Mat Exercises: Brain-Building Animal Exercises for Gross Motor Development and Higher Learning

Jan 8, 2017 | Resources for Infants, Toddlers & Kids | 0 comments

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As children become more exposed to activities that further develop their gross motor skills, they are more prepared for higher learning concepts in the classroom. Children need these types of movement exercises to establish better body control and management, which directly relates to how they will attend and focus in the classroom.

Special thanks to ILS for their help in providing this resource.

By maximizing the amount of movement a child gets on a daily basis, and even pushing them to new levels, you may find better results with their learning ability as they begin to listen better to their teacher, sit still in class, retain facts and details, follow directions and form the skills they need for reading and writing.

Mat exercises are a great way to improve your child’s gross motor skills and also provides them with more opportunities to move while indoors.

Benefits of Mat Exercises

As your child completes mat exercises, they will strengthen their core and build their gross motor skills. These types of exercises can help your child in the following ways:

Attention, Focus and Concentration

Completing exercises, especially those on a mat, can increase physical endurance needed for sustained attention and focus in the classroom. This allows your child to sit in the chair while at school for longer periods of time without distraction and fidgeting.

Reading and Writing

As your child engages in mat activities, they will often use their hand-eye coordination and crossing the midline, like we see with the elephant and kangaroo hop. These exercises develop your child’s visual-motor skills as they guide their hands, arms and legs through each activity. These important skills are needed for retaining information and for tracking words on the page.

Crossing the midline helps your child develop their directionality skills used for writing letters and numbers, spatial perception used for correctly spacing words in sentences, tracking words from sentence to sentence, and activating both the right and left sides of the brain so they work together.

Following Instructions and Listening to the Teacher

When your child participates in fun mat activities, they have to watch, listen and follow. Because this is normally the same process they do while listening to the teacher, it’s a good way to prep them and strengthen those skills for sharper development. Your child has to first watch the teacher, listen and retain the instructions, and then complete the directions they are given. This is the same processed used in these activities as well as other sports exercises.

Taking Notes in the Classroom

Most people don’t realize how important gross motor skills can be for something as simple as taking notes in the classroom. Many times students who have such low muscle tone they can barely lift their body, head and neck to copy what is on the chalkboard. Mat activities can strengthen your child’s core, help their posture and support the muscles in the neck and head used for taking notes while the teacher is teaching.

Mat Activities

Here are a few mat activities to get you started. Using animal movements not only activates several areas of your child’s body and his or her brain, it is also a fun way to get them moving without it seeming like work. Each exercise has a specific purpose for enhancing different areas of the body for higher learning.

Animal Mat Activities

Seal WalkPlace hands on mat, straighten arms and lock your elbowsExtend legs behind your upper body (limp legs so they are more floppy instead of stiff)Walk forward with your hands on the mat, dragging legs and toes behindSwing body from side to side
Gorilla WalkBegin by standing with feet shoulder-width apart (to make the exercise more difficult, have child squat close to the floor)Bend trunk forward slightly and hang arms in frontWalk forward like a gorilla (slow steps, controlled)
Frog JumpSquat low to the floor and put hands on the mat in front of the kneesJump forward on all four’s (large spring)Land back in squat position
Rabbit HopSquat low to the floor and put hands on the mat outside of the kneesPut hands in front of you as far as you can reachKeep both feet together and jump feet to your handsMove down the mat
Kangaroo HopSquat low to the floor and fold arms across your chestJump from the floor forward on the mat as high as you canLand back in the squat position with arms folded
Elephant WalkStand straight and bend upper body over your waistPut one hand forward for the trunk and one hand behind you for the tailSwing trunk while walking forwardFor an extra challenge, swing trunk across the mat surface while walking
Crab WalkSit on the mat and plant feet firmly in front of you and plant hands firmly behind you (lock elbows)Push stomach and hips off the ground, balancing on legs and armsWalk backwards on the mat (head and hands first)Keep hips and back straight, don’t let body drag on the mat


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