Information for Parents / Home Educators
The Animal Fun Program was initially designed to be used in the school, or early childhood centre settings and the resources have been written with these settings in mind.
However, it is also easily adapted to the home environment, providing you with lots of activity ideas which have all been designed by either occupational therapists, physiotherapists or psychologists to develop specific muscle groups, motor planning and fundamental movement skills. As parents/caregivers you are the primary educators for your children. Animal Fun gives you the tools to ensure that your child has strong foundation skills to maintain physical health and mental wellbeing.
Animal Fun is specifically designed for young children. It is playful, fun and engages imagination adding mindfulness and meaning to movement. As they pretend to imitate the animal movements, they are practicing core skills to prepare them for reaching their potential – socially, emotionally, physically, and academically.
If you are a Home Educator you can be assured that by implementing Animal Fun you are meeting many of the desired outcomes for the Australian Health and Physical Education Curriculum (Foundation), the Early Years Learning Framework and National Quality Standards.
The Animal Fun Parent Pack includes everything you will need to start using the program at home:
- Full set of 97 Activity Cards with varying degrees of difficulty
- The Animal Fun@Home book provides some basic developmental information on the topic of motor development and has some fun ideas for different activities which help to develop the skills in each of the 9 modules within the Animal Fun Program.
- How Are You Feeling Today? Pack is a useful resource to help young children firstly identify a range of emotions in facial expression and body language and to begin to understand that these emotions come and go with intensity and duration.
- A one-hour Training Video (For Parents/Home Educators only) – Sue McLaren, Program Director, guides you through the complete program with lots of hints and tips as to how you can use the program at home.
Here are just a few of the benefits of using Animal Fun:
- Improved muscle tone and core strength.
- Increased physical fitness – less fatigue = clearer thinking.
- It’s Fun!
- Improves attention and concentration.
- It is mindful.
- Decreased hyperactivity and restless, fidgety behaviours.
- Improved mobility and coordination.
- Improved social skills – taking turns, co-operation, participation in teams.
- Increased confidence = relief from anxiety.
The Health Guidelines for children aged 3-5 years is that they have 3 hours of physical activity (PA) every day, of which 1 hour should be doing vigorous activity - so what is PA?
Physical Activity (PA): is defined as any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure. For young children, physical activity most often is expended during play.
Examples of Vigorous active play
- Bike riding
- Martial Arts
Gentle Active Play
- Gentle digging in a sandpit
- Water play
- Board games
- Pretend Play
Ideally, the recommended 3 hours should be a combination of all three types of PA. When children are being physically active, they are also stimulating other important areas of the brain such as the pre-frontal cortex (used for higher order thinking skills). Serotonin and Dopamine, the feel-good hormones, are also released during physical activity.
New neural pathways grow and strengthen with repetitive activity. Every time a child exercises their body, they are also exercising their mind.
Australian Sedentary Behaviour guidelines for children between the ages of 2-5 is less than 1 hour of screen time per day. In a fast-changing technological world this can be a challenge – we suggest that parents use screen time in short 10–15 minute bursts when absolutely needed. Children should be encouraged to sit and play quietly, look at books, draw or listen to soothing music as rest time rather than be in front of a screen.
If children are not being provided with sufficient opportunities for PA then the muscle strength and conditioning that they worked so hard to develop in infancy will be lost – as we know that if we don’t use it we lose it.
Lack of PA and increased time being sedentary can lead to serious physical and mental health issues. Low muscle tone (floppy muscles) and poor core strength and stability can result in poor balance, more likelihood of falls and accidents, increased fatigue, and withdrawal from physically active play. Children who don’t get the recommended amount of PA every day are at an increased risk of what was previously considered adult type diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes, Cardio-vascular disease, and obesity.
For children to be “school ready” they need to have well developed gross and fine motor skills as well as positive social/emotional regulation.
Improving gross motor skills has a huge impact on fine motor skill development. A child who is well balanced, strong, and stable in the core is much more likely to be able to sit on a mat or in a chair, attend and listen, and have good motor control over writing and cutting tools once they begin more formal education. Conversely, children with poor gross motor skills will find it very difficult to sit still, attend or perform the fine motor tasks assigned and are much more likely to exhibit inattentive or hyperactive type behaviours.
As young children transition from the sensory play stage to pre-operational or pretend play it is important to provide them with opportunities for PA which appeal both to the senses and imagination.
To achieve this – get children outdoors.
The natural outdoor environment provides children with a wealth of opportunities for exploration, discovery, and imagination.
Ensure you have a variety of surfaces to give little ones the chance to practice their walking and balancing:
- Paths – hard, even, constant surfaces are good for beginners.
- Soft Fall – Grass, Sand, Wood Chip are more difficult and start to develop increased balance and strength in the muscles of the legs, ankles, and feet.
- Balance Beams – low and stable graduating to higher and uneven
- Steppingstone – uniform height and distance apart to alternating up and down with varying distance apart.
- Climbing and swinging on monkey bars is a great way to build strength in the trunk and upper body. have children practice just hanging and supporting their body weight to begin with, then using their legs to swing before attempting to swing from bar to bar. Don't overdo this activity in one setting or blisters will quickly form - build up slowly.
Make the practice of improving balance and stability more fun by becoming imaginative:
- Perhaps you could be intrepid explorers looking for…tigers or butterflies
- Dress up, take a few props with you such as magnifying glass, bug catchers outdoors to find insects
- Use music with movement - sing “We’re going on a bear hunt” as you explore the outdoor environment
- Use low balance beams as bridges across croc infested waters.
- Make believe that the climbing equipment in your local park is a pirate ship or fairy castle – Rescue the prisoners with a game of tag.
- Introduce children to games such as “What’s the Time Mr Wolf?” The creeping, running, and freezing in place help children with their static and dynamic balance.
- Include a variety of movement skills within everyday routines - why not have children try to balance like a flamingo while brushing teeth.
Children love adults to join in their play – be an active participant and role model, then gradually withdraw your attention from the activity so that the children play on their own. Try to arrange the play space to allow for some vigorous PA – Chase me, climbing, rolling and some areas for more imaginative gentle play and a couple of quiet areas for rest and relaxation.
Play with balls as often as possible - simple games of catch, dodge ball (with a soft ball), hoops, four square and hand ball all help to develop eye tracking and hand eye coordination. Positive experiences with balls from an early age will help children to feel more confident participating in playground games and more formalised sports when they are a bit older. Just remember that correct technique for throwing, catching, and kicking skills do not normally start to mature until around the age of 6-7 years. In the early years just concentrate on having lots of fun with the equipment.
Once children have good control and strength in their large muscles, they are more likely to succeed with fine motor activities.
For very young children – developing the motor control required to manipulate tools is quite challenging as anyone who has watched a baby trying to feed himself will attest to. Hand to mouth can be a hit and miss effort, but once again with practice and perseverance the goal is eventually achieved.
By providing children with a variety of activities involving shape sorting, filling and emptying containers, simple puzzles, block building (and knocking down) we are helping them to achieve hand eye coordination, strength and control of the smaller muscles in the arms and fingers.
Old fashioned board games and playing cards also provide lots of opportunities to practice motor control and pro social behaviours:
- Keeping the dice roll on the board
- Moving pieces with a 1:1 correspondence
- Dealing out cards
- Matching suits/number
- Holding cards in one hand while choosing with the other
- Turn taking
- Coping with winning and losing
Children should also be encouraged to improve their self-help skills with dressing and feeding wherever possible to ensure that they are school ready.
Scaffold this by starting the process and asking the child to finish while providing verbal cues so that they begin to form an internal dialogue for motor planning. Demonstrate snapping the top of a banana but asking the child to complete the peel. Open one side of a snap lock lunch box and ask the child to do the other one.
Research tells us that children who have poorly developed motor skills also perceive themselves as being less competent and having fewer playmates than their peers. If children don’t feel confident about joining in with playground games, they are more likely to be isolated and victims of bullying.
This can lead to increased feelings of anxiety, internalising behaviours, and a reluctance to participate and make friends. We are social animals and feeling socially included and connected is a very important aspect of our mental health – throughout the lifespan.
There are very clear links between a child’s motor development and their social/emotional development. Helping children to identify and understand their feelings is an important skill in dealing with the emotions.
Sometimes children who have difficulty with their motor skills also have difficulty in recognising different emotions in others and therefore don’t always respond appropriately.
As caregivers it is important to model and name the different emotions you experience throughout the day and bring the child’s attention to your face and body language. You can also role model appropriate self-regulation behaviours by explaining to the child that you are going to calm down by taking five big deep breaths or by going to a quiet place to do a gentle activity such as read a book.
Sometimes – some vigorous movement can also be a great way to help dissipate very strong emotions. Help children to identify their own positive and negative emotions throughout the day – don’t just focus on the negative emotions.
The key message is that planning for and providing children with a large variety of movement opportunities every day is crucial for not only their physical development but also for their social and emotional development.
Physically fit, strong, healthy, active children are more likely to be socially competent, have a positive sense of self and be better prepared for formal learning once they enter school. Increasing PA and decreasing sedentary behaviours in the early years is absolutely vital.
For more fun activity ideas check out our Blog Articles.