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Social Emotional Learning | Teaching Strategies | May 30, 2024

2 Movement-Based Icebreaker Activities for Young Children

Help young children break the ice and get moving as they head back to school. This article offers two icebreaker activities for young children that encourage beneficial movement and play. The article also outlines implementation strategies and offers management suggestions.

Back-to-School Benefits of Movement

There are so many benefits of movement for young children. Children are naturally active and are developing gross motor skills. Young children are developing body awareness and spatial awareness as they move in different directions in the shared space. As you head back to school, make movement-based activities a priority. Movement-based icebreakers are a great way to include the benefits of movement with an essential back-to-school routine.

Movement Icebreaker Activities

Here are two playful movement activities that work well for the beginning of the school year, or anytime! Each includes a guide for presenting the activity as well as classroom management tips that help establish boundaries for the activity and keep children engaged.

Wacky Walking Machines

This is a good activity for the first days of school. The children sit in a circle to begin. They will move into the larger space and then return to their spots at the end.

Step 1: Make up a movement

Start by making up a movement to go with your name. Ask each child to think of two movements to do when they say their name. The movements can be simple: two claps, lift and lower shoulders, nod head up and down, pat your head and knees, and so on. Go around the circle and let each child demonstrate their movements one by one as they say their name.

Step 2: Try the movement standing

Ask everyone to stand up and invite children to try their movements while standing. They keep the same movements as when they were seated, but do them standing up. Give them a minute to try it.

Repeat the movements several times in a row.

Step 3: Add a sound

Now children add a repeating sound, as if they are turning themselves and their movements into a machine. Prompt them to try the movements and sound a few times in a row to create a repeating pattern.

Step 4: Make your machine travel

Have children travel around the space, still doing their movements and making their sound. You might say: Let’s all imagine we have an on/off switch. Okay, turn your switch to “on.” Begin to move very slowly and quietly. Now start to speed up to a regular walk and make a louder noise. Move all around the room, but be careful not to bump into the other moving machines in the room!

Step 5: Finish the activity

To finish up, have children begin to slow down and move back to their spot in the circle. You might say: Uh-oh! Your machine is winding down, so you are moving slowly and your sound is getting really quiet. Work your way back to your spot, traveling slowly now. You have just enough power to get there. Your machine is going to run out of power completely as you fall to the floor in slow motion. What sounds would your machine make to go along with your slow-motion fall? When you have landed on your spot on the floor, turn your switch to “off”!

Step 6: Expand the activity

Play music that evokes machine sounds while children are traveling around the large space. As children begin their slow-motion fall to the ground, play the music quietly and then fade it out as children finish on the ground. Here are some suggestions for musical selections:

  • “Swan’s Splashdown” or “Computer in Love,” from the album The In Sound from Way Out by Perrey and Kingsley
  • “The Robots” or “The Man-Machine,” from the album The Man-Machine by Kraftwerk

FSP_2MovementBasedIcebrkrActivitiesYoungChildren-650x520-2Classroom Management Tips

Consider these classroom management tips to help the activity go smoothly.

Identify a home spot for each child, evenly spread out around the circle. Mats, rugs, a tape mark on the floor, and so on, are helpful (especially early in the school year when children are learning about personal versus shared space). If these aren’t available, give the children a minute to establish their spots, noting where their spots are in the circle and who is sitting next to them, before you begin.

In the traveling machine section, don’t have children go faster than walking speed. Caution them to watch out for the other traveling machines.

The activity ends with leading children back to their spots and doing a slow-motion fall as their machines run out of power. This is a way to bring down the energy level and end on a quiet note.

Boat Ride!

This is a short activity that allows children to use their imaginations while they are moving and singing.

Step 1: Row your boat

Imagine you are sitting in a little boat. Say: Sit up tall and cross your legs. We’re going to take a trip! Get your oars ready! Let’s begin to row.

While children are rowing, lead them in singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”

Step 2: The waves get bigger

Continue by saying: Let’s imagine the waves are getting high. Put your oars in your boat and hold onto your ankles. Begin to rock back and forth. The waves are even higher! Let’s rock more as the waves get taller.

Step 3: Fall in the water and swim

Next, tell children that on the count of ten, you will all fall into the water. Count to ten as everyone rocks. The counting gets slower as the “waves” get higher.

Continue by saying: Swim around your boat. Don’t get too far away! See if you spot any fish while you are swimming. What else do you see under the water?

Step 4: Finish the activity

Say: Climb back in your boat. Imagine you have a nice fluffy towel, and pretend to dry off: your head, your arms, your whole body. Now it’s time to row back to shore!

Sing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” again while you row. Slow down the song and the rowing as you come to the end of the activity.

Step 5: Expand the activity

If you repeat Boat Ride! you can increase the time children are swimming (Did you do the backstroke?) and encourage them to “see” different things in the water. Did you see a seahorse? Did you see an octopus?

During the swimming section, add a musical selection that has an underwater theme. Here are some suggestions:

  • “Under the Sea” from the album The Little Mermaid: Original Walt Disney Records Soundtrack
  • “The Goldfish,” from the album The Best of the Laurie Berkner Band by the Laurie Berkner Band
  • “Baby Beluga,” from the album Baby Beluga by Raffi

Classroom Management Tips

Consider these classroom management tips to help the activity go smoothly.

Children will have the freedom to move and explore the idea of imagining they are swimming underwater. Make sure they understand that they are to swim around their “boats” (their spots), which will contain their movement. With this guideline, this activity can be done even with a large group.

During the swimming section, allow enough time for children to explore their ideas as well as ideas from other children that they might want to try. Continue the swimming for as long as children are engaged in the activity, and then prompt them to climb back into their boats. Boat Ride! ends with bringing the energy level down, as the rowing and singing slow down.

As young children head back to school, or anytime, use these two icebreaker activities to encourage movement and play.



Author Bio:

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Connie Bergstein Dow, MFA, Author

Connie Bergstein Dow has an MFA from the University of Michigan and is the author of One, Two, What Can I Do? Dance and Music for the Whole Day; Dance, Turn, Hop, Learn! Enriching Movement Activities for Preschoolers; From A to Z with Energy; and Tap and Rap, Move and Groove. She also wrote a preschool teacher handbook for WeTHRIVE!, with movement activities that address the Ohio Early Learning Content Standards for language arts and mathematics, and contributed to the development of a dance...

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