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Things to Do While You’re Waiting: Physical Activities

mom and child playing game

It’s happening again! You’re running errands with your children and suddenly you’re stuck—in traffic, at the clinic, in the checkout line. Many parents find that playful learning activities can help keep children engaged when they have to wait.

Too much time in a car seat or stroller can make a child irritable. How can you help your child find a little freedom of movement in a confined space?

Snuggle Up!

Sometimes, hugging is the best physical activity. Invite your child to pretend you are puppies or other animals as you give each other lots of hugs.

Adaptations for children with significant support needs

  • For children sensitive to hugging, ask whether they want “big hugs” (e.g., full body hugs, tight squeeze hugs) or “little hugs” (e.g., pressure on hands or light squeeze hugs).
  • Provide stuffed animals for the child to hug if that is their preference.

Time to Play!

“Simon Says” and “Mother May I?” are timeless games that let children move in a small space. Fingerplays, clapping games, and songs get hands moving. Try old favorites like “Patty-cake,” “Miss Mary Mack,” or “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.”

Adaptations for children with significant support needs

  • For children with limited mobility, move their arms and legs in motions to songs or touch their body parts while singing “Head, Shoulder, Knees, and Toes.” Be sure to gain the child’s permission before touching.
  • Provide boundaries for movements in small spaces, such as hopping on colored tiles on the floor or walking to the table and back in various animal imitation movements (e.g., “hop to the table like a bunny,” “tiptoe to the chair like a sneaky lion”).

Let’s Pretend!

If your child still has energy to burn, try some of these activities:

  • Flop your bodies like rag dolls. Then be stiff like robots. Stretch your necks like giraffes, or be shy turtles pulling heads and limbs in toward your bodies. Pretend to dig holes or pour cereal. With very young children, decide together what to act out, then find different ways to do it. As your child learns the game, she can play a part while you guess what she is doing. Then switch roles.
  • Be athletes in the Finger Olympics. Use hands and fingers to show skiing, skating, pole-vaulting, or other sports.
  • Play the mirror game. This activity works when you can face each other. When your child is the leader, he can make any kind of motion suitable for the space—arm movements, funny faces, silly walks. Imitate his movements as if you were a mirror image. Trade places often!

Adaptations for children with significant support needs

  • For children with fine motor challenges, bring small toys or dolls so the toys or dolls can be the athletes and pretend to ski, skate, or jump.
  • Use yoga-type movements such as “Reach high to the sky like a tree! Now sway in the wind.”  These movements may be easier than trying to act like a robot or imitating the actions of a peer.

Challenge Time!

Make up physical challenges for each other. Be sure your challenges fit the space and don’t interfere with anyone else. For example: “Try standing on one foot while I count to 10.” “Can you touch your nose with your elbow?” “Can you lift the cereal box over your head 10 times?” “Which letters can we make with our fingers?”

Adaptations for children with significant support needs

  • For children who use wheelchairs or strollers, use your hands as “targets” for them to touch with their hands, feet, or other body parts. Say “touch your nose to my hand” while holding your hand high, low, and then to the side.

About this resource

Setting(s) for which the article is intended:
  • Home
  • Family Child Care
  • Child Care Center
  • Preschool Program
  • Kindergarten

Intended audience(s):
  • Parents / Family
  • Teachers / Service providers

Age Levels (the age of the children to whom the article applies):
Related IEL Birth to Three Guidelines:
Related Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards:
Reviewed: 2015