Use mats to define an area for crawling toddlers. Place long, narrow mats in various configurations, end to end, to provide a crawling course around the room. Or arrange them in a circle, with you in the middle!
Activity: Jump Start!
Help a child learn to jump with both feet by first holding both her hands and jumping together. Then, as she becomes more comfortable, jump together to a rhythm, let go of one of her hands, and then gradually let go of both hands. Use a catchy song that both of you can sing as you jump. (You may need to show children how to bend their knees.) Once the child has mastered this activity, use a word or phrase as a cue for falling down on the mat (as in Ring Around the Rosie's "all fall down!"). As a next step, find a sturdy, safe low structure from which the child can jump onto a mat. This activity will require her to adjust her balance as she lands on the mat.
Young children need frequent and continual opportunities for total body activities even when the weather is bad.
Activity: Mat Charades
Make a series of simple picture cards, each one illustrating something children can act out using their whole body - a ballerina, a snake, a kangaroo, an ice skater. Invite a group of children to sit on one side of a pathway constructed of mats, and then ask children, taking turns, to choose a card and act out the picture as they move down your mat pathway. (Picture cards can be made from drawings or pictures cut from magazines and glued to index cards. Children can add their own contributions to the game box, which you might supplement with pictures that illustrate the group's most current interests.)
Editor's note: Make sure children also understand that mats used for stationary activities or as "fall zones" for climbing equipment cannot be used for any other kind of activity.