PE Central: Preschool PE FAQs

Preschool PE FAQs

I am looking for a list of skills that preschool children should be able to do. I know that some states offer QCC's for school aged children, but Pre-K is left off. Can you send a list of these skills to me?
There is no list of specific skills for preschool because at this age children should be exposed to all skills in a general way in order for them to get a beginning foundation of skill development. There are many texts that include suggested skills that children should be exposed to. PE Central suggests several texts, go to the preschool section for a list. The book "designing preschool movement programs" is a good place to begin. Also look at the book listed by Carol Hammett. NAEYC also has a list of physical expectations for fine and gross motor skills in the Developmentally Appropriate guidelines.
I would like some help in explaining fine motor skills to a parent.
Fine motor skills refers to a child's ability to use vision and the hands to pick up and manipulate objects (Gabbard, 1992). The development of fine motor skills usually occurs during early childhood and up to around 8 years of age. Activities such as stringing beads, putting together puzzles, cutting, sorting cards, drawing, writing and copying, should be encouraged with young children. Fine motor development progresses slowly during the preschool years, but by kindergarten children are able to engage in fine-motor activities more readily and for longer periods of time, and they are less likely to experience frustration. Parents need to understand that the development of fine motor skills does not just happen in the gymnasium, but that early childhood teachers integrate fine motor activities into almost every activity they plan for young children.
  • Gabbard, C. (1992). Lifelong motor development. Dubuque, IA: Wm. C. Brown Publishers.
Do you prefer a spiraled or a block curriculum for the pre-kindergarten aged child (4)? We have an on going debate in our department. We define a block curriculum as one in which we have a theme for a block of time and do activities related to that theme for four or five days in a row. We define a spiral curriculum as one in which we have different theme activities every day of the week with the pattern of themes being repeated over several weeks.
The block schedule is more in line with a middle school or secondary school curriculum. Developmentally, preschool children need to have skill themes revisited and repeated throughout the school year. We prefer a spiral curriculum, but would go further than your definition suggests and include several skill themes (as opposed to just one theme) during each class. For example, children might begin the class focusing on locomotor skill themes, then work on the skill theme of throwing, and end the class by balancing on a variety of body parts. A rhythm activity might also be added at the end of the lesson. This shortens the time each class that children work on a particular skill, but provides more exposure to a variety of skill themes. Skill themes should be repeated several days in a row and would also be repeated as many times as possible during the school year. Another example is a station approach to presenting themes where children move from station to station throughout the class time. After spending several minutes at the throwing station they would move to the kicking station, the striking station, and the balance station. In this organization one station might change each time the class meets while other stations remain the same. A block schedule suggests that themes are not repeated during the school year. In a developmentally appropriate curriculum themes are repeated throughout the school year as often as feasible.
Are there any assessment tools for the preschool age child? I am a sports and movement instructor. We teach skills for the following sports: tennis, soccer, gymnastics, tee ball, basketball, and golf. If you know of any tools that may help for evaluating the skills needed for these sports please let me know.
First we want to make it clear that motor skills develop over time and any skill assessment at this age must be done over a period of time. In addition, preschool children are in the stage of exploration and their skills in any particular area may change daily. One day they appear skilled at throwing and the next they do not. Attempting to evaluate a preschool child's skills in the areas you suggest is both time consuming and not an exact process. Having said that, there are many motor performance tests available designed to screen children and to assess their current level of physical ability. The Bruininks-Oseretsky Test of Motor Proficiency is a widely used and popular test that assesses the motor functioning of children from 4 to 14 years of age. It evaluates both fine and gross motor skills. Your question suggests, however, that you are looking for a test that examines the process of movement. Few formalized test exist in this area. If you are looking for a specific assessment tool to evaluate a young child's throwing, catching, or striking skills we would suggest you develop your own tool based on observations of children over time. "Motor development ought to be assessed by observing a child's movement and locating what is seen within a developmental sequence (Gallahue, 1989). Many motor development and curriculum books include the stages of different skill patterns that children move through as they develop skills. We suggest a checklist assessment type tool that lists the important movement patterns or refinements (cues). For example, the cues for throwing include, step with the opposite foot, side to the target, and follow through. An observational checklist could easily be constructed to assess if a child is using these refinements when throwing. The assessment chapter (14) in the book Children Moving (1998), and the book Teaching for Outcomes in Elementary Physical Education (Hopple, 1995) provide examples of how to develop observational checklists.
  • Gallahue, D. (1989). Motor development: Infants, children, adolescents. Indianapolis, IN: Benchmark Press.
  • Graham, G., Holt/Hale, S., & Parker, M. (1998). Children moving: A reflective approach to teaching physical education. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing.
  • Hopple, C. (1995). Teaching for outcomes in elementary physical education. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
I have a pre-k learning disabled class of 20 students. Is this a recommended size for a safe and effective class?
The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) recommends "the group size and ratio of teachers to children is limited to enable individualized and age-appropriate programming. Three-year-olds are in groups of no more than 16 children with 2 adults, and 4-year-olds are in groups of no more than 20 children with 2 adults. Kindergartners do not exceed 25 with 2 adults (NAEYC, 1997, p. 135)." This is a difficult question to answer in that we do not know what the specific learning concerns of the children are. In the population you are asking about, if space were adequate, having 20 four-year-old children in the movement class really is not the concern. The concern is the number of adults available to facilitate learning based on the abilities of the children. NAEYC recommends ten children for every adult. Depending on the abilities and needs of individual children in the setting more adults may need to be added.
  • Bredekamp, S., & Copple, C. (Eds.) (1997). Developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs (revised edition). Washington, DC: NAEYC.
What is the suggested time allotment for a pre-school physical education class? I see this class once per week.
There are no standards that suggest a set time for a preschool movement class. We know that young children need extra time to explore their environments, play with the equipment, before they focus on any particular physical activity. We also know that activities should be changed frequently during a class. For example, it would be inappropriate to have three-year-old children to practice kicking for an entire class of 40 minutes, but appropriate for them to do 6-8 different types of activities during that time frame. Suggested time for class is between 20 and 40 minutes. With only meeting your children one time per week, 40 minutes would be an appropriate length of time for your class.
At what age should a child be allowed to try a back bridge in gymnastics?
The USA Gymnastics "Kinder Accreditation for Teachers" program recommends that children not be required to do bridges until they are at least 5 years of age. This recommendation is based on advice from USAG medical and sport science advisors who suggest that: 1) the effect of bridges on very young spines is unknown, so it is better to error on the conservative side, 2) there are other ways to work on shoulder and lower back flexibility. Therefore, a bridge is not strictly necessary at a very young age, 3) children with sufficient balance and flexibility can learn a bridge at any age. There is no advantage in teaching it prior to age 5, 4) the proportion of head size to arm length during early childhood makes it quite difficult for some children to maintain control of the bridge position, 5) Back bends into a bridge should be strictly avoided. The back bend increases stress on the spine and puts the head in a very precarious position should the child lose balance. Rather, early bridges should be performed as a push up from the floor.
I am interested in obtaining a physical education curriculum for preschool students. I have already visited your site and read the information available on the structure of preschool programs. Please advise me on how to obtain the curriculum or any other available programs.
We do not have one particular curriculum that we endorse. Actually, there are few sources for physical education curriculum specific to preschool. Several references are included below as sources for preschool curriculum ideas. Also, see reference list on PE Central for journal articles and additional book references. The section on preschool Web sites may also be helpful.
  • Graham, G., Holt/Hale, S., & Parker, M. (1998). Children moving: A reflective approach to teaching physical education (4th Ed.). Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing.
  • Pica, R. (1999). Moving & learning across the curriculum. Albany, NY: Delmar Publishers.
  • Sanders, S. (1992). Designing preschool movement programs. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics Publishers.
What activities do you suggest for teaching preschool children the basics of golf?
"Generally, striking is the last fundamental motor pattern learned because of the complexity of the hand-eye coordination involved. Children may possess a mature striking pattern before they're able to consistently make contact with the ball (Graham, Holt/Hale, Parker, 1998)." Developmentally, many children are in upper elementary or middle school before they develop a mature pattern. For this reason we do not suggest spending a lot of time with preschool children on striking skills, especially using long handled implements such as, bats, tennis rackets, or golf clubs. When you do practice striking skills with young children it is important developmentally to practice swinging through a full range of motion. Use balloons and foam hockey sticks and use the cues "watch the ball" and "strike hard."
  • Graham, G., Holt/Hale, S., & Parker, M. (1998). Children moving: A reflective approach to teaching physical education. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing.
I am teaching two PE classes this year (first year teacher), preschool and kindergarten. How do the physical, mental and emotional goals differ from one grade to another?
There are marked differences in social, emotional, and physical developmental levels of four and five year old children. Many of these differences and suggested benchmarks for the age group are pointed out in the 1997 book "Developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs," published by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. A must book for all preschool and kindergarten teachers.
  • Bredekamp, S., & Copple, C. (Eds.)(1997). Developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs. Washington, DC: NAEYC.
I'm teaching a lesson to a group of 6 year olds and need to know the correct techniques for helping young children strike a ball with a bat.
The key elements that young children need to concentrate on when striking a ball with a bat include holding the bat way back over the shoulder, watching the ball, and extending their arms in order to provide a level swing. For more information and activity ideas see the chapter on striking with long-handled implements in the book Children Moving (1998).
  • Graham, G., Holt/Hale, S., & Parker, M. (1998). Children moving: A reflective approach to teaching physical education. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing.
I am coaching a pre-school soccer team. What kind of games can be used for beginner soccer practices? I really appreciate your time in helping me.
This is a most difficult question in that we believe, depending on what you mean by preschool soccer, that playing on a soccer team is developmentally inappropriate for preschool children (See "The Question You Hope They Never Ask!" Teaching Elementary Physical Education, Volume 11, Issue 4, 2000 for further information). So, providing activity ideas for something we think is inappropriate for young children is not something we want to begin doing. However, having said that, we suggest that when introducing preschool children to the skill of kicking that they should be exposed to activities is which they each have their own ball and participate individually in developing kicking skills. Kicking a stationary ball, kicking at large targets, approaching a stationary ball and kicking, tapping the ball, kicking for distance, kicking in the air, and traveling in pathways while kicking are all beginning level kicking challenges that would be appropriate for the preschool child.
  • Sanders, S. W. (2000). The Question You Hope They Never Ask! Teaching Elementary Physical Education, Volume 11, Issue 4, Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
I am preparing to teach a P.E./movement class for the first time to a group of 3-4 year olds. Therefore, I am looking for instant lesson plans and ideas on the web. Can you direct me to any websites that might have helpful ideas?
PE Central has a section that lists several early childhood sites that may be appropriate in planning movement lesson for 3-4 year old children. Click on "Preschool PE" on the front page of PEC and then click on "Top Early Childhood Web Sites."
I am running a preschool physical development program this summer and I am in need of finding climbing equipment (jungle gyms, climbing ramps etc.) that are SMALL in size and preferably made of wood. Any ideas?
This is a tough question in that if you are looking for a wood climbing structure you are talking about thousands of dollars at a minimum. Many of the physical education catalog companies (Flaghouse, Sportime, US Games, etc.) carry wooden structures but they would not be affordable for a summer program. Even the Little Tikes brand of plastic climbing equipment for early childhood programs begin at about $500 for a small climbing set. Our advice is to find a local playground for these types of activities or you may simply have to not include climbing in the program. Another alternative is to borrow the equipment from an elementary school in your area.
I'm interested in doing a dance unit with my preschool and K classes. I would like to know what is the best approach and what is developmentally appropriate for these grades. I've done folk dances with grades 1 & 2 but am not sure if these dances are developmentally appropriate for Kinder students. I'm in my second year and experimenting. Any info, insight or suggestions would greatly be appreciated.
The document Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Movement Programs for Young Children Ages 3-5 (COPEC, 1994) suggests that "dance activities for children this age include a variety of rhythmical and expressive experiences. Dances designed for adults (folk or square dance) should be greatly modified to meet the developmental needs of these young children." As it is difficult to modify these designed for adult dance experiences for the developmental level of young children they should not be a major focus in the early childhood movement curriculum, if used at all. In addition, dance experiences at this developmental level should not be taught as a unit, but should be a frequently used, if not daily, part of the yearly curriculum.
What do you do with a three or four year old who is just not ready to participate and no matter what methods are used to involve him/her, he/she either 1) just stands frozen and observes or 2) is completely non-compliant and distracting to others, or 3) throws a fit when approached?
Having three and four year old children who do not want to participate in structured physical activity classes, particularly at the beginning of the school year, is not unusual. Teachers may have as many as four or five children or more in each class that show reluctance to participate. There may be many reasons for this, but the most likely is that these young children are simply trying to understand the new environment they are in and how to deal with it. Also, many children at this developmental level may be visual learners and not pick up instructions from the teacher, but actually learn what to do by observing their peers. Many children are frightened by the noise level, by some past experience with the equipment (a balloon popping, getting hit with a ball), or by the increased level of movement in the physical education setting. For these children it may take weeks or up to several months before they feel comfortable and become active participants in this new environment. In the extreme example of a child being non-compliant we suggest simply allowing the child to stand and observe. It may be helpful to place the equipment being used (beanbag, hoop, rope, or ball) at the child’s feet in the hope that he will observe others and pick up the equipment and begin to move. A child who is disruptive or distracting may need to simply sit and watch until he is ready. It is appropriate to contact parents and discuss teacher concerns as parents may be able to provide additional insights into coping with their non-participant child.
Can you give me any gross motor activities to do with a toddler?
There are literally hundreds of gross motor activities that are appropriate for toddlers. Without listing them all here, the emphasis at this age should be on providing fun, child centered, activities that focus on locomotor and balance skills. Manipulative activities using balls are also appropriate, but the focus should be on what the child can do with the ball and not on specifying a particular type of manipulate activity. "Designing Preschool Movement Programs" by Steve Sanders and "Movement Activities for Early Childhood" by Carol Hammett are two sources for activities. Both can be found in the PE Central bookstore (click on Books and Music from the main menu of PEC). The other resource we know of for physical activities for toddlers is the book "Playful Parenting" by Rose Grasselli and Priscilla Hegner (1981), Richard Marek Publishers, New York. Our search for this book found it to be out of print but you may find a copy at your local library.
I would like to ask about working with kids and shapes in physical education. What kind of activities can I do that relate to shape? This is very important to the kids and I would like some help.
You are correct that understanding the concept of shapes is important conceptual knowledge for young children to have. The concept of shapes best fits under the broad concept category of relationships. Children should be encouraged to create different shapes with their bodies to best understand the concepts of big, small, curved, straight, wide, twisted, like and unlike. Most all physical education curriculum books have information on developing the concept of shapes in the gym. Without listing them all here, several of the preschool books in the PE Central Bookstore have specific shape activities listed. Shapes are also an academic concept in math, science and other classroom disciplines. Although not specific to preschool, the book "Interdisciplinary Teaching Through Physical Education" by Cone, Werner, Cone, Woods (1998, Human Kinetics Publishers), provides some examples of how classroom and PE teachers might work together in development of tasks to assist children in learning about shapes.
I was wondering if you had any ideas for high intensity activities that I could do with young children. I work with a population of autistic kindergartners, and the intense physical activity is very beneficial to them. I have a few ideas, such as rollerskating, but would appreciate a list of ideas if you have any.
More than high intensity activities, children with autism need routine. Establish a clear routine with this group in which they (a) come in to the gym and either sit down in a designated space or do an instant activity, and then (b) have some high intensity choices such as roller blading, running/skipping/galloping, throwing/kicking balls at a target, and other station-type activities. These children enjoy activity, and anything that keeps them moving without the need for a lot of direction is appropriate. Bike/trike riding is another good, high intensity activity as is rolling on mats, swinging from a rope, using climbing equipment, obstacle courses, free exploration to music, etc...
I teach two early childhood classes. One 3-4 year old early childhood special education group, and one 5 year old early childhood special education group. Many of these students have varying abilities due to their special situations. I am having trouble finding activities that will fit each individual child, and at the same time, easy enough for them to grasp. Are there any books or Web pages that you can recommend for teaching early childhood special education physical education?
Here are three articles that talk about an activity-based model that is appropriate for heterogenous preschool special education classes (the model is a child-centered model in which a play environment is set up and then children choose where they want to play. Teachers and assistants then go around and facilitate play and embed IEP objectives within child-chosen activities).
  • Wenos, J, & Harris, T (1998). Developmental physical education for young children in the gym. Strategies, 11(6), 21-24.
  • Winter, S.M., Bell, M.J., & Dempsey, J.D. (1994). Creating play environments for children with special needs. Childhood education, 71(1), 28-31.
  • Block, M.E., & Davis, T.D. (1996). An activity-based approach to physical education for preschool children with disabilities. Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly, 13, 230-246.
Is it good to have preschoolers practice one skill theme or movement concept for 30 minutes? Please explain.
Based on the developmental characteristics of preschool children we recommend that children not practice one single theme for a period of thirty minutes. Tasks based on several different themes would be more appropriate for this age group. For example, a thirty minute class might begin by focusing on locomotor skills (children move throughout space practicing walking, galloping, skipping, marching, etc.) followed by some nonmanipulative skills (balancing on body parts, or jumping in and out of hoops) finally ending the class with a manipulative skills (throwing and catching, or kicking). The same activities may be repeated daily for several class periods and repeated throughout the school year. On the other hand, it would be appropriate to select one movement concept (pathways, for example) and carry that concept through all skill tasks during the 30 minute lesson. Preschool classroom teachers frequently take a concept (for example, the concept of large and small) and carry it throughout the activities of the day or even of the week.
My kindergarten students need some low-supervision type games to play fairly independently at recess. Do you have some suggestions?
We do not suggest any structured games for recess with this age group. Children need this time away from adults to build relationships with peers and to independently practice physical skills. What we do suggest is that enough age appropriate equipment be provided children so that children can select what they would like to practice. Jump ropes, balls, Frisbees, hoops, scoops, along with appropriate playground equipment should be available for all students during recess. Providing a variety of age appropriate equipment should help to eliminate the need for teacher-supervised games and give kindergarten children play opportunities during recess.
I am doing a research project for an undergraduate class at Penn State University on gender differences in physical education. I have done several observations and have noticed that young girls (4-6) tend to be less enthusiastic about physical movement, games and activities. What can be done about this if anything? I would appreciate it if you could email me with any suggestions, comments or thoughts on the matter.
In response to your preschool question on PEC, there are certainly gender differences that teachers should be aware of at all ages. However, as your question implies, we are NOT ready to make that blanket statement that "young girls (4-6) tend to be less enthusiastic about physical movement, games and activities." There are too many contextual factors to consider. It would be difficult to find any research that would support your observations. We suggest the following to get you started.
  • Garcia, C. (1994). Gender differences in young children's interactions when learning fundamental motor skills. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 65, 213-225.
  • Sanders, S., & Graham, G. (1995) Kindergarten children's initial experiences in physical education: The relentless persistence for play clashes with the zone of acceptable responses. Journal of Teaching in Physical Education, 14, 372-383.
I know you will not agree with this, but I do not think early childhood should have a structured P.E. class. I read an article from the American Association of Pediatrics that says that early childhood P.E. should be free exploration. What do you think? What research shows that it is important for three and four year olds to have a structured class for movement?
Actually, we totally agree with you and believe that the less structure in early childhood movement programs the better for children laying a foundation for physical skill development. For the most part, preschool children can be considered in the beginning, precontrol, or novice level of learning physical skills and need large periods of time to explore and discover. This does not mean that we throw out the equipment and tell children to go play. The environment should be structured so that children have a variety of different experiences where they can explore and discover what their body can do. The teacher plays a very important part in facilitating children’s exploration and discovery by development of an appropriate environment. Certainly, a structured, teacher-directed movement class for young children is inappropriate. But, even constructivist, child-centered, approaches to movement experiences for young children require that the environment to have a developmentally appropriate structure. We suggest the following text that is written for elementary school physical education, but has an excellent introduction describing a constructivist approach to teaching that may answer some of your questions about the structure of the preschool environment.
  • Allison, P., & Barrett, K. (2000). Constructing children’s physical education experiences: Understanding the content for teaching. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
How can I teach a group of preschoolers how to skip?
We typically do not put a lot of emphasis on preschool children learning to skip except to introduce the skill by either teacher demonstration or asking children to watch a peer who has learned the skill. For many children skipping takes a long time to master and, in fact, it is not unusual to observe second and even third grade children who are still in the developmental process of learning the skill. The cue that we have found to work the best for this age group is to ask children to first "hop and land on one foot" and then "hop and land on the other." This cue seems to at least get them started in the right direction.
Our district will be implementing a half-day, Pre-School, 4 year old program beginning in Sept. 2001. Do you have any suggestions on setting up a PE program for this age group?
Many school districts around the country are dealing with this question. You may want to contact some of the states that are dealing with the same question to see what they are doing (Indiana, Georgia, to mention a few). The books and references listed in the preschool PE Central bibliography may be a good place to start. Our best suggestion is get a copy of the document "Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Movement Programs for Young Children Ages 3-5 (1994)" published by NASPE/COPEC and begin to develop your program around the outlined developmentally appropriate practices.
I am running a preschool physical development program this summer and I am in need of finding climbing equipment (jungle gyms, climbing ramps etc.) that are SMALL in size and preferably made of wood. Any ideas?
This is a tough question in that if you are looking for a wood climbing structure you are talking about thousands of dollars at a minimum. Many of the physical education catalog companies (Flaghouse, Sportime, US Games, etc.) carry wooden structures but they would not be affordable for a summer program. Even the Little Tikes brand of plastic climbing equipment for early childhood programs begin at about $500 for a small climbing set. Our advice is to find a local playground for these types of activities or you may simply have to not include climbing in the program. Another alternative is to borrow the equipment from an elementary school in your area.
Are there national standards or guidelines for creating preschool physical activity programs?
Yes and no. In 1994 the Council on Physical Education for Children (COPEC) published a document titled Developmentally Appropriate Practices in Movement Programs for Children 3 to 5. This document provides guidelines for the creation of early childhood programs based on developmentally appropriate practice. Our profession through the National Association of Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) has developed national standards for physical education including benchmarks, but these standards and benchmarks begin with kindergarten age children.
I am looking for ideas on taking turns for preschoolers during movement class. I was wondering if you could let me know where I might find something like this.
Certainly taking turns is an appropriate social skill for preschool children to begin to develop. However, taking turns in early childhood physical education typically means waiting. And, it is developmentally inappropriate for children at this age to wait for turns during movement class. Every child should have their own equipment and the need to take turns to participate in movement activities should be kept to a minimum. Learning to take turns may be an important skill for young children, but being asked to take turns should not in any way limit a young child’s participation in movement activities.
I am a fairly new teacher who has been out of teaching for a number of years. My certification is K-12, but I have no pre-school experience. I have been asked to establish a program for 3 and 4 year old children who have varied abilities. Does anyone have ideas for good resources? Any background materials or would be helpful.
There are many resources available to those individuals seeking information about preschool physical education programs. We have listed those resources in the Research Articles/Resources file on the preschool page here on PEC. Informative web sites have also been listed.
I am trying to find information regarding jumping jacks for preschool and kindergarten children. So far, I have not been able to find any. I am wondering if jumping jacks are appropriate for these children in terms of bilateral coordination development. Can you give me an idea of where I may find this info?
We are pleased that you could not find any information linking jumping jacks to early childhood physical education class. We can think of no reasons why this activity should be part of the early childhood movement curriculum.