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  • Preschool Director

Best Practices @ Main Street: Big Body Play

Here at Main Street Preschool, we feel it is part of our mission to partner with parents in the education of their children. To that end, this part of a series called “Best Practices @ Main Street” designed to highlight why we incorporate certain skills, activities and resources into our day at school.

Walking down a hallway at our school you may pass one room where children are seated at a carpet and repeating after the teacher, but just a few steps down the hall you encounter a different scene. In the second room, children appear to be running (if not running then certainly moving rapidly), crab walking, jumping and crawling on the floor. In which of these two rooms is learning taking place?

The answer is – BOTH!

Educators and child development experts have agreed for many years that children learn through play. It has been widely accepted that moving our bodies and experiencing the world through our senses helps developing nervous systems. But now science and education are bringing us evidence of just how important “big body play” is to the development of the brain and, therefore, to academic success.

Many educators in the public and private school arena are bemoaning unstructured play time (a.k.a. playground, recess, outside time) being ceremoniously stripped from their schedules in favor of more academics. Here at Main Street, we believe that putting big body play first as a priority has benefits that extend into the classroom when we practice more sedentary skills.

…play results in wonderful benefits across physical, social-emotional, and cognitive domains. It enhances problem-solving skills, creativity, and the ability to take another’s perspective; reduces misbehavior; enhances language skills; and improves cognitive performance and social-emotional capacities (e.g., Barros et al. 2009; Singer et al. 2006)

You may see our children in an organized game being led by a teacher and be tempted to think this is more beneficial than unstructured play. However the differences between these two kinds of activity need to be seen as much more than one as more “beneficial” than the other.

There are two avenues to physical activity for young children: (1) the structured, directed kind that children get in a school physical education program and (2) the unstructured free play of big body play —the rough and-tumble activities and the exuberant and spontaneous gross motor movements that come naturally and instinctively to children. Whereas big body play is recreational and child-led, physical education programs are adult-led and include meaningful content, instruction time, and assessment components (NASPE n.d.). Both types are important and valuable for children’s health, kinesthetic intelligence, and overall development.

Other known correlations between unstructured or “big body play” include brain development, skeletal and muscular development, self-regulation and self-control, empathy, reciprocity, communication, language development, problem solving skills, and spatial awareness. When you see us outside on the playground running, jumping and encouraging student-led activities, we are facilitating learning.

Guidelines for Preschoolers
1. Preschoolers should accumulate at least 60 minutes of structured physical activity each day.
2. Preschoolers should engage in at least 60 minutes—and up to several hours—of unstructured physical activity each day, and should not be sedentary for more than 60 minutes at a time, except when sleeping.
3. Preschoolers should be encouraged to develop competence in fundamental motor skills that will serve as the building blocks for future motor skillfulness and physical activity.
4. Preschoolers should have access to indoor and outdoor areas that meet or exceed recommended safety standards for performing large-muscle activities.
5. Caregivers and parents in charge of preschoolers’ health and well-being are responsible for understanding the importance of physical activity and for promoting movement skills by providing opportunities for structured and unstructured physical activity

We hope to add enhancements to our outdoor space to create more opportunities for both big, body play and outdoor structured learning in the near future. We believe this is part of developing the whole child and it is one of the ways we make learning fun at Main Street Preschool.

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