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…” 

Boys running outside

When running in circles is a very good thing for children…

Ah, spring is in the air. That lovely time of year when grass turns green and flowers begin to bloom. I love this time of year for so many reasons.

Unfortunately, this season also gets into the children. Teaching circle time becomes far more challenging than before. The children become extra antsy, wiggly, and sometimes more irritable.

I am writing this article in the spring because this is when children need more time to run. At the same time, I highly recommend increasing the amount of running throughout the year, as many children today spend far too much time sitting.

The Running in Circles Strategy

What’s the strategy? It’s very simple really. Let your children run in circles. Not only that, but encourage them to do so.

Let me explain.

The vast majority of preschool schedules include a segment of time for gross-motor play, such as running and jumping. Most preschools call this gym time.

Different teachers handle this time differently based on their children, space, and the materials available to them. Some teachers put out a variety of toys from balls to tricycles and consider gym time as free play. Others plan structured games, such as Red Light/Green Light, for the entire length of gym time. Still other teachers will go halfway in between with some structured time and some free play.

I have worked with teachers who do gym time in all three ways. Letting children run in circles can be done in any type of gym time.

 

Why Circles?

Two children running fast

By running in circles rather than to a wall and back, the children can run at their own pace. Faster children might run 5 laps while slower children may only run 2 laps. No one has to wait for the slower ones to catch up, and everyone has fun together.

 

What it Looks Like

How does this look in my gym class? I’m glad you asked.

As the children arrive in the room used for gym, I have them stand (or sit) in a particular place. Typically, I use a wall or a line on the floor for them to stand along. Always beginning gym time this way eliminates a large amount of chaos, which can come from transitions.

Once everyone is lined up, I like to do some sort of warm-up whether stretches or singing a standing up song, such as Head and Shoulders.

That done, I tell the children to run in circles around the room.

The first few weeks I find it helpful for me to run with the children, modelling one large circular track around the room. I make sure I’m excited about it and encourage them to join me. As they become accustomed to this, I can simply encourage them to run, while I stand in the middle. However, I don’t stay standing long. To increase their endurance more, I wait until they start losing steam, then I join them by running in circles too. This typically spurs the children on for another lap or two.

 

Benefits

What is the point of this strategy?

I have seen two tangible results in my classes.

First, the children’s endurance improves. One class of two and a half year olds, whom I implemented this strategy with, noticeably improved their endurance in a couple months of running in circles once a week. They also appeared to greatly enjoy running after the first few weeks.

Second, in running those laps, the children burn through some of their hugely abundant energy and then are more ready to play structured games such as Red Light/Green Light.

Those are just from my observations. Many studies and personal testimonies exist about the benefits of physical exercise for children, such as the following links:

The Daily Mile – Scotland school fights obesity with exercise https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XtxuwC6lbQQ

Active Kids, Active Minds | Kathleen Tullie | TEDxNatick https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HsyHmLPApPI

 

Aren’t Standard Games Enough?

Various structured games do get the children moving which is excellent. I, however, still like to have the children run in circles prior to playing structured games. This helps them focus on following the instructions later. Also, the children who struggle most to follow the dos and don’ts of a structured game are often the very children who need to run the most. Running in circles is easy and doesn’t require following complicated instructions. Besides this, many structured games do not keep the children at a high level of physical activity the same way simply running does.

 

Running in Circles at Home

Parents, did you know there are many ways of encouraging your children to run in circles at home too?Mom and Girl Running

You can take them to the back yard and encourage them to run laps around it. For older children, you can have them run around the outside of the house.

If you have a house like the one I grew up in, you may have a circular path in your house that can be used for running on days too cold to go outside.

Motivation can be tricky when it comes to encouraging your child to run at home. Your child will likely enjoy it more if you or another child runs with them. If you aren’t able to run with them, for older children, you could try timing them. How long does it take to run 5 times around the yard? Can they do it faster tomorrow?

 

Conclusion

We often hear how important physical activity is, but can find it tricky to include in our children’s day. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as easy as running in circles.