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Pool Noodle Fun: Ideas to get your preschoolers moving

By: Karin Spencer, Ed.D.
Categories: Family Fun, Family Health and Wellness

Obesity rates for preschool children have tripled from 5.8% in 1970 to 18.4% in 2009 and these children are presenting with a variety of potentially serious health challenges.  Children need more movement opportunities throughout the day in order to develop early preferences for a healthy lifestyle and to develop motor competence which will support ongoing physical activity. 

The National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) recommends a minimum of 60 minutes of structured and 60 minutes of unstructured physical activity daily for preschool age children.  To achieve this aim, it is important for parents to learn how movement activities can be integrated throughout the day utilizing existing daily routines and readily available materials.


The temperature is rising, and going swimming at your local pool, pond, or beach will be a great way to cool down while getting more moderate to vigorous physical activity. An inexpensive pool noodle can provide fun both in and out of the pool.  The training team at Head Start Body Start National Center for Physical Development and Outdoor Play offer several ways for parents to help their young children get moving this summer with these fun pool noodle activity ideas:

  1. Tunnel Fun:  Line up a few chairs facing each other, a few feet apart. Lay pool noodles across the chairs to make a tunnel. Children can crawl underneath the noodles or through the tunnel. Children develop upper body strength and spatial concepts while having fun!
  1. Tug of War: A great partner activity for parent and child.  Each person holds onto an end of the noodle and tries to pull it from the other.  Vary positions to increase the fun and benefit. Try sitting, kneeling, and then standing.  Try kneeling while your child stands. Challenge him/her to pull you over—you will both have fun when you fall over! This activity increases muscular strength and endurance.
  2. Rocket Ships: Cut a pool noodles in half or into thirds. Count 1,2,3 Blast Off! And then throw the pool noodle high in the air. Try to catch it. Or, throw the noodle high in the air and call out an action to do before it lands (i.e.  jump, touch the ground, turn around).
  3. Ride’em Cowboy!  Put on your imaginary cowboy hat and spurs. Pretend the noodle is a horse and gallop.  Add some fun by giving signals to go fast/slow or start/stop.  Get creative. What other animals might you like to ride and how do they move—walk, crawl, run, waddle, etc…. Children can experience a variety of locomotor patterns such as sliding from side to side; twisting back and forth; and walking in straight, curved or zig-zag paths.
  4. Let’s Go Bowling: Tape 2 pool noodles parallel to each other approximately 1 to 2 feet apart from each other as bumpers in a bowling alley. Line empty water bottles at the end of the two noodles. At the opposite end, encourage children to roll a ball down the “bowling alley” to knock down the pins. To vary the activity, provide different size balls and bottles weighted with water to encourage children to use a variety of speeds and force when rolling the ball.
  5. Balance Beam: Tape a flat pool noodle to the floor and children can pretend to be a circus high wire daredevil. Children can walk across the beam, forwards, sideways, backwards or even on tiptoes. Challenge their developing balance by encouraging them to squat down with a straight back and stand back up. Add more fun by carrying an object like a scarf or a streamer and then they are manipulating objects while balancing.
  6. Row, Row, Row Your Boat:  Children sit in pairs facing each other and hold onto the same noodle.  Children pretend to “row the boat” by pulling back and forth.  Increase the challenge of this activity by sitting on big balls.  This will challenge stability and engage more core (trunk) muscle strength.
  7. Copy Cats: What fun ways can we move with the pool noodle? Let the children create the fun. Take turns being the “leader” and everyone copies. Beware this could get silly while children practice moving through self space and taking on the roles of leader and follower.
  8. Jack Be Noodle:  Using a electric bread knife, cut the pool noodle into 2-3” segments.  Children can jump over the noodles. Line the pieces up to make a low “wall” for children to jump over. Or, jump over one piece, then stack one more piece with each successful jump. See how many you can stack before the jumper knocks them down.  For a variation, children can do standing broad jumps starting on a spot marked on the floor. Sneak in a little math by marking the landing spot and then let children “measure” the length of their jump using pool noodle segments.
  9. Noodle Limbo: Parents, siblings, or two friends hold ends of the noodle, starting up high— over their heads.   Children walk under the noodle. The noodle holders lower the noodle in increments (i.e. shoulder height, chest, belly button, hip, thigh, knee, shin) so that children need to get down lower to get under the noodle.  Let all children continue as the noodle gets lower without eliminating anyone.  Children learn to move their bodies through space at different levels-high, medium and low. What creative ways will they generate to get under the noodle as it gets lower? Get in the fun and model some!
  10. Noodle Cut-Ups: Cut a cylinder shaped pool noodle into 4 or 5 inch segments.  Use these for tossing activities (i.e. Rocket Ships above, toss at a target, use as a target, etc.) or to carry around in fun ways (i.e. put in between your knees and waddle like a duck, two friends carry it together without using their hands).

In order to develop early preferences for an active lifestyle and to develop motor competence, children must have fun experiences with physical activities that are challenging yet achievable. Research suggests that for learning or gaining new skills, children should experience success in the practice of that skill at a rate close to 80% of the time.  Parents should make suggested variations and challenges to ensure that children  have success,  yet feel challenge all while having fun.

For more activities, visit the Head Start Body Start Toolbox at  Each month the Center features a free, downloadable “Let’s Get Moving” physical activity calendar including a simple, fun movement idea for each day of the month.

For more information, contact: Paula Keyes Kun, NASPE or call 703-476-3461.

Karin Spencer, Ed.D. is the Director of Head Start Body Start National Center for Physical Development and Outdoor Play which is conducted by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education and the American Alliance for Physical Activity an

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