Okay, this isn’t an activity per se, but a recommendation. Get yourself some rope, and use it with kids. There are so many possibilities for gross motor play! Some ideas first, and some notes on safety and stuff at the end.
First: tug! I have spent lots of fun time playing tug-o-war with me on one end and 15 2-year-olds on the other end. They have a tough time staying organized, so it helps to give clear goals: “Oh no! The kids are gonna pull me to the fence! But not if I can pull them to the sand box!” Kids who are 4+ are stronger and more organized, so one teacher probably can’t take on a whole classroom of them. Make sure you have enough space for moving around, and decent surfaces to fall on.
A variation, though, is to tie one end of the rope to something solid, like the climbing structure. You hold the other end, and kids can pull every which way and not worry about direction. I like to shake the rope and say, “You kids give me back my rope!” and they tug and scream back, “It’s MY rope!” With one end anchored it’s also easier to hold it up high and let kids hang on it (though keep safety in mind—see below).
Also try tying the rope tightly between two fixed points a few feet off the ground, so that kids can hang underneath. Don’t put it too low to the ground, or they’ll try to tightrope walk, which is a sure recipe for falling down…
Swings are a great thing for kids to play on, and not a lot of preschools have them any more. You can make your own easily by tying the rope to the monkey bars or anything else convenient and tying a loop at the bottom where they can put their foot. Alternately, tie both ends of the rope to the monkey bars, and have them sit in the middle—you’ll be surprised at how well even quite young children can keep their balance. Either way, I like to take a piece of chalk and draw a “safety circle” on the ground—only the child on the swing can be inside the safety circle, so that no one gets knocked over.
There are a lot of great ways for ropes to help children exercise their muscles and work on balance and coordination! If you’ve seen good uses of rope with children, let us know in the comments!
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Okay, first, a word about rope selection. If possible, get several ropes of different lengths. I’ve seen a lot of 6-foot ropes kicking around various preschools, and you can’t do anything with a 6-foot rope. I’d say a 10, a 15, and a 30 will do you pretty good. Second, spend some money to buy high-quality rope—say, from a climbing store. Otherwise, you’ll spend a lot of time frustrated. All-cotton rope from the hardware store is okay, but it’s often too thin to really wrap your hands around, and knots can be hard to untie. Hemp rope has a great natural texture, but it’s hard to KEEP knots tied in them. Cheap plastic rope is a hazard—it can really tear up your hands. No, you want a nice, thick, high-quality climbing rope, usually made of nylon—they’re nice on the hands, tie into knots well, untie easily, and are very durable.
Second, a word about safety. The first thing on a lot of people’s minds is choking, but it shouldn’t be. That’ll only be a problem if you leave the ropes out unsupervised with children who haven’t been taught much about safety—and even then it’s unlikely. The much bigger safety concerns are falling and tripping. Falling’s most likely when kids get higher than they meant to—for instance, if they’re holding onto the rope low to the ground, and then an adult pulls the rope upwards. So don’t do that. Tripping’s most likely when kids aren’t aware there’s a rope to watch out for, so make sure you play with it in an area with good visibility, and with kids who can watch where they’re going.
Third, a word about knots. Most adults don’t know much about tying knots, and just assume that square knot will do the job for almost anything. May I strongly recommend that you learn some knots for particular jobs. There are some good instructions at Animate Knots (they also have a great iPhone app!), and heaven knows you’ll find all the tutorials you’ll ever need on YouTube. The knot you really need to know is the bowline, which you use when you want a loop in the rope that won’t slip or tighten. (For a swing, use a bowline both to hold up the rope at the top and to make a loop at the bottom.) I use a bowline for 90% of my knot tying, at preschool and in life, and it’s not a difficult knot to learn. If you want to get fancy, a trucker’s hitch comes in handy at school a lot. If you want to stretch a rope taught between to points—say, for kids to hang off of—a trucker’s hitch allows you to essentially ratchet it tight before you tie it off. A little tricky, but easy with practice.