The Crash Mat

activitiesYou know those foldable gymnastics/tumbling mats? Like 4’x6′, foldable into four sections, thick foam that’s good for falling down on? I hope you have one. Actually, I hope you have at least four. Whether you’re a school or a family, these things will come in handy all the time. You can wrestle and roughhouse on them; you can stack them up and jump off them; you can put them on milk crates and make them the roof of a fort; you can stand them on end like a wall; you can make them a ramp and roll down them… and you can use them for one of the all-time-greatest-hits preschools games: The Crash Mat.

The adult folds up the mat and stands it on end. The kids take turns running full-tilt at the mat and knocking it flat. When it hits the ground it makes an extremely satisfying BANG! That’s the gist of it.

Active kids love getting to slam into something and make a huge noise. Not-so-active kids love getting to do something active and dramatic with no chance of actually getting hurt. Little kids love getting to actually have a big physical effect on their surroundings. Big kids love getting to use their strength and power.

If interest starts to wane (it’ll take awhile) you can challenge kids to crash into the mat different ways: “Hit it with your head!” “Run backwards!” “Hit it in a mid-air jump!”

If you’re playing with more than a few kids, the biggest problem you face is the waiting-in-line thing. It helps to have a clearly marked starting line to stand behind, so kids don’t start to creep closer and closer. It helps to have a clearly defined route to get back from the mat to the line—a long, obstacle coursey route if possible. It helps to have another adult to be on line monitoring duty.

As an aside, mostly I avoid having kids form lines, you know, ever. I think in schools adults have children line up simply to try to impose order, not because it’s something that actually benefits the children. Children end up waiting in lines for longer than they are really developmentally ready for, and that’s when you get all the behavior problems associated with lines: poking, prodding, bumping, cutting… Why are you having the kids wait in the first place? Just let them go outside! But: if there’s an activity that kids are really excited about that only one child at a time can participate in, a line makes sense. They can CHOOSE to be in line if they want to do the activity, and choose to leave the line if they feel like it—and that makes all the difference with behavior.

Anyway. Crashing. It feels good, and powerful, and exciting. Your kids will love it.


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