Big Body Play

Gross Motor Play, Physical Play

UDL 5.3

Big Body Play is a physical, gross motor activity in which students move their bodies to run, jump, hop, and partake in other activities that require large physical movements. In an open area, the teacher encourages students to spread out, maintaining personal space. Then, the teacher directs students, through verbal direction or music, to make specific movements. Students listen to the directions (e.g. “Leap like a kangaroo!”) and carry out the exercises. After an allotted time frame has passed, the teacher suggests another big body action for students to imitate (e.g. “Run like a cheetah!”). The class continues the instructional strategy until physical playtime is over. Big body exercises actively engage young children in physical play while supporting gross motor growth, self-control, and social development.

Implementation Tips

Preparing the Physical Environment
Create a physical environment that encourages active exploration of large body movements. Use a large, empty space such as an outdoor play area or circle time rug to practice the strategy. If needed, rearrange furniture to allow students more space to move their bodies.
Modeling Movements
Model big body movements in activities, incorporating instructional scaffolding, to promote students’ gross motor development (e.g. “sometimes it is hard to balance on one leg. Watch me as I hold on to the wall to make balancing easier”).
Managing Execution
Establish rules, monitor the environment and supervise students’ behaviors and actions to ensure safety. Encourage students to respect personal boundaries and maintain self-control (e.g. “Let’s make sure we don’t step into our friends’ personal bubbles”).
Observing Student Performance
Observe students to assess their gross motor skills, abilities, development and needs. Use observations to inform future instructional facilitation of big body play to support students’ needs and emerging developmental abilities.
Making Learning Inclusive
Increase engagement by facilitating big body play exercises that are inclusive of students’ abilities. Planned, intentional and structured activities will ensure that students’ needs and abilities have been considered and that all students can actively participate in play.
Challenging Students
Challenge students during big body play by encouraging use of gross motor muscles to engage abilities, practice new techniques and develop emerging skills (e.g. “I see you can balance on your right leg, can you balance on your left leg, too?”).
Integrating Movement Throughout the Day
Provide frequent opportunities for students to utilize and manipulate their bodies to perform gross motor actions. Transitions, circle time activities and outdoor play can be structured to promote big body play in diverse settings.


Encouraging Gross Motor Practice
An early childhood teacher observes that some students are disengaged and do not demonstrate big body play on the climbers during outdoor play. The teacher calls the students over and begins to facilitate outdoor exercises for students that cannot be implemented in the classroom. The teacher encourages students to run races, skip across the field and hop in a line. To further motivate and actively engage students, the teacher integrates a stopwatch into the big body play (e.g. “Let’s see how long it takes for all of us to skip across the field.”).
Releasing Energy During a Lesson
During a whole group mini-lesson, a teacher observes that students are energized, active and disengaged in the learning. To increase academic engagement and grant students an opportunity to let off some energy, the teacher facilitates a listen and move activity for students. The students stand around the circle time rug, spreading out an arm’s length from one another. The teacher calls out a direction (e.g. “Gallop like a horse!”) and students attempt to carry out the big body movements. After several minutes, the teacher instructs students to sit down on the reading rug and re-engages students in the mini-lesson.
Facilitating Transitions
A teacher notices that transition periods are often chaotic and students lack motivation when transitioning from one activity to another. To engage students’ prompt participation in transitions (e.g. clean up, line up, etc.), the teacher decides to facilitate big body play exercises that engage students while simultaneously supporting gross motor development. Before the transition to snack time, the teacher says, “When I call your name I want you to hop to the snack table using your right leg.” Students attempt to carry out the exercises as they make their way to the snack table.

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