A hula hoop may be a simple toy, but that’s what makes it ideal for creative play.
That’s what Toledo-area performer Brittany Loren showed preschool students when she visited Great Lakes Community Action Partnership (GLCAP) Perrysburg/Rossford Early Childhood Center Head Start classes on Feb. 26. Loren has been performing professionally for more than three years at area events and also heads a group of professional performers called Glovation. She demonstrated to students the numerous ways in which they can use a hula hoop for play.
After a short performance, Loren led the students in a series of different hula hoop activities. With each child holding his or her own hoop, students stepped in and out of their hoops, spun hoops on their waists and arms, and rolled hoops back and forth to one another.
"It gets them really excited about something new and different," Loren said. "It helps them learn how to work with their hands and can help with motor skills as well as social skills. It’s a fun, healthy way to be active."
Many children aren’t as familiar as their parents were with old-school playground toys like hula hoops, Perrysburg/Rossford center specialist Brandie Culbreath said.
"One of the things children don’t get to do a lot of is that simple, old-fashioned play of jumping and hula hooping, hopscotch — the simple things that are very easy to purchase and very open-ended," Culbreath said.
Having a professional performer like Loren come to the classroom was a chance to show children the many things that could be done with a simple toy.
"When we do have hula hoops in the classroom, the children just don’t know how to play with them because it’s not something that kids have on the playground anymore," Culbreath said. "So we wanted to bring in somebody who could show them hula hooping at its coolest so that it would give more interest in the toy and trying new things and practicing what they’ve seen other people do."
While there was a lot of laughter and smiles in the room as students played with their hula hoops, the activity was also a means of promoting children’s physical development — an important component of all Head Start programs.
Perceptual, motor and physical development are part of the early learning outcomes framework that Head Start programs use to ensure that infants, toddlers and preschoolers are developing at the anticipated rate for their age. Teachers look for indicators such as children’s ability to coordinate their movements, use hand-eye coordination to manipulate objects, maintain balance, and understand an awareness of their body in relation to their environment. At different ages, children vary widely among one another in terms of gross motor skill level. Culbreath said that at age three, children are closer to having the gross motor skills of a toddler, whereas at age five, children are typically much farther along in their development.
Since so many activities can be done with a hula hoop, the toy is perfect for preschool classrooms in which only a one or two-year gap in student ages can mean a big difference in terms of motor ability. Simple play objects like hula hoops can accommodate a wide spectrum of motor development in the classroom.
"It’s a great gross motor skill not only for spinning it around your body and hand-eye coordination, but also being able to balance it to push it across the floor."
Young three-year-olds can learn spatial relationships and hand-eye coordination by simply stepping inside the hoop and holding it around their bodies and over their heads.
"Then you have the bigger children who can actually spin it on their arms and on their bodies," Culbreath said.
Culbreath said that children participating in playground games in a communal setting also learn how their body relates to other children’s bodies in the room.
"It’s that spatial recognition to know how much space do I need around myself so I’m safe," Culbreath said. "It’s a great tool for children of various ages."
Students also spent classroom time preparing for the visit. Teachers asked their students to think about what they wanted to know about hula hooping, then prepare a list of questions for Loren that they could ask during her visit.
Culbreath said children continued to use hula hoops after Brittany Loren’s visit.
"They used those skills outside during the next few days," she said. "They were really excited to share what they learned. On the playground they would be playing with the hoops and saying ‘Miss Brandie look! Miss Brandie look!"