Play Involves the Whole Person
Physical play is essential for developing young bodies and minds. We are not compartmentalized beings -- what affects our bodies affects our minds, our souls, and our spirits, and vice versa -- when our bodies are fit, we tend to think more clearly and to handle problems more easily. Especially for those who are kinesthetic learners, using movement in learning brings our whole persons into play.
Developing Fine Motor Skills
Through play, children practice their gross motor and fine motor skills. Fine motor skills refers to the development of the muscles in the fingers and hands. These muscles will be needed for a child to learn to hold a pencil and manouever it in forming letters and numbers. Children can develop fine motor skills by manipulating play dough, by stringing beads or cheerios, by practicing cutting with scissors, or any other activity that uses the fingers and hands.
Developing Gross Motor Skills
Gross motor skills refers to the development of the muscles required for moving one's body through space. Children need experiences of moving their bodies to gain spatial understanding. They learn about right and left, balance, and many of the forces of nature, such as gravity, thrust, and momentum. Children need to run and jump, to stretch their muscles and strengthen their bones. They develop a better sense of themselves and their capacities and limits. They also develop habits that can extend into adulthood and keep them healthy.
Using Movement to Learn
Energetic young children who may resist sitting and learning in the more traditional way can often be reached by engaging them with movement. You can teach letters, for instance, by writing a "T" with chalk on pavement and then bouncing a ball while calling out words that begin with the "T" sound. Or the child may lie on the floor and make her body form the shape of the letter she is trying to learn. A group of children could make a whole word this way with each of them forming a different letter. (This is probably only effective with children old enough to already know the individual letters. Forming letters with their bodies deepens their knowledge, helping them experience the letters in a new way.)
Your own imagination can lead you to create new ways to teach your children with their bodies. You can create jump rope ditties to emphasize concepts or make up scavenger hunts using themes you are working with. To return to the learning letters idea, for example, the children could be directed to find five things that begin with the "ch" sound. Or they could perform actions that show opposites -- fast and slow, big and little, loud and quiet, etc.