Africa-inspired Balance Beam Fun: Crossing the Bridge at Alligator Alley!

LITTLE KIDS SO ENJOY A BALANCE BEAM, LET'S TAKE IT TO OUR AFRICAN STUDIES! Here's a music & movement story about crossing a bridge in the African forest where the alligator is waiting to catch something for dinner!

Photo by the artists at Dollar Photo Club

I learned this delightful Montessori-style activity at an AMS Conference Workshop with Diane Craft, PhD. who has been a Physical Education professional for much of her life. You can check out her "must-have" book, Movement Matters, A Fully Illustrated Montessori Album  by clicking on the title link. Diane had been working with Family Day Care Providers and designing budget-minded physical education activities for young children in child-care settings. When she put out her first 2 books she gained attention from the Montessori world and ended up collaborating with Melanie Alexander Fuchs to produce this wonderful album chock-ful of Montessori-friendly activities for both circle time and individual shelf works. Even though this manual seems a bit expensive, you will use it constantly for your Montessori movement curriculum and most of the activities cost pennies to put together and are often found around your house or at the dollar store! (There is also a version of the book that is not geared so closely to the Montessori environment and it is also chock-full of activities without the Montessori lingo.)

Back to our African Music & Movement story:
I adapted this activity, "Alligator Pit" (p. 108 in the book) and I use it for enriching our studies of the continent of Africa. Playing some traditional African music in the background really sets the mood for the story! If your group is young and might fear the idea of a pretend alligator lurking in the pretend water, then you can leave that part out and just have them carefully cross the "river" without falling in!

Photo by the artists at Dollar Photo Club

Most of the time, I find that 3 yrs and older usually enjoy the idea of the alligator in the water, so I keep it in my story. It's definitely up to you to decide what is best for your group.

Here's what I use for the story:

  • Sturdy balance beam that is very close to the ground
  • CD of African drumming or jungle sounds on your sound system
  • Someone to be the "alligator" in the pretend river (start out with an adult playing this part)
  • Pictures (large size visuals): one of a river scene in a rain forest setting and one of a scene of a foot bridge for crossing the river
If you don't have a balance beam, there is a fabulous way to create one using a pool noodle (Dollar store!) cut in half lengthwise so one side is flat, that you can find in Diane's book, Movement Matters .(see link in paragraph above.)
I have also done this activity using a "line" on the floor made of masking tape to represent the "bridge." 

Hopefully, you have introduced the continent of Africa to your group and they know  a little about the rain forest/jungle areas and that alligators live in some of the rivers there. This link has information about the alligators that inhabit the continent of Africa.

Here's where the large sized visuals come in handy. Scroll down for a wonderful "Montessori Style Africa" download packet from Trillium Montessori that will give you just about all you need to introduce this fascinating continent to young children!

I love introducing Africa for the first time in a musical way, and you can see my ideas at my past post: Musical Story for Preschoolers: African-style Walk to the River

Also, an excellent activity for walking on the Montessori "Line" is to provide a basket for the children to carry on the head while walking carefully. I have always provided an area of the classroom for children to walk on "The Line" during work time and so the African basket is on the shelf next to this area.  If you provide some African patterned cloth with the basket, the children can really get inspired.

Photo by Carolyn at Magical Movement Company

Photo by Carolyn at Magical Movement Company

Photo by Carolyn at Magical Movement Company

 I have read that Montessori herself provided baskets for children to carry on their heads while walking on the line. She also gave the children a little cloth "head ring" such as the ones used in India for carrying bundles on the head. So, I include a rolled up bandana that I have tied together at the ends to make a little "head ring" that is very helpful for some of the children.

So, after the children have been introduced to some information about the way people live in rural areas of Africa, you can offer this group activity at circle:

 Crossing the Bridge at Alligator Alley!
Tell the children that you are going to show them a fun game about crossing the pretend foot bridge over the pretend river in Africa. Once again, they will be using their strong muscles to keep their balance while they cross the "bridge" (balance beam) over the pretend "river."
This is where I introduce the "alligator"! 
I say something like this:
" I know you all are very good at walking carefully across this balance beam and I thought we could have a little music & movement story today and use this balance beam. I'm going to play some music from Africa and we can pretend that the balance beam is a foot bridge for walking across our pretend river in Africa.  Now there is one important thing about this river...there is an alligator lurking there just waiting to capture something for lunch!"
Here, I introduce the adult who will play the part of the alligator. Hopefully, this person is someone the children know already and that this person can be a playful and even funny "alligator" in the little music story. 
I go on to set the mood by saying:

"So, when you cross the bridge, you want to walk very carefully so you don't fall into the river and get caught by the "alligator!" 
Now the children line up to go walking carefully across the "African bridge" over the "African river." 

Depending upon the experience and ages of your group, you may hold a child's hand while s/he crosses the "bridge." Or, you may have children that can run across the "bridge" almost effortlessly! 

You can add all kinds of props (lots of ideas in the Movement Matters book) 
Here are some of the things I have tried:

  • Carry a dry sponge in one hand
  • Carry a dry sponge in each hand
  • Carry a dry sponge on the head
  • Carry a basket on the head!
  • Carry a flag while crossing the bridge
  • Carry a tray while crossing the "bridge"
  • Walk backwards...or sideways...or heel-to-toe
  • Walk on tiptoe! 
The list goes on. 

I've found that the simple walking across the bridge and avoiding the alligator is still the most fun of all.

You can embellish the "alligator" with more props, too. 
It's sometimes fun to introduce an alligator hand puppet for the person who is playing the part of the "alligator" to operate on the hand.  Here's a pretty one from Folkmanis. (My all-time favorite puppet makers!) Here's the link: Folkmanis Alligator Stage Puppet 

The story can be developed even more if you add things like pretending the alligator is sleeping and when you cross the bridge you have to walk very, very quietly so you don't wake him/her! Or maybe the pretend alligator has a whole family living in the pretend river. (that way several people can play the role of the alligator.) Maybe, the children like to throw pompom "munchies" in the river while they walk across the bridge so that the hungry alligator can have something to curb his appetite! The children usually have some great ideas of extending this drama play and I warmly invite their creative ideas!

After the children have had some time practicing walking across the bridge without getting caught by the "alligator" you can invite one of the children to play the part of the "alligator." 

Of course, this activity lends itself very well to the Outdoor Classroom, especially if you have a balance beam already set up outside!

I am delighted to have you read this Blog post and I hope it gives you more ideas for your studies about the continent of Africa. 

I am so excited to be an affiliate seller for Trillium Montessori's "7 Continents Bundle", especially since there are so many resources in this Bundle and the materials are really lovely. You get not only EVERYTHING you need in your Cultural Studies of the Continent of Africa, you get wonderful & high quality materials for the other 6 continents, too! It's a HUGE bundle and it is a real pleasure to prepare them since they are gorgeous and I don't have to spend hours and hours gathering photos and making templates, etc. You simply download the Bundle, print out the materials, mount & laminate the cards and your curriculum is done! There is a collection of  beautiful line drawing master copies for the children to make their own Montessori-style "Parts of..." booklets. "Parts of the Lion" is the featured animal for the African unit and you'll fall in love with the "Africa A-Z" Book that you can put together with the absolutely stunning photos of people, places & animals of that continent. Then, there are the 3 part cards from A to Z! 

Here's the link for purchasing these fabulous Montessori Materials:

Great to have you visit my Blog and I really love hearing from you. Feel free to leave a comment in the section below!

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