Why Play and Movement Matter (With Suggested Holiday Games)

Dec 15, 2021 | Articles, Educational Games and Activities

Why Play and Movement Matter

Written by The Community Classroom owner/operator Dr. Megan Allen, NBCT

I recently found myself having a hard time with play. Not because I don’t agree with the concept, but because I couldn’t fall naturally into it as an adult. I had forgotten how to play! Ever watch a young child for a few minutes? Everything they do is learning through play. That got me thinking…how can we think purposefully about play and movement with our kids as we move into the chillier months?

This made me think: we could all use a bit more play in our lives, especially as we approach winter. And especially in a world where we (and our kids) are overscheduled and overplanned? Keep reading for some of the best research on play and a curated list of ideas to keep our kids (and ourselves) moving and playful as the days get chillier.

Keeping Kids Active in Winter

Why Play and Movement?

Learning occurs through trial and error. Children need the freedom and the space to try things out and see what and how things work (without a grownup guiding them). This is how they learn: They try, reflect, then try again. These steps are vital to the learning process (and this is the main tenet of experiential learning).

Movement accelerates learning. Children are given less and less opportunity for movement in schools (boo) according to this article in The Atlantic, though it is vital to the learning process. Children need to move to figure out how the world works, how space works, how they fit into spaces in the world, and how things relate to one another. And importantly, memory and movement are linked, so movement is not only helpful for learning, it can accelerate it.

Cognitive development and movement go hand-in-hand. Studies have found time and time again that movement can actually boost cognitive performance and promote cognitive development. And another gem from the research playbook: learning and teaching should not be focused solely on the brain, but the body plays a vital part. That means play and movement!

Social skills develop during play. Not only does play and movement help with traditional “school” learning and skills, but it helps develop social-emotional skills in our children.

Play helps children develop skills such as communication, collaboration, empathy, and problem-solving. It develops stronger executive functioning, which equals better skills with teamwork, leadership, planning, and thinking of others.

Play is where critical thinking is born. Critical thinking is knowing not just what to think, but how to think. To evaluate information coming to them and form their own thinking about that information. Verywell Family states that it’s taking a complex problem and forming solutions.  Play helps our children develop the skills necessary to critical thinking individuals—especially free play (play that is not guided by an adult).  

Convinced? We are, too. Read on for some ideas for movement and guided play for the holidays (and New Year).

Holiday Games for the Family Involving Play and Movement

The first and foremost recommendation I have is to GET YOUR KIDS OUTSIDE! Children spend on average 4-7 minutes (gulp!) outside a day, versus seven hours on screen. So if you are looking for a great way to get your kids playing and moving this winter, wrap them up warm and get them outside! But we also have a few ideas to help get your whole family moving (and spice up your family holiday party!).

Holiday Game 1 for Play and Movement: Run, Run, Rudolph Spelling Relay


Christmas Tree (or another place to post the letter cards)

Letter cards (we decided to use the word PRESENTS and write each letter on a Rudolph red nose). Write one letter from the word “presents” on each card (or nose).

Whiteboard or paper and writing utensil


The song: Run, Run Rudolph


Place letter cards in the tree. Mark a starting point away from the tree. Set the timer for five minutes. The player must run and grab one letter card at a time, running back to the whiteboard at the starting line to place each letter. They must hold the letter up to their nose as they run (pretending to be Rudolph!).

Once all the letters are back at the whiteboard, have the player create as many words as they can from the letters in “presents.” Bonus points are given if they figure out the word that uses all the letters: Presents!

Option 1: Do this on New Year’s Eve and use the letters from the phrase “New Year’s Eve.” 

Option 2: Place a dab of vaseline on the player’s nose and have them bring the letter cards back not using their hands, just sticking their nose to the card.

Holiday Game 2 for Play and Movement:

Snowman Shake (adapted from the NBC game Minute to Win It)


White ping pong balls (we used 12)

Tissue boxes 


2 scarves 

Permanent marker


The song: Shake it Off (Taylor Swift), Frosty the Snowman, Hips Don’t Lie (Shakira), or any other song that gets your hips shaking


Create the Snowman Shake boxes. To do this, empty the tissue boxes (save the tissues for winter runny noses!). Cut the tissue removal hole wide enough for a ping pong ball. Cut small holes on either of the small sides of the tissue box and attach the 2 scarves, tying them on tightly. This is the belt for the Snowman Shake Box. Decorate the boxes however you’d like. Make ‘em sparkle!

Draw snowman faces on each of the ping pong balls.

To play: Place an equal amount of snowpeople in each of two Snowman Shake boxes. Tie the Snowman Shake boxes around each of two players’ waists, with the box on the back of each player. Set the timer for one minute and cue the music!

Each player must shake it and try to get as many snowmen out of the box as they can in under one minute.

Holiday Game 3 for Play and Movement:

New Year’s Eve Bells  (adapted from the NBC game Minute to Win It)


5 empty boxes (we scooped ours from The Dollar Tree)

10 bells 

Cards with the numbers 0-4 written on them


The song Auld Lang Syne


Place bells in the boxes as follows: one box has no bells, one box has one bell, one box has two bells, one box has three bells, and one box has four bells. Close the boxes and mix them up.

Set the timer for one minute and cue the music. The player has one minute to figure out how many bells each box has, organizing the boxes in order from 0-4 bells.


Looking for more resources for your kids?

Check out:

  • These outdoor math activities
  • This list of teacher-recommended math games
  • These directions to create your own math walk
  • This blog post on outdoor math games for kids.

We also can match your child to the perfect in-person or online math tutor. Find out more here.

​Photo of a girl popping a bubble by Jacky Zhao on Unsplash 

Special thanks to Community Classroom tutor Chris Mazuch


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