Almost all elementary P.E. teachers have gymnastic mats in their storage closets, but do they get used for any activities other than a gymnastics unit? Why not try to get more use out of those mats that you probably had to fight to keep in your budget! And if you don’t have mats currently because of budget deficits, try explaining to your administration that gymnastics mats can be used for a wide variety of activities, therefore making them a great item to purchase in a tight budget! Here are a couple of mat game ideas and activities to utilize your gymnastics mats!
1. Barrel Racing
In the part of the country that I teach, horse riding is popular and with that comes rodeos! At the rodeo one of the events is barrel racing, which is a fast sprint around three barrels in a specific order to get back to the finish line. So why not barrel race with your students?!
Take three mats and set them upright and in a circle to look like a barrel. Then, space the barrels in the pattern below, or you can do this in any pattern you choose, just make sure the start and finish are in the same spot. Students sprint, or gallop like a horse, in the direction of the arrows.
- Relay-race style
- Practice different body movements by having students walk like different animals. I mean really what kid doesn’t like to learn how to walk like a crab?!?
- If you have more than 3 mats, make multiple race loops or give them more barrels to round.
Another game you could play is Battleship! Give each team 3 or 4 mats to set up at their end as screens. Then give each team 10-15 bowling pins, or if you don’t have bowling pins start saving plastic water bottles. The students will set up the pins in rows of 3 or more in the space behind their screens as “battleships.” Students can have as many “battleships” as they can create in the space with the number of pins provided. Each team gets an evenly divided number of coated-foam balls to use as the missiles.
On your “go,” students start firing their missiles over the screen of the other team. When one of the teams’ ships is sunk they must yell, “you sank our ship”, and then immediately everyone on the team has to do a designated exercise, such as dive bomber push-ups. When all of a teams’ ships have been sunk the team yells, “we surrender!” This ends the round and all of the ships are reset and you play again.
My final suggestion is a throwback to one of my favorite shows as kid, American Gladiators! One of the games they played had contestants trying to score points by running around a designated area and throwing a ball into a cylindrical goal. Now, in the show they were brutally defending these goals, but I do NOT recommend that in your PE classes.
I set up the goals, which would again be your mats on edge formed in circles, and have teams. Play with rules similar to basketball in that you can defend and steal the ball, but there is NO contact or there is a foul called. This is a NO dribbling game and I encourage the use of at least 10 foam balls. After all of the foam balls are scored in a goal, the game is over. The team that scores the most goals is the winner for that round. Then you get set up and start again.
4. Introductory Basketball Hoops
Mats make great basketball hoops for younger elementary classes. The lower height allows students to experience success with shooting a basketball and allows them to practice using the correct shooting form. We all know that young students struggle to shoot at a regulation basketball hoop using correct form, so again stand you mats on edge and curl them into a circle.
Three or four students can use one mat at one time, and if you have enough round objects that are light, then they can all shoot at one time. You can also set up different stations around the gym and have students shoot from different distances to help build their confidence and reinforce shooting with correct form.
These are just a couple games that utilize mats in different ways, but there are tons more! As P.E. teachers, if you can be creative, you can create many games utilizing equipment in ways other than its intended use to allow you to maximize what you have! And please when you come up with a new way of using not only gym mats, but any of your equipment, SHARE, SHARE, SHARE those ideas with the rest of the P.E. world!