Sunday, January 8, 2012

Movement + Play = Miracle Grow

Hi there, it's me again, Barbara from the Corner on Character, with an inquiry: What's on your playlist? Here's my Music That Moves Us list - The Fliegerlied is probably my favorite!  Just watch this clip of six-year-olds dancing that catchy So a schoener Tag German polka with me.

In his book Brain Rules, Professor and author John Medina wrote, "Physical activity is cognitive candy." Sweet! Because exercise boosts brainpower, children simply have to move to maximize their cognition. Dr. Medina explains that since exercise can actually trigger the tiny proteins known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), it acts "like Miracle-Gro for the brain." Movement helps with skills like concentration, impulse control, foresight, and problem solving, things that our littlest learners are working to develop and sharpen every day. Dr. John Ratey, author of the book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, puts it this way, "To improve our brains, we have to move our bodies . . . Exercise, involving a series of complex movements while coordinating one's balance, has been proven to generate a greater number of connections between neurons. These connections make it easier for children of all ages to learn." Makes meaningful movement sound like pure magic!   

I also wonder what you've got on your PLAY list. Consider the quote from German essayist and poet Gottfried Benn: Whoever wants to understand much must play much.  Not only is play an enjoyable childhood (and adulthood!) activity that'll boost cognition, research is now suggesting that the absence of play is actually contributing to anxiety and depression in kids. The Atlantic ran a riveting article on this timely topic in October which begs the question:  How will you promote purposeful playtime with your kids this year? Check out the book Great Group Games for Kids by Susan Ragsdale and Ann Saylor. Each of the 150 engaging activities for purposeful play is tied to one or more of the Search Institute's 40 Developmental Assets so your students get to play and you get a skill-building bonus for your character building. There are also going-deeper questions and thoughts for reflection to enrich and enhance each exercise. 

One of their other titles, Building Character From The Start, is also a must-have resource for your shelf. Here now, two sample activities from these authors, reprinted with their permission:
Workout Rolls (from Building Character from the Start)
Time: 5 minutes or less
Supplies: One die
The Game:  Roll the die and have the group do a different physical activity for each number rolled (see below). The goal is to get the group through all six numbers.
• 1: Stretch up on your tiptoes and raise your hands as high as you can.
• 2: Stretch your neck by leaning your head to the right and then to the left.
• 3: Do three knee bends.
• 4: Shrug your shoulders up and down four times.
• 5: Bend over and touch your toes five times.
• 6: Lie on the floor and do six sit-ups.
Going Deeper:

       Why is it important to exercise? 

       How can you make exercise a part of each day?
       What else can you do to take care of yourself?
Asset Categories:  Positive Identity, Boundaries and Expectations, Empowerment

Goldilocks and the Three Bears (from Great Group Games for Kids)
Time: 15 minutes
Prep: Make picture/word signs to label three corners: Little Bear, Mama Bear, Papa Bear.  
The Game: Point out the three corners labeled Little Bear (representing a little), Mama Bear (representing medium), and Papa Bear (representing huge). Tell the players that they are all Goldilocks in this game and they should choose the Bear of their choice to answer each question. Ask players values-based questions, and invite them to respond by walking to the corner of the room that best matches their opinion. Depending on the question, invite players to share their opinions out loud after they move to their bear corners. Here are some questions you might use:
• Goldilocks, how much do you like bubble gum? A little bit (Little Bear), a medium amount (Mama Bear), a whole lot (Papa Bear)?  (Note: this one is a practice round.)
• Goldilocks, is it ever okay to tell a white lie, a tiny lie that you don’t think hurts anybody? Never (Little Bear), sometimes (Mama Bear), always (Papa Bear)?
• Goldilocks, is it ever okay to take something from another person without asking? Even if you plan to return it? Never (Little Bear), sometimes (Mama Bear), always (Papa Bear)
• Goldilocks, is it ever okay to be rude to another person? Never (Little Bear), sometimes (Mama Bear), always (Papa Bear)?
• Goldilocks, how often do you expect yourself to be nice and caring? A little bit (Little Bear), a medium amount (Mama Bear), a whole lot (Papa Bear)?
• Goldilocks, is it ever okay to treat someone unfairly? Never (Little Bear), sometimes (Mama Bear), always (Papa Bear)?
Going Deeper:
• What is one value from this game that you really struggle with, and what’s action you’ll take to start making good choices related to that value?
Asset Categories:  Support, Boundaries and Expectations, Positive Values, Positive Identity

If you want your little sprouts to bloom and grow right before your eyes, then intentionally infusing some serious fun into your daily procedures and routines is a non-negotiable. Other strategies we've incorporated at our school that feed a child's need for movement and play include letting students take turns on a mini-trampoline, routinely practicing yoga stretches, playing charades to practice new vocabulary, marching in place, taking daily dance breaks, walking laps around the track, offering structured games at recess, and hopping the syllables in our spelling words. 

What are some of your PLAY-full promising practices?

Special thanks to Ann Saylor and Susan Ragsdale, Authors and Youth Development Experts at the YMCA Center for Asset Development, for sharing these engaging activities.  Find more “play with purpose” activities in their books, which are available at or at your favorite online bookseller.  You can also collect more creative and practical resources that reinforce character, leadership and service by following them on twitter @TheAssetEdge or perusing their blog for educators, counselors and youth workers.


  1. Great games and movement ideas, Barbara ... and I love the video of the German polka! I pinned your polka to my Educational Songs, Rhymes, and Fingerplays Pinterest board at

  2. Thanks Deb. This just in - the authors of these books are giving away a copy of Great Group Games for Kids so check back tomorrow (Monday) for my blog post about it at the Corner on Character, then enter to win!!

    The Corner On Character

  3. I've been teaching kindergarten for 32 these ideas! In this day and age, "play" isn't encouraged as much as it used to be...SO IMPORTANT!!!


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