When adapting to virtual therapy, finding interactive and engaging session plans was possibly one of the biggest challenges therapists and educators were met with. Animal Moves proved to be successful and popular with simple instructions and broadly understood movement patterns for motivating and accessible games for a wide range of children. The simplicity is equally matched by its versatility from how to play to what goals can be targeted. Games can be made to fit into any amount of time where you can act really silly and sometimes don’t even notice how hard you are working at your goals! Animal Moves are an excellent activity to work with your kids on strengthening, coordination, body awareness, speech, language and many other skills!
Animal Moves are full-body and dynamic exercises that help children work towards motor milestones in a fun interactive way. With a wide range of moves and walks that help build strength, improve coordination, increase mobility and challenges their balance. Global strength is required to achieve and maintain a position, for example a crab pose, which is a great core extensor workout, progressing to a crab walk, starts to incorporate coordination and balance. Progression of the moves can keep them interesting and challenging. Practice and repetition is a key factor when developing gross motor skills not only for adequate power production but also for brain development. The use of both feet & hands simultaneously in an organized and controlled manner has significant benefits for the brain. These fun moves and walks can have functional carry-over into everyday activities such as improved obstacle navigation, increased core strength for upright posture and bilateral coordination for peer play.
Pretending to be animals provides a fun, play-based way to get sensory input to joints, muscles, and the inner ear. Animal walks frequently involve weight bearing through the upper extremities, as well as partial inversion of the body. This type of sensory input can help our bodies feel organized and focused, and prepare us for seated activities. Animal walks also promote strength, bilateral coordination, motor planning, and spatial awareness. Moving like an animal with our hands on the floor also can strengthen our hands and arms to help with fine motor skills like handwriting, self-feeding, and self-care skills such as shoe tying, buttoning or snapping, and tooth brushing!
Talking about animals and their movements can support both receptive and expressive language skills, including following directions, and increasing vocabulary, especially verbs (e.g., jump!) and adjectives (e.g., fast, tall). We also love using animal sounds for emerging talkers because of the fun consonant + vowel combinations (moo, baa, neigh). Acting out animal movements can even support a child’s imaginative play skills!
Help grow your child’s receptive language skills by asking them simple questions. For example, you could open up an animal picture book or put out some animal toys, and ask your child questions like “Who swims under the icy water?”, “Who has big, gray ears?”, or “Who flies above the tall trees?”, then have your child act out that animal’s movements. By doing this, you are not only introducing new concepts (e.g., spatial, physical attributes, etc.) and grammar elements (e.g., verbs, adjectives, etc.), but you are also facilitating your child’s ability to interpret and respond to a variety of question forms.
Help grow your child’s speech and expressive language development by having them imitate animal names, sounds, and movements. For example, “moo-moo”, “baa-baa”, neigh-neigh”, and “hoo-hoo” are fantastic ways to introduce your very young child to new sound combinations. As your child grows, you can embed these sounds (and other words) into phrases and sentences, such as “Cat goes ‘meow’”, “Cow, where are you?” or “Hop, bunny, hop!”.
Some fun animal moves to try:
Frog Jump: Squat low and touch the floor, then jump as high as you can with both feet.
Bear Walk: Use your hands and your feet to crawl on the ground (with your belly toward the ground). Keep your hips up high and walk!
Crab Walk: First sit on the floor and then place your palms and feet on the ground and raise your bottom up.
Starfish Jump: Raise and spread your arms and stand with your feet apart to make your body look like a star. Jump your feet and arms in and back out.
Flamingo Pose: Stand tall with your feet hip width apart and lift one foot off the ground behind you. Leaning forward with arms out in front can help to maintain your single leg balance.
These are just a few examples of some common animal movements to try. However, we encourage you to get creative! A lot of times you can be flexible and use your imagination for different animals. Some out of the box moves could include cat/cow yoga pose, galloping like a horse and reaching up to the ceiling while on your tiptoes to eat like a giraffe. Involve your kids to help make an exercise move for their favorite animals. Have fun, be silly and get moving!
Some ways to use Animal Moves
- Flashcards: Use flashcards with an animal on them. Turn over the flashcard and do the movement!
- Animal races: Which animal movement is the fastest to win a race?
- Animal obstacle course: Have animal movements in different places along an obstacle course to complete as a challenge. Or, use animal movements to go through and complete an obstacle course!
- Book or Song: Play alongside a favorite animal book or animal song
- Scavenger hunt: Go on a scavenger hunt for animal toys or movement cards. When you find them, complete the animal movement!
- Simon Says: Play Simon Says to “walk like a ___” or “hop like a ____” etc.
Edwards, Darryl. “10 Benefits of Animal Moves Workouts.” primalplay.com, Primal Play Method, www.primalplay.com/blog/10-benefits-of-animal-moves-workouts.
For additional resources on how animal walks may benefit your child and some free printables, check out Tools to Grow OT. You can sign up for a free account to access!
Written By: Stephanie Scullin, PTA, Physical Therapy and the CI Waunakee Team