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Move it: Physical activity for young children

Kicking skills require balance and control. Demonstrate the kick motion: Stand behind a designated line. Take one step forward on the left leg, swing the right leg behind and then forward with force and control. (For left-handed children, reverse the directions.) Practice kicking to a beat, first with a front kick and then to the back and the sides.

Kick a ball
Here’s what you need:
large, obstacle-free, outdoor space
10-inch-diameter, rubber playground ball
marking tape, rope, or chalk
2 to 4 children

1. Designate a kick line—the starting point for the kick—with rope, chalk, or tape. Place the ball on the line.
2. Introduce the activity by telling the children that they can kick the ball as hard as they can to make it travel as far as possible.
3. Encourage children to practice kicking and retrieving the ball.

Footpath dribble
Here’s what you need:
two equal lengths of rope
masking tape
10-inch-diameter, rubber playground ball
large, obstacle-free space
pairs of children

1. Place the rope in two parallel lines about 24 inches apart. If you are using an indoor space, tape the rope to the floor.
2. Demonstrate moving the ball forward along the path by kicking it gently. This exercise requires balance and large-muscle control.
3. Increase the challenge by having the children work with partners, kicking the ball to each other without moving outside the path.

Basic throwing forces objects away from the body using the hands and the strength and agility of the upper body. Demonstrate and practice basic throwing movements using one and both hands.
Start with a two-handed throw. Hold the object with both hands, bend the upper body to lower the object to the knees, raise the hands, and release the object.
The one-handed throw is a more difficult skill. Hold the object, take a step forward with the foot opposite the throwing arm, raise the throwing arm behind the body and swing it forward, releasing the object. Practice throwing with greater and less force, improving control and accuracy.
Catching is a related skill but requires a high level of physical dexterity, balance, and visual-motor ability. Practice catching with light, slow-moving balls like sturdy punch-ball balloons. These punch balls are made of dense rubber or latex and resist popping. Inflate them to about 14 inches in diameter.
Help children learn to catch the punch ball with this exercise. Toss the punch ball into the air. Tell the children to watch the ball come down, to move to stand close to it, and to wrap their arms around it as it falls past their chest. Continue with the activity by having children toss and catch the punch ball with each other. As skills develop, change the weights and sizes of the ball—substituting a beach ball, foam ball, playground ball, and tennis ball, for example.

Cereal box bowling
Here’s what you need:
5 or more empty cereal boxes
4-inch activity ball

1. Crumple up newspaper and stuff at least five empty cereal boxes.
2. Tape the boxes closed, making sure the bottoms stay flat.
3. Line up the cereal boxes on the floor.
4. Place a length of tape on the ground about 8 feet from the boxes.
5. Show children how to roll the ball along the ground to knock down the boxes.
Practice bowling with both one-handed and two-handed throws. Help children focus on control and accuracy.

Bounce and catch
Controlling a bouncing ball requires another level of skill. Give children lots of practice time as they refine their throwing and catching skills.

Here’s what you need:
large, open floor
4 children
10-inch activity ball

1. Divide the children into two teams.
2. Place an 8-foot length of tape on the floor in a straight line.
3. Ask the teams to stand about 4 feet away from either side of the tape line.
4. Demonstrate how to toss the ball to bounce it on the tape line. Tell the children that the object is to have one side toss and bounce the ball and a member of the opposite team catch it.
5. Expect the children to run and chase the ball when it isn’t caught after the bounce.
Vary the game for outdoors by replacing the tape with a string on the ground or a chalk line on a sidewalk.

Beanbag tic-tac-toe
Before making tic-tac-toe a movement game, make sure the children know how to play it as a board game.

Here’s what you need:

canvas fabric
paint pens or permanent markers
beanbags in two colors
large, open space

1. Cut the canvas into a 4-foot square.
2. Paint a tic-tac-toe grid on the canvas.
3. Place the canvas on the ground in an open area—indoors or outside.
4. Indicate a tossing line about 2 feet from the edge of the canvas.
5. Let the children take turns tossing their beanbags into their chosen squares. If the bag lands outside the playing area, the child can retrieve it and try again.


Batting activities require the use of a racquet or paddle or a long-handled tool like a golf club, baseball bat, or hockey stick. For children in preschool programs, batting practice should be limited to lightweight equipment like foam paddles and coat-hanger racquets. (See basic movement and physical activity equipment for instructions.)
Demonstrate batting technique. Stand with the body facing the object to be struck. Hold the racquet with one hand. Swing the arm back and then toward the object, striking it. Practice using different amounts of force on different sized objects.

Whiffle ball strike

Create a 6-foot safety zone for this activity. Remind other children to stay out of the zone.

Here’s what you need:

coat-hanger racquet
whiffle ball (lightweight plastic ball with air holes)
cord or string
suspension point such as a tree limb

1. Make a coat-hanger racquet.
2. Tie one end of the string onto the whiffle ball.
3. Tie the other end of the string to a tree limb or other suspension point in an open area. Keep the ball about 30 inches from the ground or at about chest height for most of the children in the group.
4. Show children how to strike the whiffle ball with the racquet.

Punch-ball balloon marathon

Here’s what you need:
punch-ball balloons
coat-hanger racquets

1. Give each child a punch ball and a racquet.
2. Demonstrate how to use the racquet to bounce the ball in the air.
3. Encourage each child to count the number of bounces before the ball hits the ground.
Vary the activity and increase the difficulty by using old tennis balls in place of the punch balls.

References and resources
Centers for Disease Control, National Center for Health Statistics. Prevalence of Overweight Among Children and Adolescents: United States, 1999-2002. products/ pubs/pubd/hestats/ overwght99.htm.
Cherry, Clare. 1971. Belmont, Calif.: Fearon Pitman.
Connors, Abigail Flesch. 2004. Beltsville, Md.: Gryphon House.
Sanders, Stephen W. 2002. Washington D.C.: National Association for the Education of Young Children.