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Beam Skills and Activities For Preschoolers
Beam is one of the easiest gymnastics events to teach preschoolers. As long as you keep them on a low beam, they feel comfortable enough to try all the different moves and most of the skills listed below. Beam is easy because it lends itself to the use of event props, music and various games.
The following skills are listed in progression from the most basic to the earliest. All children mature mentally, socially and physically at their own pace. Children also develop differently in the components of fitness: strength, endurance and flexibility.
Difficulty Level A (Parent and Child)
Bear (on all fours)
Lunge Pose, V-Sit
Direct Jump (DM)
Front support mount
Tuck Jump DM
Birdie Perch (deep ply with hands on beam)
On the chassé side
Straddle Mount on Low Beam (LB)
Difficulty level B
Knee Scale (L&R)
Walk on the Med-High Beam (MB) – no falls
Walk in plié
Stag of the previous step
in front of the chassé
Short running steps
Straddle Jump DM
Straight ½ turn DM
Front support mount on MB
Sidewinder in push-ups (see photo)
Cross the walk
Jump, switch legs
Front Scale (5 sec.)
Bounce ball on walk to LB
Difficulty level C
Low tuck jump
Pike Jump DM
Tuck Jump DM ½ turn
Leg cut-hip raise on HB
Chassé (MB, no foals)
Straddle mount on MB
Handstand with spot
English handstand with spot
Long running stairs
Difficulty level A is a starting point for parents and younger classes as well as all preschoolers. Basically speaking, level B is suitable for three and four year olds and level C is for five and six year olds. Any child can progress to Level C after completing the first two levels.
I believe it is not appropriate to have individual check-off skill lists in preschool classes. This takes a lot of time out of the classroom. Most preschool classes are 45 minutes in length. Now is the perfect time for a fast-paced, fun-filled, perpetually moving class. No time to use individual skill sheets. However, a “class check-off list” is recommended. At the end of the class or day, the instructor should date when the skill was taught. Instructors who teach a large number of classes each week cannot be expected to remember from week to week what skills were covered in each class.
There are a few safety comments to keep in mind about beams.
1. Do not place the child on a beam higher than his/her waist. Children can learn all the skills they need in preschool on a low beam. If you are forced to use high beams, place mats next to them so that students can easily “see” when they climb the beam.
2. Teach kids how to fall! If they think they are going to fall, teach them to jump safely. This reduces their initial fear of getting on the beam.
3. Teach the student to “feel” the center of the beam through their body.
4. Do not descend further than they can jump from a two-foot take-off. Please watch their joints and hold their waist without holding their hands while they walk on the beam.
5. Have students land on a 4″ landing mat, not an 8″ skill cushion. When they are asked to jump into the skill cushion, a lot is given to the landing.
If you keep the tots on a low beam and teach using progressions, there is very little need for spotting. If you have them on a high beam, watch them walk by their waist, not their hands. Even a slight loss of balance can cause their arms to pull and drag too much, possibly injuring their elbows or shoulders.
Remind them to look at the end of the beam as they walk, not at the beam in front of their feet. Give children different arm positions as they walk. Don’t just hand them out from the side (airplane arms) – add some pizzazz and style to the arms. Give them overhead, shoulder, waist, top of thigh, bow and arrow, V-shape, self-hugging, and various ballet arm positions.
Teach children the correct ballet terms for walking and what they mean in French.
1. Chase to chase
2. Plea-to bend
3. To develop- to bring about and increase
You should always give more challenging walks and combinations to preschoolers who need them. For example, a side combination for three-year-olds might be chassé, chassé, step together. A four-year-old boy can chase, step over, chase. A five-year-old boy can chase, step together, step over. Always challenge children who are ready for more.
If you are looking for more beams, there are many types on the market. I love the three-level red, white and blue ZIN-KIN beam. Use cloth jump ropes laid on the floor as your own beam. Taped lines also work well. You will find two beams in the equipment catalog that you may want to acquire. Edu-Beams (it has shapes, numbers and colors on it) and Beam-Links (this beam comes in sections with a Velcro top which is great for mobile programs).
Change the way you place the floor beams. Zigzag them, place them in triangles or rectangles, or tie planks, ladders, steps, or other beams to them.
Always have the student mount and dismount—even if it’s a step-on mount and finally a straight-jump dismount (ta-da!). Use visual cues such as footsteps, handprints, small foam letters, and bean bags to “tell” them where to place their hands or feet. Place two floor beams next to each other. Place the child’s arms on one side and feet on the other. Move sideways under the beam. (Call it the spider walk.) Use descriptive language and catchy names, but always teach proper gymnastic names as well.
It is easy to create different stations or challenges on the beam area with the use of props. A “station” is an area where students can go and work on their own which is basically self-explanatory. Successful preschool classrooms are based on children learning through learning and self-discovery.
There should be a station where children exercise. They can put their hands in a crab position on the beam and do tricep push-ups. Children can place their hands on the beam and spread out in a push-up position with their feet on the floor and move sideways under the beam (sidewinder push-up). If it’s a class of older kids, have them place their feet on the beam, stretch with their hands on the floor in a push-up position, and let the push-up decline.
There are stations where students can work on hand-eye coordination activities such as throwing a ball to other children while each child is on a floor beam. Ask them to roll a ball, football or exercise wheel under the beam. Place photo cards or pictures on the beam with a special theme for that day. Place a cone on each side of the beam with a rope in the cone to create an obstacle to step over. Place plastic bowling pins next to the beam for ply walks and to develop hand-eye coordination. A station using the concept of crossing the midline of the body can be created by placing a cone on the side of the low beam. Place the foam balls on top of the cone. The task is to pick up the balls, cross their arms, balance and place the balls on other cones.
Place the beam over the pit to create a crocodile pit and then use the bubbles to help the kids jump into the pit. There is a station where students place their hands on the beam and feet on the floor and they work on handstands, handstand snapdowns, and cartwheels. Use beams or oversplits for older children as waiting stations.
Use planks, ladders, and floor beams to add high beams to patterns. Place a low beam in a square and have the children spread all over the two beams. A teacher in the center can review poses, positions and various moves. In parent and tot classes, the mother can hold the child’s legs and put her hands under the child’s belly to wheelbarrow down the beam. You can place a trapezoid piece on a floor beam and use it as a surfing station. Put three hoops on the end of the beam, decorate his belly and face with tape on the floor, make the kids “Frosty the Snowman” or attach an antenna to the top hoop and call him a ladybug.
Using props like jump ropes, balls, scarves, lumi sticks, hoops, and ribbons can make class easier for the instructor and fun for the student. Children often feel more confident on the beam if they have something to hold on to. Here are some props and ideas for their use:
1. Stick them lengthwise under the middle beam. Students can use this as an “in and out” station.
2. Place them smoothly under the middle beam at the end of the beam and create a tunnel to line up again.
3. Slide a hoop under the floor beam and have the student hold the hoop (steering wheel) and steer it down the beam. Kids can just hold the hoops in their hands and even drive their cars.
4. Use the hoop as a jump rope.
5. Move the students along the beam as they perform various walking and motor skills.
6. Place the hoop over the head and “flutter” or overhead and turn for the helicopter.
7. Grasp the hoop with both hands and move as in Figure 8 as the child walks under the beam.
Jump rope (pieces of cloth)
1. Hold the rope at different heights (overhead, shoulder height, low) and perform leaps, poses, walks, turns and motor skills.
2. Use as a jump rope.
3. Make figures in the air as the child walks under the beam.
4. Place the rope around the child’s waist. Cross the ropes and place a teacher on each side to form a twist. (spider web)
5. Lay the rope on the ground and use it as a beam.
Rhythmic ribbons and scarves
(Optional: crepe paper streamers)
Keep the ribbons short so they don’t tangle. Have the children move the beam down the beam, doing various poses, walking, turning and motor skills while holding the ribbon in the right hand, then the left.
Lummi sticks, foam shapes, bean bags
This is a great “child-directed” lesson. Give each child a piece of equipment. Ask them to participate by suggesting out loud some ideas about what they can do with these pieces of equipment as they slide down the beam. Call on each child to encourage participation.
Balls and balloons
These activities are limited to floor beams only. A child on a high beam tends to “walk” off the beam by running after their ball or balloon- yikes!
1. Lift the beams sideways while moving them down.
2. Hold at various levels while moving on the beam.
3. Have a partner throw, roll, or bounce the ball while standing on another floor beam.
4. Roll the ball down the beam.
5. Make rhythmic movements with the ball in your hands while moving the beam down.
All children love to play games. Here are some for Beam:
1. Hokey-Pokey- Bring a tape player into the beam area while playing music. Arrange the beams on the floor so that all children face the same way (toward the teacher). Lead the coach and sing while the kids are on the beam. It involves balance, directionality, turning and movement to music.
2. Simon-says- As a way to review poses, positions, turning and walking, play this familiar game while all the children are on the floor beam. No losers, however, “losers” simply move on to another beam.
3. Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes- This familiar song can be sung as children walk across the beam. They can say, “Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes, knees and toes, head, shoulders, knees and toes” as they touch the correct body parts and walk down the beam. At the end of the song and at the end of the beam they can say “all turned.” Then they are ready to go down the beam again.
Balance beams for preschoolers can be fun for them and a treat for instructors with a little preparation and planning in lesson plans. Use these ideas – good luck!
4. Macarena – Spread the kids out and get them to do this popular dance. Place a wedge of cheese mat at the end of the beam. When they finish dancing all the cheese wedges come down and then you have macarena and cheese! (Thanks to Steve Greeley for that joke!)
5. Vegetable Soup – Place small foam cut outs of vegetables on the beam. As you go down the beam with various moves, pick up the vegetables at the end of the beam and then you have vegetable soup!
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