By Craig Valency, MA, CSCS

Kids can often seem clumsy. It’s not so much that they are truly uncoordinated and clumsy, it’s often the case that they simply haven’t fully developed the neural circuits, synaptic connections, nerve insulation (myelination) and sensory awareness to move smoothly.

One key to smooth movement is good rhythm. A good dancer is rarely accused of being clumsy. And any truly great athlete is probably a good dancer, or at least has good timing, or temporal awareness.

While a lot of little tykes seem to be born with certain gifts, the reality is that most of the time kids just need to be exposed to a skill long enough to become good at it.

With Movin’ to the Beat, we simply take a rhythmic locomotion skill, like skipping or hopping, and establish a tempo that kids have to match. By just clapping or using a tambourine or drum kids start to develop a sense of whole body rhythm and an improved ability to keep a beat and maintain a steady tempo without speeding up or slowing down.

When kids learn to maintain a particular beat they are developing an internal clock, or sense of timing. This sense of timing, known as temporal awareness is linked to auditory awareness as they have to listen for the beat. If all the kids start along the same line, shoulder to shoulder, they will also be using their visual sense as they will see where the majority of kids are and if they are either lagging behind or rushing.

Why is timing so important? Moving with agility in a game or trying to intercept an object like a ball, or simply getting out of the way of a speeding bike requires good timing.

Next time you have the kids doing locomotion activities likes skipping, galloping, or shuffling, set the pace and see how well they can move to the beat. Tell us how it goes. Is it easier at faster or slower tempos?  We’d love your feedback!

Movin’ to the Beat

Age: 5+

Total time: 1-2 minutes

Equipment: Cones or markers

Group size: Any

Set up: Basic 15-20 yard cone grid to establish space

Fitness component: Awareness/coordination, general fitness (muscular, cardiovascular)

  1. Arrange children randomly in the space.
  2. Instruct them to move around one another within the given space using various locomotion patterns such as a walk, skip, hop, march, job, crawl, etc.
  3. Once they are warmed up, begin clapping a tempo.
  4. Instruct them do the movements at the same tempo that you are clapping.
  5. Change tempos frequently and see if they can keep up.
  6. You can use a tambourine or other rhythm instrument as well.

They can also do this by starting together, shoulder-to-shoulder on a starting line and move at the same time. This way they can see if they are keeping time with the entire group.

We'd love your feedback!