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Posted by TP Toys on 26th February 2015
If you think about playing games with your kids, the chances are that board games immediately spring to mind - fun toys that while away a winter's afternoon and provide some good quiet time to interact with one another.
While these are undoubtedly extremely useful for building cognitive skills and winding down at the end of the day, it's also important to play games that encourage movement too.
In fact, these can have just as big an impact on children's development, plus they fit in plenty of the all-important exercise necessary each day.
We were reminded of the importance of moving and shaking by reports of a new study, which tested a toy that aims to combine learning with movement - and fun, of course.
The study was carried out by media scientist Dr Martina Lucht from the Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Media Technology, Germany. She had spotted a hopscotch grid drawn on a footpath one day and realised this old game could be put to good use in a more modern setting.
"It suddenly occurred to me that learning has to be combined with movement to make it fun," she commented.
Dr Lucht designed a toy a little like a dance mat, with sensor pads divided up into nine fields featuring letters and numbers, just like the keys of a mobile phone.
Depending on which game is programmed into it, children complete tasks by spelling out words or 'typing' out numbers after the computer has asked them questions - such as dancing out spellings.
It's suitable for all ages and Dr Lucht pointed out that subjects from maths to history can all be incorporated. Initial tests showed children to be enthusiastic participants, so the inventor hopes to roll the toy out more widely in the future.
We thought it was interesting how the Hopscotch toy capitalised on kids' apparently built-in ability to use mobile phone keypads, but also on keeping their minds active and their bodies moving at the same time.
However, since you might not have access to this type of toy, you can achieve similar effects by designing your own 'get moving' games in the house or garden. There's something about the effect of exertion that seems to get the mind more focused and allows for the easier recollection of new information later.
You could even bring back chalked-out hopscotch grids with letters for children's spellings within, which is a low-tech version of the new toy above.
Anything that involves running, jumping, skipping and other simple physical activities is great, but the learning aspect can come in if you introduce tasks during the exercise.
For example, set up an assault course using your climbing frames and get your youngsters to grab letters that you've placed at strategic points along the way. The first to spell out a word or answer a question using clues on the cards is the winner (Anyone who remembers kids' TV programme Fun House will appreciate this game!).
For younger children who might not be able to spell out complex words yet, getting them to jump to paper in different colours on a mat will build their skills without making them feel overwhelmed.
There are lots more ideas and the only limit is your imagination, so have a think and see what else you can come up with as winter ends and spring rolls in.
If you want more information about exercise for children and developmental games, check out this really useful guide from the British Heart Foundation, which covers kids from newborn onwards.