Movement is super powerful! It is an inner and innate drive, and a foundational component of how we explore our environment and orient ourselves in space. The benefits of movement are infinite. Movement helps to build postural control and develop body awareness and motor control. It also helps us to understand our relationship to others, and it influences our self-regulation, attention, and arousal. Movement opportunities and increased skills can help drive and facilitate growth and development in other developmental domains.
“Motor development brings about new opportunities for acquiring knowledge about the world, and burgeoning motor skills can instigate cascades of developmental changes in perceptual, cognitive, and social domains.” (Adolf,K & Franchak, J WIREs Cogn Sci 2017, 8:e1430. doi: 10.1002/wcs.1430)
Our vestibular (movement) system is one of the first sensory systems to develop while we are still in utero; it is located in our inner ear and shares a cranial nerve with our auditory system. As our head position changes, the system is activated and it provides us with our sense of movement, and it also allows us to feel the impacts of gravity. Opportunities to move our bodies in different ways and to make mistakes helps us to refine our movement system, lays the foundation for navigating more complex environments and performing coordinated movements, and primes the brain for learning.
As pediatric therapists in different domains (Physical, Occupational, and Speech & Language), we stress the importance of providing children with opportunities to move and interact from the moment they’re born. We’ve compiled some of our favorite movements (“power activity”) for children ages ~2-5 that pack a punch when it comes to skill building and developmental benefits.
So let’s wiggle and shake, climb, jump, and slide while we explore some of our favorite movement-based activities.
Climbing is a Walk, Talk, Play “power activity” for postural activation and motor planning. In climbing activities, littles use their core muscles in their backs and tummies, as well as build strong shoulder muscles to give the foundations for fine motor skill development. Climbing novel equipment, or creating challenges in climbing, such as changing directions or climbing over obstacles, builds motor planning skills. Littles need to create a plan (ideation) and then sequence and execute their plan to create successful movements. You can also use climbing to build language and directionality concepts, such as up and down, as well as added movement challenges, such as sideways and backwards.
Walk Talk Play Insider Tip:
Climbing is a great example of heavy work! Heavy work uses big muscles, giving lots of input to the body (proprioception) to help kiddos build body awareness and self-regulate. Try adding some heavy work through climbing, jumping, pushing, pulling, and carrying activities into your kiddo’s day for increased ease in transitions, improved focus and attention, and of course big muscle power and coordination.
Sliding is a great activity for linear vestibular input, back/ forth or up/down movement. Sliding creates opportunities to build postural control and balance reactions in order to stay upright while in motion. Self-directed stopping and starting is great practice for your little one to fire their movement system and to get a boost in arousal, while learning to control their postural muscles. Sliding also creates timing challenges as littles learn to slide and stand up to dismount. In addition, sliding is a great opportunity to model and practice various language concepts, such as Stop, Go, Fast, Slow, etc.
WTP Insider Tip:
Spark some motor planning and creativity by encouraging your kiddo to slide in a new position, then see how they challenge their body while learning new positional concepts. For a big challenge, have your little try and catch or toss a ball or balloon while they are sliding to build higher level timing and coordination.
Nothing gets you feeling the effects of gravity like jumping! Jumping is a great activity to use movement to work against that force with linear motion. Using targets to jump towards or onto increases graded control, and also improves visual focus. Having your kiddo place the targets allows them opportunities to challenge their bodies! You can also increase the vestibular input with rotary movements, such as jump and turn. Jumping provides tons of proprioceptive input for more heavy work.
Swinging provides big vestibular input! There is a huge variety of ways that kiddos can swing based on their position or the directionality of the swing. In general, linear input, or back/forth and up/down movement, is regulating and provides input for postural muscles to activate into upright positions. Rotary movement, spinning, or irregular movements in different directions is more alerting in nature and can increase arousal and focus, as well as activate postural muscles to stabilize in order to maintain upright. Passively being moved provides all the benefits of regulation, improvements in arousal/focus, and postural activation. Active swinging, spinning, or rocking, adds the benefits of motor planning, initiating movement, and graded control. It also helps kiddos to learn to challenge their movement systems. For littles they can start on their tummies on a sling swing at the park and try and push off of the ground with their feet. Rocking boards are another great way for younger kiddos to learn to stand and shift their weight to propel the rocker.
Hanging is a powerful activity for building hand, arm, shoulder, and core strength. With opportunities to hang, kiddos progress from more simple, static hanging, to swinging and monkey bars. Hanging also provides the joints in our body with traction, input that helps give information about how our joints move and where our bodies are in space. The monkey bars at a playground or a trapeze bar are great options for practicing these skills.
Creating obstacle courses is a great way to provide multiple movement challenges in one. It challenges your little one’s motor planning skills, balance, and coordination. After a few exposures, encourage your child to help come up with their own obstacle course. This allows for creativity, problem solving, language development, and heavy work.
WTP Insider Tip:
Adding a game or goal to your obstacle course can help increase interest, purpose, and extend the time your little one(s) stays engaged. For example, try placing a puzzle board at the end of you the course, and all the pieces at the beginning.
One of our favorite brands on the market is Wiwiurka Toys. They create gorgeous toys and equipment that provide opportunities for encouraging and challenging children to move big. We were kindly gifted a few of their pieces, and we couldn’t be more impressed! Wiwiurka understands the importance of movement for early childhood development and learning and they create toys that allow you to replicate these movements and opportunities even in small spaces. Their toys create the perfect invitations to play in a big way!
Perform activities recommended by Walk, Talk, Play at your own risk with appropriate adult supervision provided. Walk, Talk, Play is not responsible for any injury caused while performing these play activities.
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