Girl running with a big smile

The following game gets children moving with very little prep required. As an easy preschool gym game, it can be adapted to most spaces and adjusted for nearly any theme.

Set up

  • Designate four areas as the sides the children will be running to. 
    • In a gym with four walls, consider attaching a piece of coloured paper or a poster to each wall. (When playing with a group of children, I prefer using a wall rather than a corner so that the children have room to spread out.)
    • In an open area, such as a field, consider placing four different coloured hula-hoops to designate the four sides. (See other options below.) 

Play

  • To start the game, show the children each of the four sides. 
  • Call out an instruction, such as “Run to yellow!”
  • Run with the children to the “yellow” side.
  • Once everyone has arrived, call out another instruction. For example “Hop to blue!”
  • Alternate between actions that are exciting vs. quiet, fast vs. slow, and tricky vs. easy. (See my list of suggested actions below.)
  • Keep an eye on your children’s engagement level. As soon as they start losing interest, or preferably just before they do, wind up the game. Finish with one exciting action followed by one quieter action.
    • Ending with a quiet action will help prepare your children for the transition into the next activity.

Age

  • 2 Year Olds: At the basic level, this game works wonderfully with most 2 year olds. These youngsters will enjoy playing this game many times, if you change it up a bit each time.
  • 3 Year Olds: This is a great game for 3 year olds! They especially enjoy it if you can give them opportunities to call out the instructions.
  • 4 Year Olds: If you include more challenging actions, or perhaps increase the number of sides to 6 or 8, 4 year olds will enjoy this game. However, I recommend only playing it occasionally with 4 year olds, as they may begin losing interest if they play it too often.

Size of group

  • 1 Child: This game can be played with one child. It will go best if you play it with the child. Take turns calling out the instructions.
  • 2-8 Children: Having a small group of children makes this game more exciting, while enabling you to allow each child to have a turn or two calling the instructions.
  • 9+ Children: This gym game is excellent with a large group of children. However, you may not have the time to allow each child a turn to call the instructions. Therefore, unless you are sure you can give every child a turn, it is likely best to call all the instructions yourself.

Ideas for the four sides

  • If you don’t have walls to attach papers to, try using different coloured hula hoops, cones, or blankets. Alternatively, choose pre-existing objects to run to such as a bench, a flagpole, or a tree, etc.
  • If you have walls to attach papers to, your options are endless! For younger children, stick with simpler options, but for older children, enjoy challenging them with new vocabulary that is trickier.
    • Blank coloured paper: could be basic colours (red, yellow, blue, green),  or more tricky colours (purple, orange, brown, grey). You could even do themed colours (for Valentine’s day: red, pink, white, purple).
    • Shapes cut from paper: For 2 year olds, I have done basic shapes (circle, square, triangle, star). For older children try trickier shapes (rectangle, octagon, trapezoid, oval). You can cut whatever shapes you want! For example, you could do pet themed shapes (cat, dog, fish, bird).
    • Posters: if you are in a preschool or childcare facility, chances are you have various posters around. Why not use some of them? You could use transportation, zoo, or dinosaur posters to match the game with what the children are learning. (If you don’t have posters, colouring sheets could work.)
    • Flat objects: Consider using foam letters or large puzzle pieces for the four sides. So long as the four objects can be clearly distinguished by name, you can use just about anything.

Ideas for actions

  • Changing up the actions will help ensure a full-body workout for your preschool children. Be sure to use a variety of easy and challenging actions!
    • Basic actions:
      • Easy
        • RunGirl walking on footprints
        • Hop
        • Fly (running with arms out as wings)
        • Stomp
        • Crawl
      • Medium
        • Skip
        • Walk sideways
        • Tiptoe quietly
        • Slow
        • Long steps
        • Tiny steps
        • Spin
        • Slither (or army crawl)
        • Bear crawl (on hands and feet with knees straight)
      • Hard
        • Hop on one foot
        • Crab walk (on hands and feet with tummy facing up)
        • Walk backwards (not recommended for larger groups, though it can work if you let them go two or three children at a time)
    • Other actions: Children have incredible imaginations! Engage their creativity with theme-based actions.
      • Zoo
        • Stomp like a hippo
        • Walk like a giraffe (stretch arms up and take long steps)
        • Run fast like a cheetah
        • Waddle like a penguin
        • Hop like a kangaroo
      • Dinosaur
        • Growl like a t-rex (make short arms and run while growling)
        • Stretch like a brachiosaurus
        • Fly like a pterodactyl
        • Stomp like a triceratops
      • Bugs
        • Buzz like a bee (make tiny wings with hands and run while buzzing)
        • Fly like a butterfly (flap arms as large gentle wings while crossing slowly and quietly)
        • Jump like a grasshopper
        • Crawl like a ladybug
      • I think you get the idea so I’ll stop my list here. This game could also work with themes such as: farm, under the sea, transportation, emotions, sports or Olympics.

How to choose which action

  • The basic way to play this easy gym game involves someone calling whichever action they want. (If you let the children make their own calls, you’ll end up with a lot of running!) Consider making the game more engaging and visually appealing for your children, especially if they are still learning English or have language delays by doing one of the following:
    • Dice:
      • Before playing the game, choose 6 actions and write them on a die. (You can make your own dice out of cardboard, or try looking for giant dice at your local dollar store.)
      • Hand the die to the child who is calling the instruction. Whatever they roll, that’s the action you’ll do next.
    • Use picture cards:
      • Use themed cards, such as animal cards, to determine the next action.
      • The child who is calling the instruction pulls a card from a bag (looking or not looking, you choose). Whatever action is on the card, that’s what everyone does.
      • If you don’t have picture cards or action cards to use, you can likely find some online to print. As another option, print a copy of my Free Zoo Animal Skin Matching Game cards to use.
    • Use small toys:
      • Alternatively, look around at what you have. Small plastic animals could be drawn from a bag.

This easy preschool gym game will be a fantastic addition to your preschool gym games tool belt. You may even find that it becomes one of your favourites!

Need more action ideas, or want to share your variation of the game? Comment below.

Looking for more no prep, super easy preschool gym ideas to get your children moving? Check out Run, Run, Run – When running in circles is a very good thing for children.

Interested in a preschool song that can go with just about any animal theme? See “If You Want To Be A…” 

Closed sign and the words: "Not Forgotten - God Has a Purpose"

Have you ever had a part of your life that seemed to sit unused and useless for a long time? Have you wondered if God has a purpose for it?

At a busy shopping centre I often drive by, there is a restaurant. For many years it was a pizza place. People came and went, enjoying the food and atmosphere. I ate there a couple of times. 

Then one day a sign appeared on the door. The lights went off, and eventually, they took their logo down. They were closed.

For quite some time, the building sat empty, even as other stores and restaurants around them stayed busy.

Then someone bought the place. Construction vehicles started showing up. From the outside, we couldn’t see much change, but inside things were being improved.

They put up a new sign, then announced their opening.

For a while, people came, but soon the parking lot looked empty again. One day a sign appeared on the door saying it was closed.Car parked in empty parking lot

Again it sat month after month with a closed sign. The lights were off and the parking lot abandoned.

Several years went by as the building sat empty. Countless people drove past it daily on the busy main roads, but no one stopped to go in.

True, the building was in the far corner of the shopping centre but it was very visible from the main roads. Why did it sit empty for so long?

Fast forward to March this year. With the coming of COVID-19, many businesses were temporarily closed. Shopping malls sat abandoned and restaurants empty.

One place, however, began to see action.

The parking lot of that long-abandoned building began filling.

First, some work crews showed up, then tents were erected outside.

Every time I saw it, I wondered who was moving in. Were they simply using the parking lot? Had another restaurant bought the place? I watched for clues.

Before long, I saw line-ups of vehicles outside. This particular building was surrounded on all four sides by a parking lot. The line-up of cars began at the tents and wound all the way around the building. What were they doing?

Then I found out. My city had set up several COVID-19 testing drive-through sites. This was one of them.

The long-abandoned building now had a purpose. Its parking lot was beautifully suited for the task.

Now, instead of sitting forgotten and unwanted, this building was helping save lives. 

I believe God sometimes works this way in our lives.

Sometimes He gives us skills and abilities or previous experiences that seem to sit idle and unused for a season. We wonder why they exist. Could it be that God has a purpose for them?

Perhaps one day God will point to that part of my life or your life and say “Now is the time. I want to use you this way.”

The Bible gives some examples along these lines. Examples of situations when something seemed random or worthless, only to later become evidence that God has a purpose in everything He does.

It was some time after Esther was made queen that the king passed the law against the Jews. Only then did Mordecai say to her “Who knows, perhaps you have come to your royal position for such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14b CSB)

Similarly, when David finally became king after fleeing from King Saul for years, I’m sure he found his experience from serving as Saul’s armour bearer useful. (1 Samuel 16:21)

Do you sometimes wonder what purpose God has for you?

Thankfully, we can trust that He knows what He is doing. God has a purpose. We don’t need to worry if there are talents or experiences in our lives that seem forgotten and unused right now. Just like the building, at the right time, God will use them as He sees fit.

As He said to Peter “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”  (John 13:7 NIV)

Apple, pencils, and blocks on a desk with title over them

A wealth of information exists about child development and what a preschool child needs to know in order to be ready for kindergarten. Depending on where you live and which kindergarten your child will attend next year, the specifics of what they need to know will vary. Regardless, if you focus on these five core areas, your child will be well on their way to being ready for kindergarten.

Of course, there are other areas, such as social and emotional development, that must be matured in order to be ready for kindergarten, but that’s another topic for another time. So, without further ado, here are the top 5 key ways to prepare your child academically for kindergarten.

1. ABCs

This is usually the first thing parents think of when they think about getting their child ready for kindergarten. Singing the alphabet song is a great start, but don’t stop there.

  • Letter recognition
    • Help your child learn to recognize and name the letters. This takes plenty of repetition. Perhaps buy or print an alphabet poster. Point to each letter saying the name, then later, as your child catches on, ask them the name of the letter you’re pointing to. Be sure to mix up the order when you teach your child the letter names, otherwise, they may simply memorize the order of the letters, rather than their shapes. Additionally, throughout your day, when you come across writing, ask your child to name the letters they see.
  • Letter sounds
    • While letter names are important, their sounds are even more critical for learning to read. Ideally, a child who is entering kindergarten should have a strong grasp of the concept that every letter makes a sound and that letters put together make words. They should know many of the letter sounds.  For ideas of how to teach letter sounds to your child, check out this post: https://sjlittle.ca/preschool/teaching-the-abcs-at-circle-time/
  • Write own name
    • There is a long standing debate among kindergarten and preschool teachers about who should be teaching children to write. Some teachers argue that children who learn to write incorrectly form bad habits that are hard to break later. Other teachers would disagree with that. Due to this on-going debate, I do not emphasize teaching your child to write all their letters during their preschool years. Girl writingIf they show interest in learning to write, by all means, do not hold them back. Perhaps buy them a workbook that shows which way to write each letter. The big key in teaching children to write correctly is thinking about where we start a letter. When we write “M”, we start at the top for each line. When we write “Z” it is one continuous line. A good rule of thumb to follow is that most letters start at the top.
    • While I do not emphasize writing the whole alphabet, I strongly encourage parents to teach their child to recognize and write their own name before reaching kindergarten. There are loads of fantastic ideas about how to do this on the internet. Try finding one that suits your child’s interests.

2. Counting

Numbers are another of those things that can be taught and practiced throughout the day. “How many apple slices do you want for snack?” “I see you have one, two, three cars parked in the garage.” Teaching numbers really isn’t hard.

  • Counting aloud
    • In order to be ready for kindergarten, children should be able to accurately count out loud up to twenty. Being able to count to thirty would be even better.
  • Number recognition
    • On top of being able to count, they should be able to recognize the written numbers from 0-10. Be sure to practice recognizing these numbers out of order.

3. Fine Motor Skills

Fine motor muscles are simply the hand muscles designed to do small detailed tasks such as holding a pencil or putting beads on a string. If a child’s fine motor muscles are weak, they will find it difficult to hold their pencil correctly. Therefore, focusing on exercising these small hand muscles is a key part of getting ready for kindergarten. Here are a few fun ways to help strengthen your child’s fine motor muscles.

  • Playdough
    • Playing with playdough, or slime for that matter, is an excellent way to strengthen these muscles. While they roll and pull and poke, they are preparing their hand to hold a pencil well.
  • Colouring/Painting
    • Colouring with pencil crayons or crayons also exercises those hand muscles. Did you know that it has sometimes been recommended to give children small broken crayons to colour with? That is because using a crayon that is only an inch or two long forces a child to use more hand muscles since it is too small to be gripped in their fist.
    • Painting with cotton swabs is another super fine motor muscle builder. Using paintbrushes or other painting tools may also work well. Here’s a list of some creative ways to paint that your kids will enjoy:  sjlittle.ca/preschool/beyond-the-paintbrush/
  • Scissors
    • From my experience, scissor skills are often a forgotten thing. Once a child is three or four, they are capable of using child safety scissors while being supervised. (Supervision with scissors is important as this is also the age of self hair cuts.) Teaching your child to use scissors will strengthen their fine motor muscles. On top of that, your child’s kindergarten teacher will be grateful if your child is fairly competent at using the scissors.
    • When teaching scissors, use the rule of thumb – the thumb always goes on the top, both in how the child is holding their scissors and how they are holding their paper. One simple cutting activity is to give your child an old flyer and let them cut it into a million tiny bits.
  • Other muscles
    • While we’re on the topic of strengthening muscles, just a quick reminder that gross motor activities, such as running, jumping, climbing, throwing a ball, etc. are important too. Not only are they valuable for developing your child’s muscles, such activities also have a huge positive impact on child brain development.

4. Broad Knowledge

Having a wide base of general knowledge helps children feel more confident and enables them to more easily grasp new concepts by connecting them to concepts they already know. Therefore, it is valuable for a child to be exposed to a broad range of learning opportunities. This doesn’t have to be complicated. Rather, during your day to day activities, take the opportunities that come. Do you see an orange butterfly? Point it out to your child. Is a cement truck driving by? Tell your child what it is and what it does. In this way, by the time they are ready for kindergarten, your child will have gained a broad range of knowledge that will serve as a launchpad to learning so much more. Here are some things to keep in mind.

  • Shapes and colours
    • Part of the broad knowledge children should have by kindergarten includes being able to recognize and name basic colours and shapes. Again, teaching this doesn’t have to be complicated. As you go about your day, comment about various shapes and colours as you come across them.
  • Read booksGirl reading book
    • I can’t emphasize this enough. Books are a fantastic way to give your child a wider base of knowledge than your home can give. Read stories about space or under the sea. The options are endless! Most cities have public libraries that are very low cost or free. If you sign up, you’ll never run out of new books to read.
    • Reading books with your child is also a huge part of preparing them to learn to read. Therefore, I strongly encourage you to make storytime a part of your everyday routine.  Here are some fun interactive book suggestions to get you started.  sjlittle.ca/preschool/7-fantastic-animal-guessing-books-for-preschoolers/
  • Educational screen time
    • While I encourage limiting or avoiding screen time for preschoolers, if you are going to give your child screen time, make sure it is positive and educational. There are many good options out there. For TV shows, I highly recommend Octonaughts. It is scientific and the social interactions between characters are largely positive.

5. Love of Learning

I’ve left this point until last as I want to be sure you remember it. Having a desire to learn is more important to school success than knowing the alphabet inside out. Therefore, as you’re teaching your child the things above, be sure to keep it fun. 

  • Lead by example
    • Keep in mind that your child is likely to pick up on your attitude. If you are excited about learning and asking questions, they will be too. With this in mind, be curious about things. Ask questions like, “I wonder how bees know where to find the flowers?” It’s okay if you don’t know the answer.
  • Learn what they love
    • Encourage your child to learn about what they love. Of course, this is not an excuse to avoid learning things that are important but less exciting to the child. However, especially at this young age, you could use what they love to help teach them other things. Do they love zoo animals? Find an animal ABCs book.
    • Having said that, I would encourage parents to try to focus on the broad open-ended interests of their child. If your child’s favourite is Paw Patrol, try buying them a set of toy dogs rather than a Paw Patrol toy. Why? Because a toy dog set provides a far greater range of potential play possibilities than a specifically Paw Patrol toy would.

In summary, preparing your child for kindergarten doesn’t have to be difficult. Be intentional to seize the learning opportunities in your day to day life and your child will be well on their way to being ready for kindergarten. While you’re at it, be sure to have plenty of fun. Learning ought to be a captivating adventure.

Flowers, Bible, and title: "God is with me"

 

For many months, or perhaps even a year or two, I had a piece of paper on my wall on which I’d written the verse, “Fear not, for I am with you…” (Isaiah 41:10a ESV)

I had scribbled the words across the paper using crayon while teaching a Sunday school class. I debated throwing it out when the class ended. Instead, I folded it and slipped it into my bag. When I got home, I decided to stick the verse on my bedroom wall. I used a little sticky-tack to do so.

Over the following months, that verse was often a refreshing reminder and a needed encouragement. God was with me. When things got challenging, I wasn’t alone. He would help me. What an important reminder.

Gradually over time, the little piece of sticky-tack began to lose its stickiness. Then one day, I bumped the paper. It fell behind a desk and bedside table. I could not reach the paper to put it back up without moving the furniture and everything on top. Deeming that too much work, I left the paper where it was, knowing that one day I would find it again.

Several months went by.

The little piece of sticky-tack remained on the wall, reminding me of the absence of the paper. 

With the paper no longer there, I wasn’t frequently reminded of that beautiful verse: “Fear not, for I am with you…” (Isaiah 41:10a ESV)

As is often the case, life got busy and I became accustomed to not seeing the verse.

Then one day, as I sat in my room typing, I looked over at that little piece of Isaiah 41:10 written on yellow papersticky-tack and realized that I hadn’t thought of that verse for quite some time. Indeed, that very day I had been feeling a need to be reminded that God is with me.

This led me to ponder how sometimes in life, I easily and unintentionally slide from a place of closeness with God. I come to the point where I rarely remember to think of Him throughout the day. I forget that God is with me.

Sure I may still go to church on Sundays and read my Bible and pray, but I’m not mindful of His presence with me. My mind doesn’t keep jumping back to the things above. Songs of praise are rarely spontaneously on my lips.

Somewhere along the line, the frequent reminder of God’s presence with me slipped out of sight and I wasn’t intentional to put in the effort to bring it back. Like the paper, I let it slide and then, in the busyness of life, forgot about it.

Oh, that my heart would be inclined toward God and that my thoughts would often run to things above.

As Colossians 3:1-2 says, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (ESV)

Today I dug out that paper and put it back up. This time I put it in a frame so it’ll be less likely to fall again. I want to keep in mind that God is with me. He has not left me alone. He will help me, and I am His.

“Fear not, for I am with you…”

Picture of Animal Skin Matching Game and toy animals

 

Preschoolers love animals and so do I. Preschoolers also love guessing and learning. That’s why I’ve created this Zoo Animal Skin Matching Game.

Get started

Download and print the free Animal Skin Matching Game which includes 12 zoo animal skin pictures and photos of the corresponding animals. (Big thanks to the Unsplash community for providing such excellent photos!)

Cut the photos and, if possible, laminate them for increased durability.

OptionalPhoto of Animal Skin Matching Game cards

If you have a set of small zoo animal toys, I would encourage you to use those to match with the printed skin pictures rather than using the matching animal photos I have provided.

Play at home (groups of 1-4 children)

  • Invite the children to gather around.
  • Set several of the animal skins in front of the children. (For younger children start with only a few distinct skins until they catch onto the game. For older children you could set out all 12 skins.)
  • Either set out all the matching animals or hand them to the children one at a time.
  • Encourage the children to match the animals to the cards.
  • Celebrate with the children when they have matched all the animals correctly!
  • Consider furthering the fun and education by using ideas listed in the “extend the learning” section below.

Play in group circle time (groups of 5+ children)

  • Count how many children you have and determine how you will enable each child to have a turn. The print out includes 12 animal skins to match. If you have more than 12 children, consider playing the game twice so that every child can participate.
  • Before circle time, arrange the animal skins on a wall or board where everyone can see them. Have tape or sticky-tack ready so the children can attach the animals to the skins.
  • Once everyone is gathered for circle time, point out the skins and explain that you will play a matching game.
  • One at a time, call the children to the front and hand them an animal. Allow them to match their animal to the appropriate skin. (Younger children may need hints at first.)
  • Consider furthering the fun and education by using ideas listed in the “extend the learning” section below.

Play in a video call

  • Option one: Show one skin at a time and see if the children can guess what animal they belong to. (This works better for older children.)
  • Option two: Show three skins and one animal. Encourage the children to guess which skin belongs to that animal.
  • Consider furthering the fun and education by using ideas listed in the “extend the learning” section below.

Extend the learning

  • Sing the animal song: “If You Want To Be A…Click here for the song.
  • Read a zoo themed book. I have collected some of my favourite zoo books on my Pinterest board here.
  • Many of the animal photos have more than one animal. Have fun counting them.
  • See how many colours you can find in the photos.
  • After the children have finished the animal skin matching game, consider taking the opportunity to talk with your children. Topics could include:
    • Observe how different and unique each animal’s skin is, yet they are all animals. Discuss how people all look different but that doesn’t make us any less important – we’re all special!
    • Talk about how each animal is good at something different – monkeys climb trees, turtles carry homes on their backs, giraffes reach leaves at the top of the trees, etc. Then steer the conversation to how each person is good at different things.
    • Ask the children which animal is their favourite, or which they like pretending to be the most.
    • For Christians: Marvel together at how amazingly complex and varied creation is and how that reminds us that God is far more spectacular than all the creatures He has made.
What extended learning have you done with your children alongside the animal skin matching game?