More than ever before, children need playspaces that encourage large muscle movement. Childhood obesity is on the rise, schools are eliminating recess, and children's schedules are as tightly packed as adults'. Yet experts maintain that unstructured large muscle activities are critical. Children need to exercise their bodies and move freely through their environments. Children also need space to play games involving running, jumping, sliding, swinging, and climbing.
In big muscle activities, children develop both gross and fine motor skills. They refine their coordination and balance when they kick and throw balls, roll down the hill, and play tag. Cross-lateral movements (i.e. right arm to left leg) help children learn to read and write.
Children also develop social and cognitive skills during large muscle play by employing their imaginations to invent scenarios and rules. When they master games, they feel confident and proud. They negotiate relationships, experience the importance of working in teams, and develop friendships when they play large muscle games together.
There are many ways to include large muscle play in your playspace, even if your actual area is small. Try to set aside at least one open space for running, jumping, rolling, and game playing. Children exercise large muscles on elevated structures, too, when they run across the ramps and platforms. Include children with disabilities by using accessible surfaces, clear signs, and distinct colors.
Manufacturers make a variety of equipment and toys for both outdoor and indoor playspaces. For outdoor playspaces, get children moving with hanging rings and bars, balance beams, and climbing walls. Inside, include a few jumping ropes and bouncing balls. It's lots of fun to design an obstacle course with hula hoops and plastic cones!
Discount School Supply. Motor Skills. http://www.discountschoolsupply.com/Product/ProductList.aspx?category=644&at=5
Discount School Supply. Playground. http://www.discountschoolsupply.com/Product/ProductList.aspx?category=646&at=5
Krapp, K. & Wilson, J., Ed. (2005). Gross motor skills. Encyclopedia of Children's Health. http://health.enotes.com/childrens-health-encyclopedia/gross-motor-skills
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2005). Keeping kids active: Ideas for parents. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/fitness/FL00030
(Photo from Kompan)