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10 Simple Play Activities
By Carolyn Tomlin

As reported in this issue, childhood obesity is at an all-time high. American children are heavier than ever and the trend shows no signs of stopping. According to data recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,  10 percent of young children between the ages of two and five years are overweight. But there’s hope. Child care programs can make a difference in helping youngsters develop a healthy lifestyle – and it can be fun, simple, and inexpensive! Begin making physical activities a part of your daily curriculum with the following activity ideas.

  1. Tires are Terrific. Painted automobile tires can be used to create numerous outdoor movement activities. For example, place several tires in two parallel rows, alternating left and right position. Then encourage the children to run through the rows, using both the left and right foot. Or attach a rope to one tire and suspend from a tree or stand for use as a swing. You can also make tunnels for children to climb through by stacking several tires together and burying the bottom portion in sand. Suspending three tires with a rope or chain can create climbers. 
  2. Barrels of Fun. Open both ends of a 50-gallon metal barrel and smooth both ends to remove any rough edges. Paint a bright color, and place on the playground for climbing and crawling activities.
  3. Swirls of Color. Use 12-inch wooden dowels and tape three yards of colorful ribbon to one end to create streamers. As children run and dance, the streamers will fly through the air. Encourage the children to create figure 8s and other interesting shapes with their streamers.
  4. Get Ready to Tumble. Place mats on the floor and allow children to have fun climbing, jumping, rolling, and tumbling over each other. Challenge children to try different movements by asking them to slither like a snake or leap like a frog.
  5. Keep Groovin’. Children enjoy making up new dance moves and listening to their favorite songs. Whenever there’s a free moment, play upbeat music and invite  children to join you in creating a new dance.
  6. Let the Games Begin! Create your own beanbag game by cutting large shapes out of heavy-duty poster board. Then glue or staple the poster board to a wooden frame. Watch children’s motor and shape recognition skills develop as they try to throw small balls or beanbags through the shape slots. You can strengthen children’s hand-eye coordination by making a ring toss game. Simply place wooden pegs into the grass and create rings out of stiff rope. Then have the children take turns tossing the rings.
  7. Obstacle Courses. Make obstacle courses, either inside or outside the classroom, using cones, ropes, hoops, and platforms raised off the ground. Be sure the course challenges children to move “under,” “over,” and “through.”
  8. Great Climbers. A tree trunk with limbs attached makes for great climbing. It can also be a great place to practice hammering and nailing (always supervise children carefully when playing in the woodworking area). Contact your local electric department or tree cutting company to locate a tree trunk climber for your program.
  9. To the Rescue. A discarded police car or fire truck makes a great piece of equipment for a playground. Remove the doors to avoid any pinching hazards. Then watch children’s imagination flourish as they pretend to be brave police officers and firefighters.
  10. Can We Build It? Wooden blocks make building a fort a reality. Be sure that you have a block play area with various sizes of blocks, from the smallest to the largest, both inside the classroom and outside on the playground.


Carolyn Tomlin has taught early childhood education at Union University. She writes for numerous educational publications.