chalk Obstacle Course. Using sidewalk chalk create a maze for children to follow using different movement skills. Draw — straight lines, curvy roads, zig-zag paths for children to walk on; lily pads to frog jump onto; shapes to hop into; rivers to cross; and rainbows to jump over.

Make nature and the outdoors a part of your teaching. Lead the way and be the first to say, “Let’s Go Outside & Play!

Rainy Day Active Play Ideas

No shoes, no problem! It’s summertime. It’s wet and warm outside and water play comes naturally to young children. And don’t hesitate to join in too. As long as there is no lightning or thunder, being outside is a joyful experience! “Get your feet wet” with some of these rainy day active play ideas.

1. Splash and jump in puddles. Ask the children, “How many puddles did you find to jump in?

2. Blow bubbles in the rain. Challenge the children to pop them using sand blocks or to catch them with a chopstick.

3. Run and find a rainbow. If it’s a sunny rainy day, chances are that you just might spot a rainbow or two. Encourage the children to run to it and try to find the legendary “pot of gold” at the end of the rainbow. If no rainbow in sight, let children run with their own Rainbow Dancing Wrist Band in hand.

4. Colorful rain dance. Allow children to paint an arm or leg with Colorations® Simply Washable Tempera paint or even draw a silly face on their stomach. Now it’s time to get out in the rain and “dance, dance, dance” until the color washes away.

5. Nature walk and insect and crawly critter hunt. Some bugs become active when it rains. Bring along a magnifying glass to look along sidewalks, in the grasses, or under rocks and pieces of wood to find worms, beetles, slugs, snails, roly-polies, ants.

6. Wet and Wild Obstacle Course. Kick a ball around cones, walk the river logs (Step-A-Logs Balance Beam), jump the river (two jump ropes laid on the ground in a V-shape), toss soggy foam balls into a bucket, and go mountain climbing in the rain (Cones and Poles — thread a pole horizontally through medium or high level holes in two cones to make a crossbar (mountain) for climbing (stepping over).

Jump, run, walk, kick, dance, toss, throw are all active verbs that encourage active play.

Head outside and have some rainy day fun!

Round, Round, Round, Round…I Run Around

A ball is round and invites play with a partner or a group of friends. Let’s go outside, and play an active game that combines kicking a ball, as in soccer, and running around bases, as in baseball. No wonder kickball is sometimes called soccer-baseball.

Kickball for Little Kids

There are no outs or fouls in this preschool friendly game, just a lot of kicking and running.

Materials Needed:
Rubber playground ball
3 Bases and 1 Home Plate
10 Colored Cones

Set Up:
• Playing field – grass, dirt, asphalt or cement
• Place bases and home plate in the same general arrangement as you would a baseball diamond but make the base paths much closer to each other (i.e., 20 feet apart)
• 2 or more adults/play leaders
Let’s Get Started:
1. Gather children and have them watch and listen as directions of how to play are demonstrated.
2. An adult/play leader places the ball on home plate.
3. One child stands or approaches and kicks the ball as hard as he/she can.
4. Children who are not “kickers” can position themselves near the basesto catch the ball that is kicked into the playing field,
5. The “kicker” runs around the bases and returns to home plate.
6. The game continues until every child has had a turn or “runs out of breath.”
7. Every child is a winner when they cross home plate! Be assured that they will want to kick the ball and run the bases again and again. This is play with a purpose and promotes coordination and lots of vigorous physical activity!

• As children become more skillful, the adult/play leader can roll the ball to the child at home plate and the child stands and kicks the ball that is rolled at them.

Recommended Products:
SETC – Colored Cones
BASES – Indoor/Outdoor Bases
PGSET – Playground Balls
KICKBALL – Kickball for all Ages
BALLKIT – Ultimate Ball Kit

Driving with Hoops!

I never tire of sharing games and activities using the very versatile Activity Hoop. In a blog I posted in May of 2010, I gave directions on how to play a non-competitive version of musical chairs using the hoop. This time, we’re going to use our imaginations as we pretend that our Activity Hoop is a steering wheel. Get ready to start your engines!

Car and Driver
Materials and Set Up:
One hoop per child
Available indoor or outdoor space

Let’s Get Started:
1. Children watch and listen as directions of how to play are demonstrated.
2. Each child, standing up, holds the hoop in front of their body. Tell them to imagine that the hoop is the steering wheel of a car and that they are the driver.
3. When children hear the following commands they are to do the corresponding movements as directed:
Green Light = GO (walk and turn hoop like driving)
Yellow Light = MOVE SLOWLY (getting ready to stop)
Red Light = STOP (freeze in place as if at a stop light or stop sign)
School Zone = SKIP
Highway = RUN
Uphill = MARCH
Flat Tire = HOP
Tunnel = DUCK DOWN (bend knees and lower level of body)
Pot Hole = LEAP
Woo-Woo-Woo = MOVE TO THE SIDE AND STOP (emergency vehicle coming)

• With younger children only use 3 – 4 commands/movements.
• Vary the length of time between the commands.
• Try to “trick” children by repeating commands twice in a row.
• Children may devise other commands and movements.

On the Road Again
Materials and Set Up:
One hoop per child
Available indoor or outdoor space
Music player and music (i.e., Song: Little Deuce Coupe by The Beach Boys or On the Road Again by Willie Nelson)

Let’s Get Started:
1. Instruct the children to put their hoop on the ground and stand inside it.
2. Tell them that the hoop is their steering wheel. When the music starts, they are to lift the hoop up to waist level and use both hands to turn it right and left as if driving while they walk around in the open space.
3. When the music stops, the children stop and drop their hoops to the ground as if they’ve reached a stop sign or stop light.
4. When the music starts again, they bend down and pick up their hoops and continue to drive.
5. Fun ensues when you start and stop the music for short intervals or keep it on for long stretches. Add some dialogue to the game by mentioning that they may be caught speeding if going to fast.
6. The game lasts the length of one song.

Challenge children with this variation of the game. When the music stops ask the children to pair up. One partner steps inside the hoop and holds it at waist level. The second player steps in front of his partner in the hoop and holds his hoop in front of his body like a steering wheel. Children are to work together and move using both hoops when the music starts. When the music stops, they switch places and get to play opposite roles. This game teaches the children to work together and make cooperative decisions about moving in the same direction. Encourage the partners to come up with other ways to move together using both hoops.

Both of these hoop games promote and develop the following goals or learning outcomes:

• Locomotor transport skills: body moves from one place to another by walking, leaping, hopping, skipping, etc.
Gross motor development: using the large muscles of the arms, legs and trunk to perform movements such as walking, running, marching
• Directionality: the inner sense and knowledge of where things are in relation to the body
Spatial awareness: coordinated movement in relationship to other objects in the environment
Bilateral coordination: using both sides of the body in unison
• Midline: the invisible line running from the head to the toes and dividing the body into right and left halves
• Crossing the midline: means that one hand spontaneously moves to the other side of the body to work there (i.e., turning the hoop like a steering wheel in a large arc)
Listening skills: ability to follow verbal directions
Cooperation: two or more people playing together rather than against one another, just or the fun of it
Agility: quick, easy, lively movements
• Imagery: formation of mental images by memory, imagination or fancy

Unplug… And Reconnect with Nature

It’s hard to believe that this week is designated as “Take a Child Outside Week.” The fact that we even need to have an initiative to motivate parents to go outside with their children and connect with nature is beyond comprehension for me!

During my childhood years, there was no better place to be than outside. In fact, our parents didn’t even offer us any other options; they just wanted to know that we were in the “neighborhood.” This could mean the woods near our house, down the street playing in someone’s backyard or at the school playground around the corner. We were always outside even as our parents stayed inside. Our parents didn’t have to “take us outside.” Our parents didn’t buy nor need to steer us away from the HDTV, video games, computers, phones and other technological gadgets that bombard the environment of children today. It seems a bit ironic that it’s the parent’s responsibility to get their children outside when it is they, the parents, who buy all the newest technology and allow (or even encourage) their children to learn how to use it. In Richard Louv’s book, “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder,” he quotes a fourth-grader as saying, “I like to play indoors better ‘cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are.”

I saw an ad in the paper last week that had the following message, “There is no childhood obesity epidemic. (We just need better role models.)” We need parents to recognize that they are their children’s first teachers and that they are their children’s role models. One in three kids are overweight or obese and electronic media and junk food are partly to blame. And who is buying these pricey video games and high fat and sugar foods? It’s usually not the 4- to 8-year-old child. I feel as responsible adults we need not to be spending money on these items for our young children. Turn off the TV (I think there’s a designated week for that too!), and consider playing a video game or watching a movie a “treat” and not something to be consumed 5-6 hours daily!

What if we open the door and give children the time and opportunities to explore and discover nature on their own? Finding worms and dirt and leaves and sticks and rocks and bugs and whatever the outdoor space has to offer, the natural world is rich in sensory experiences for children. Smell the flowers, listen to the birds, feel the wind on your face, roll in the grass, stomp in the puddles or watch the shapes of clouds in the sky. Even in urban environments, children can experience nature. Provide magnifying glasses, tweezers , and small shovels for children to explore a small patch of dirt or grass. Even weeds grow in sidewalk cracks, ants can be found there too. Place a thermometer outside and read the temperature. Watch shadows, use binoculars for bird or squirrel watching. You don’t have to be a naturalist to instill in children an awe of the world and a desire to discover and uncover what is around them. You can nurture children’s interest in nature simply by demonstrating your own excitement and curiosity. Let’s go outside! You are a role model!