What I find wondrous about children’s play activities is that each one can be adapted to address many things – at the same time! So, I’ve put together a list, with some links, that can steer you in the right direction toward making your child’s play a Fun Learning Experience. Here goes:
Infancy is a time when you can control the learning experiences of your child (and probably the last time), so any kind of interaction that you have with them can be beneficial. Many activities can be adapted for use from birth to two years old.
- Musical and rhythmic games that get your child to move her arms and legs and encourage her to turn her head provide awareness of the sides of the body and visual stimulation. Crib mobiles and colorful room decorations (even a night light) offer a baby with opportunities to turn her head and to reach with her arms.
- Floor activities and Tummy Time are vital to a child’s gross and fine motor, cognitive, and visual development. Activities that encourage her to roll onto her side and then over help her to discover how her body works. Crawling develops bilateral coordination and upper body strengthening, as well as plenty of opportunities to collect information by making eye contact with objects in her environment. When she begins to come up on all fours and move about the room, she is developing the arches of her hands and strengthening her fingers, not to mention her arm, hip, and leg muscles. Be sure that her environment includes plenty of different shapes, colors, and textures that will provide her with sensory stimulation and opportunities to reach and grasp that help to build the muscles of the hands and fingers.
- Getting the hands into the picture comes as easy as “Patty Cake” and “Peek-A-Boo.” Both of these offer excellent opportunities to provide coordinated use of the hands as well as visual-perceptual stimulation. Stacking blocks, putting objects into a container, and playing with a ball provide time to build grasping strength, as well as eye-hand coordination. “Make Do and Friend” offers us “35 Ways to Have Fun Under One!” I think you’ll find something there for each day of the month!
The Pre-School Years bring on lots of chances for including movement activities into your child’s daily routine. Movement comes in all shapes and sizes and can be performed inside and out.
- Children love stop-start games such as musical chairs, “Freeze,” and “Duck-Duck-Goose.” These more active games provide a child with sensory input that helps him to get to know his body, as well as opportunities to work on balance and reflexes. “Simon Says” and “The Hokey Pokey” encourage the learning of the parts of the body and the concept of directions, while developing coordination and balance.
A simple obstacle course Katie did with her kids…great for fine and gross motor!
- Mini-obstacle courses created out of chairs to crawl under, sofa cushion mountains, blanket tents, and cardboard boxes provide movement that includes all of the basics: rolling, crawling, and jumping. Negotiating uneven surfaces encourages visual scanning and perception (“What’s behind there?”), as well as awareness of how to control one’s body. In addition, those precious fine motor skills are being worked each time your child pushes up or pulls through! Body Bowling is an excellent mix of gross and visual motor skill play. Set up the “pins” at one end of the room and have your child roll toward them in order to knock them down.
- Cotton balls and straws become a visual movement activity that includes head and neck strengthening when your child uses them to win a cotton ball race! Blowing through a straw encourages eye convergence and develops efficient use of the eyes together. Bring the game to the floor to encourage a head and neck position that encourages functional vision.
- Matching games and story telling can become “alive” when you hide the matching cards around the room and act out the story as you read it. By adding an auditory “name” to the visual “picture” during these activities, they further enhance visual memory skills that are needed for letter and word recognition (so essential for both handwriting and reading). I’ve put together a list of some these and other movement/vision activities on my handout, “Vision Development: Something to Play Around With!”
- Children of all ages enjoy making something. A stack of construction paper, some child-safe scissors, glue, paint, and crayons are the simple and easy way to develop the skills a child needs for handwriting. Stringing macaroni or short pieces of straws or working with lacing cards help to develop body awareness (crossing the midline) and eye-hand coordination. Tearing magazine pages into small strips to make a collage or cutting play dough with a plastic knife to make “food” are excellent finger, hand, and wrist exercises. Education.com shares an informative article, “Activities with Fine Motor Manipulatives”, that provides a wide array of fine motor activities.
- And, finally, an excellent activity that addresses body awareness and visual perception is Mat Man. It is a product of Handwriting Without Tears and is by far one of the most successful activities that I have used with children ages 3 and up!
It’s funny how the development of handwriting skills very often doesn’t involve a pencil. Movement matters and vision rules! So get out there and have fun with some of these activities and please be sure to let us know how you did and if you came up with any new ideas! We are always on the lookout for ways to be creative!
Thanks for reading and I welcome any question or comments!
Tags: child development