Snickelfritz Partners Switch

September signals new beginnings. School has started and children are meeting each other for the first time or reconnecting with old classmates. This game is a good icebreaker or get-acquainted activity.

Materials:
Indoor or outdoor space with boundaries.

How to Play:
1. Children find a partner and stand back-to-back.

2. The teacher or game leader calls out a body part and partners react quickly to touch the part mentioned. For example, the teacher might say, “Hands to Hands.” The partners turn around, face each other, and touch hands to hands.

3. When the teacher says another body part, the partners then put those body parts together (releasing the last round’s pairing.)

4. Other body parts the teacher could call out:

Shoulder to Shoulder, Knee to Knee, Hip to Hip, Ankle to Ankle, Elbow to Elbow, Knuckle to Knuckle, Wrist to Wrist, Toes to Toes, Side to Side.

5. Whenever the teacher or game leader says, “Snickelfritz Partners Switch!” all players must hurry and find a new partner that they haven’t already been paired with in the game. With the new partner, they stand back-to-back again, ready to listen. Play resumes with the teacher calling out different body parts.

6. Giving the command, “Snickelfritz Partners Switch!” frequently gives children a chance to interact with all members in the group as they have to find a different partner every time.

7. There is no right or wrong way to connect body parts to each other. Point out the different ways that partners completed the challenge.

8. The teacher may give the same command twice in a row to keep the players alert.

9. Avoid calls such as Head to Head, or Nose to Nose where kids are forced to share breathing space.

10. A fun way to end the game is to give the command, “Hug to Hug,” as teacher says, “Thanks for playing the game with me.”

11. Challenge older children to each touch different body parts as they are called out. For example, the teacher might say, “Ear to Knee.” One child will place his/her ear to the partner’s knee. Other commands may include:
Shoulder to Shoulder
Knee to Knee
Hip to Hip
Ankle to Ankle
Elbow to Elbow
Knuckle to Knuckle
Wrist to Wrist
Toes to Toes
Side to Side

Learning Outcomes/Goals:
1. Physical activity: Any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that results in energy expenditure
2. Listening skills: Ability to follow verbal directions
3. Tactile stimulation: Body learning from the sense of touch, skin contact and pressure
4. Body awareness: Knowing and understanding the whole body and its parts and function
5. Space awareness: Knowing where the body can and should move in relationship to other people in the play space
6. Shared space: All of the designated play space that can be used by everyone
7. Cooperative play: Games and activities that the participants play together rather than against one another

No Less Recess!

A first grade teacher recently called me in a panic. She was very upset because her school board was considering eliminating recess from the school day. She did not want her school to be one of the nearly 40% of U.S. elementary schools to eliminate or are considering eliminating recess (according to the American Association for the Child’s Right to Play.) This policy is being implemented in part because of increased school accountability and student testing procedures, and the belief that time could be better spent on academics. My friend asked me to help her make a case to keep recess for the physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development of children.

The term recess refers to a break during the day to allow children the time for active, free play. During recess learning occurs in ways not possible inside the regular classroom.

Benefits of recess:

· It’s physically important! Physical movement is essential for healthy growth and development. Active play and movement helps prevent weight gain and weight-related diseases. Young children learn about their bodies’ capabilities and how to control their bodies through active movement. Exercising their own choices in the practice of physical skills, such as running, climbing, jumping, chasing, traveling, batting, kicking, catching, balancing, hanging, swinging, stretching, pushing and pulling can happen during active play in a way P.E. classes do not (Council for Physical Education and Children, 2001*.)
· It’s cognitively and academically important! Physical activity fuels more blood to the brain, thus giving it greater oxygen and energy supply and increasing the number of connections between neurons. These connections make the brain better able to process a variety of information, leading to improved retention of facts, a greater understanding of concepts, and subsequently higher academic achievement (Healy, 1998). Students who get a break are much less fidgety in the classroom. (Jarrett et al., 1998*) And, unstructured play gives the child an opportunity to exercise a sense of wonder, which leads to exploration, which leads to creativity.

· It’s emotionally important! Chemicals secreted by the brain during and after exercise enable it to deal better with stress and anxiety. (Healy, 1998).

· It’s socially important! Traditional recess activities encourage children to take turns, negotiate or modify rules, and interact cooperatively. Recess also gives the classroom teacher another opportunity to assess the child’s social skills. And, group play allows children to interact with peers and to watch and learn from other children.
Did you know the U.S. Army requires that soldiers be given a 10-minute break every hour during training sessions in order to maintain productivity? Professors are required to give college students the same. Teachers’ contracts often include a daily 30-minute preparation time that offers them a break from class work plus duty-free lunch. And we know parents would complain if they didn’t get at least one break at work.
How can we expect young children to work all day with few, if any, breaks? I believe children should not only be allowed a longer recess at lunchtime but also a 15-minute recess break in the morning and afternoon.

While there are arguments against recess, I can find no research that clearly supports less recess as beneficial. The available research suggests that recess can play a very important role in the learning, social development, and overall health of children. I support my friend, and any other parents, preschool and elementary school teachers and caregivers of young children making the argument: no less recess!

*As cited by ericdigests.org

Animal Movers

This is a fun activity for preschoolers and is another great way to incorporate movement in what could be a passive lesson. When young children are learning about animals, teachers often encourage the children to describe the animal, make the animal’s sounds, talk about the habitat of the animal, etc. Part of learning about an animal can include understanding how an animal moves and modeling that movement through active play. This is an activity idea from the Preschool TeacherQuickSource:

Animal Movers
Goal: Introduction or enhancement of balance and control during locomotor movements.
Before you start: The teacher may want to prepare several Animal Poster Cards or pictures of animals, and a large room or safe movement area.
Let’s Get Started:
1. Show the children one of the animal pictures.
2. Discuss the movements of that animal.
3. Have the children move around the space pretending to be that animal.
4. Repeat the activity with a different animal.

Abracadabra! Scarf Magic!

The thin, nylon juggling scarf has unlimited possibilities of play value. This loose material is lightweight and easy for children of any age—infants, toddlers, preschoolers and school-aged kids—to manipulate and use to promote gross motor and fine motor development. Scarf play helps with hand-eye coordination and encourages movement of eyes and hands to cross the midline important pre-reading and writing skills for young children.

Teachers, parents and other early childhood caregivers don’t have to be a magician to conduct age-appropriate activities that involve all children in scarf play; just follow the child’s lead and have fun!

Here are some ideas:

–Throw the scarf in the air with one hand and catch with the other.
–Toss & try clapping once or twice before catching the scarf.
–Hold the scarf together with a friend as you move together around the classroom.
–Toss the scarf in the air, spin around and catch it before it falls to the ground. Try looking at the world through the fine mesh fabric. What do you see?
–Throw the scarf up in the air and clap until it touches the ground and count how many claps it takes.
–Move around the room with the scarf on a body part; try not to let it fall.
–Toss the scarf and try to have it land on different body parts (hand, elbow, foot, back and head.)
–Catch and toss with a partner.
–Pull out the CD player and put on some favorite music and dance with the scarves.
–Play “Follow the Leader” where the child at the head of the line does a movement with the scarf and all children will copy that movement (waving scarf overhead, swinging arms back and forth, jumping with the scarf, galloping with the scarf, etc.) When the music stops the child that was at the front of the line goes to the back and the next child in line becomes the leader. The music starts again and the game continues until everyone has had a chance to be the leader.
–Use the scarf to sing the following song and do the appropriate movements:
Shake to My Lou (Tune: “Skip to My Lou”)
Shake, shake, shake to my lou, shake, shake, shake to my lou, shake, shake, shake to my lou, shake to my lou my darling. (Shake scarf in front of body)
Other verses you can add:
Shake up high, shake down low (Shake scarf overhead, then down by feet)
Shake to the right, shake to the left (Shake scarf on one side of body and then the other)
Shake it out, shake it in (Shake scarf with arms extended to the sides, bring arms together in front of body)

The scarf also lends itself to exploring colors and shapes. Ask children what shape their scarf is. Can they make the scarf into a smaller square? Can you make it into a triangle? Can it become a rectangle? Discuss the geometric properties of each shape as they are made. Place all the scarves on the floor in color groups to see a graph of colors. Talk about sorting, quantities, more/less.

Use your imagination and be creative with the scarf… It can be a tail on a horse, a wing of a butterfly, the cape of a hero, a kite… The children can turn it into anything they can imagine and have fun as they incorporate movement into their day.

What else can you do with your scarf?

BRAIN FITNESS! Connecting Exercise and Learning

I recently attended a presentation by Harvard Psychiatry Professor and best-selling author, Dr. John Ratey. He wrote SPARK! The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, which I read. I was very interested in hearing about his research, especially with the of No Child Left Behind Act (which requires schools to raise students’ test scores in core academic subjects) and the resultant cutbacks in physical education classes and recess.

Dr. Ratey began his presentation by stating that he is on a mission to put exercise, recess and play back into our schools. Being an early childhood and school age active play advocate myself, I was thrilled. He shared emerging research and case studies that correlate exercise with a wide range of brain-related benefits: improving attention, reducing stress and anxiety, and staving off cognitive decline.

Ratey says that exercise is the single most important tool people have to optimize brain function. He doesn’t claim that exercise makes kids smarter, but he says it can make them more ready to learn. The prefrontal cortex– which plays a major role in executive function (thinking processes that involve planning, organizing, abstract thought or self-control) — is most affected by exercise. Laboratory studies in mice and humans show that exercise prompts the brain to produce greater amounts of a protein called BDNF, brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which Ratey likes to call “Miracle-Gro®” for the brain. It encourages brain cells to sprout synapses, which are crucial to forming the connections the brain needs in order to learn. BDNF also strengthens cells and protects them from dying. Other research also suggests that exercise plays a role in neurogenesis, the production of new brain cells, in middle-aged and older adults and in laboratory animals.

Ratey shared a case study that I found interesting: At Naperville Central High School in IL, many students participate in 45-minute early-morning fitness-based PE sessions where they can choose from more than a dozen activities (treadmills, elliptical machines, stationary bikes, jumping rope, lifting weights, running, etc.) Students on average raised their grades by one letter just by participating in this “Learning Readiness PE Class.” This is a new approach to PE, and I find it confirms for me the research mentioned above that exercise helps prep the brain for learning.

And what about our youngest learners? Ratey emphasized that young children love to move and should be engaged in play activities that are vigorous and fun. For our young children, we need to provide instant and active involvement for every child. He mentioned a new book by Stuart Brown, Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. He said that every early childhood teacher should have it. Ratey states on the jacket cover: “This is one of the most important books I have ever read… Without play and physical activity, we can’t cultivate the skills necessary to handle changing times… Anyone who cares about the future of our world should read this book. It is a gift.” I gave myself the gift of Brown’s book, PLAY and Ratey’s book, SPARK. Perhaps you will consider doing the same for yourself or any preschool, school-age or early childhood educator, caregiver or parent you know.

Current statistics show that some 37% of U.S. schoolchildren are overweight, one in five American 4 year olds are obese and only 6% of schools now offer physical education five days a week. At the same time, kids are spending an average of six hours per day in front of a screen of some sort—television, computer or handheld device. Inactivity is killing our brains as well as our bodies.

The more we know about brain development and the importance of play, the better teachers and parents we will be. Keep moving, keep learning!

Trikes: 3-Wheeled Freedom!

The weather is turning warmer and invites us all to go outside for some active play. Trikes are a great way to engage young children outdoors. For 12 years I was the “Outdoor Teacher” at a preschool. I pulled out the tricycles, “big wheels,” bicycles, scooters, wagons and pedal cars daily. They were always very popular with the children, and riding toys such as trikes offer many opportunities for children to grow physically, socially, emotionally and cognitively. Toys that children can ride on their own offer opportunities for them to feel autonomous, develop gross motor skills, role play and to learn to follow rules. You know the educational benefits exist, so here are some ideas to help get you rolling:
First, remember that children should wear bike helmets when riding wheel toys. The helmet should sit on top of the child’s head, not tilted back at an angle. Make sure the strap fits securely and that the buckle stays fastened. (Visit the Consumer Product Safety Commission for more information at http://www.cpsc.gov/.) Helmets should only be worn while riding and should be taken off during play, especially on a playground as a child’s head may get stuck in playground equipment while wearing a helmet, causing serious injury. Children who associate wearing a helmet with riding a trike from the start are more likely to adopt the habit permanently.
For safety reasons, the space for using riding toys should be distinct from the equipment areas. If possible, choose a part of your playground with a hard surface and set up a safety zone. Provide vehicle pathways with adequate staging areas and routes in and out with painted or lines for parking spaces of trikes and bikes. You can enhance children’s use of this area by adding traffic signs, chalk road markers, directional arrows and cones to control traffic. Build a ramp so children can drive their trikes into the “garage.” Invite children to be riders or traffic officers; this will help involve children who are not on a trike and creates an opportunity for cooperative group play.
Prop boxes can extend trike play activities, too. A “hospital” prop box, for example, can turn bike riders into ambulance drivers and non-riders into “doctors.” Children also enjoy using tricycles in conjunction with fire station, police and mail delivery props. Similarly, you can introduce ideas or materials to support gas station or car wash dramatic play that can include practice of counting and learning currency. Whatever props you choose to use, whether elaborate or entirely imaginary, the result will be fun!
Riding a trike puts the child in the “driver’s seat,” providing that sense of power and freedom. To pedal a trike and keep one’s balance are abilities worth a lot in the life of a preschooler!

Belly Swinging and Spinning is Good Brain Food!

I was visiting a preschool recently. The young children were outside playing and I found myself standing and observing the children on the swings. A four-year-old child was draped over a swing seat on his stomach while swinging back and forth. At the same time he was spinning around and around as the swing chain twisted high above him. Soon he could twist it no more and then, propelling himself in the opposite direction, he spun around and around as the chain untwisted– his small arms extended as if flying in space, a great big smile on his face. I smiled back, happy that he was stimulating the mind/body connections. He was in the process of repeating the action, when from across the playground came a loud voice commanding him to stop belly swinging and informing him it was against school rules.
Children are innately programmed to spin, swing and be upside-down. When children are spinning and swinging, special receptors in the little “vestibule” of the inner ear are stimulated and communicate a sense of where the body is in space. This vestibular system controls the sense of movement and balance.

I often mention “brain food” in my workshops. Physical activity is good brain food for young children. When a child is swinging and spinning, they’re having fun, but their little body and brain is also unconsciously telling them that they need this kind of movement for a healthy sensory “diet.” Swinging and spinning helps kids regulate their bodies. It helps them focus and increase their body awareness. Young children do not get dizzy as easily as adults do because connections between balance and other systems are still being formed in the first eight years of life. We, as adults, take our sense of balance and our fundamental understanding of our place in space around us for granted. For children, those abilities are still developing, becoming more complete and connected. We need to give children opportunities for movement and physical activity so they can develop these crucial abilities (and so they won’t be bouncing off the walls when the teacher needs the child to sit down and be attentive.) Remember that teacher who was shouting at that child to stop belly swinging? I wished that early education teacher could have instead celebrated the child’s movements and his need to feed his body and brain– one belly swing, one belly spin at a time.