It's true! Galloping is not just for horses! Galloping is an important preschool motor skill that often precedes skipping and other, more complex gross motor activities. Give children the chance to practice this skill by planning some fun activities on galloping that your whole class will enjoy.
So what the heck is galloping, anyway? It's not really a skip, and it's not really a hop, but can combine some of the movements of both of these gross motor skills. According to the NAEYC publication Active for Life, "Galloping is an exaggerated slide step composed of a step and a leap. The front leg is lifted and bent, then thrust forward to support the weight of the child. The rear foot quickly closes to replace the supporting leg as the front leg springs forward again. Children begin moving forward by stepping on the front foot and bringing the rear foot forward." Galloping directly precedes skipping, if you were to plot preschool gross motor development on a timeline. Often, children will learn to gallop and it will evolve over time into a rudimentary skipping motion. Most children learn how to gallop between the ages of two and three, and will learn to skip between the ages of five and six.
Gross Motor Skill Development
Just like all skills children acquire during early childhood, gross motor skills follow a predictable pattern of development. When we discuss the gross motor development of preschoolers, we are really looking at three very distinct types of activities that all gross motor skills fit into. The first type for preschoolers to develop are locomotor skills. These include walking, running, hopping, skipping, galloping, sliding, climbing and chasing or fleeing. As children approach their preschool years, ages three to five, most will be able to accomplish this list of locomotor skills pretty easily. Some, such as skipping, may take a more rudimentary form than others, but the movement involved with mastering the skill is evident. When planning gross motor activities for children, keep in mind that while these locomotor skills come easily to most preschoolers, that does not mean they do not need to practice these activities. Part of moving on to the next set of skills includes practicing and mastering the locomotor skills first.
The next set of skills preschoolers with develop and master are stability skills. These include turning, twisting, bending, stopping, rolling, balancing, transferring weight between feet, jumping and landing, stretching, curling, swinging, swaying and dodging. Many of these skills can be practiced during circle time, as they will not require a lot of space. Try introducing preschoolers to some simple yoga poses to help accomplish mastery of these stability skills. Show children how to find their center of gravity and stand with their feet shoulder width apart for better balance.
The last set of skills preschoolers will begin to develop are manipulative skills. These can include throwing, catching or collecting, kicking, punting, dribbling, volleying and striking with a racket, bat or stick. These skills are often associated with traditional sports such as baseball, hockey, football, soccer, basketball and tennis. While many of these skills will begin to be practiced during the preschool years, many children will not master these skills until well into their elementary school careers.
When planning a movement activity or curriculum for your preschool classroom, try combining elements of all three of these skill subsets. This way, children can be challenged to try something new as well as be given the chance to excel at something they already know how to accomplish.
Galloping can be included into many different traditional preschool games and activities. As young preschoolers develop, they will become more adept at galloping. You may notice that at the beginning of the school year, many of your preschoolers will not be able to gallop, let alone know how to skip correctly. By the end of the year, if they have been given the chance to exercise these locomotor skills, you will notice that all of the children will have mastered galloping and many will be able to skip confidently. Try some of these simple activities on galloping in your preschool classroom to help children develop this important locomotor skill:
Freeze Gallop: Try this as an alternative to Freeze Dance. Find some fun country or western music with a heavy twang and ask children to gallop like horses until the music stops and they must freeze. You can choose to eliminate children as the game continues, or just play until the children tire of the game or you run out of music!
Red Light Green Light: Try this fun game outdoors where there is lots of galloping space. Choose one child to be the traffic controller, while the other children, or horses, line up at least thirty to fifty yards away. The traffic controller will say "Green light!" when the horses are allowed to gallop towards him and "Red light!" when the horses are to freeze. This game will exercise both the ability to gallop as well as the ability to stop!
Move Like A...: This is a simple circle time game that will not take a lot of time and is a favorite of many preschoolers. It will help children practice galloping skills as well as many other gross motor skills and is also an imaginative game that can exercise creativity. Before children arrive for the day, cut out several different pictures of animals from magazines such as horses, cats, rabbits, fish, turtles, etc. Place these pictures in a large bowl and allow each child to pick an animal from the bowl one at a time. Give yourself lots of room and allow children to interpret the movements of the different animals. Be sure to give names to the movements you are performing. For example, "Ryan picked the horse! Let's all gallop like a horse!" or "Lauren picked the rabbit! Show me how we all hop like rabbits."