Active Play: Simon Says for Physical Literacy

What is Physical Literacy?

Physical literacy is the ability to move the body easily, efficiently, and confidently in many ways throughout life.  It is just as important for childhood development as learning letters, numbers, and sounds!

A child with well developed physical literacy skills often has increased engagement in physical activity and exercise throughout life, which can result in:

  • a lower risk of diseases like cancer, heart disease, and osteoporosis
  • increased brain plasticity, resulting in better test scores, cognitive function, and brain health
  • stronger mental health, self esteem, and emotional stability

Game for Literacy: Simon Says

Simon Says is a movement and instruction following game frequently played with young children.  If you have never played this game before, or it has been a few decades since you last experienced it, here are the basic rules of the game. 

Someone leads the game by telling the players to do certain actions, which can be movements, sounds, or even acting tasks (act like a monkey).  A player should only do an action if the leader uses the phrase “Simon Says” before their instruction.  If a player does the action and “Simon Says” did not precede the instruction, that player is out.  

If you are playing one on one, you might try to play a few rounds using points or even having goals for how long a person can last without making a mistake.

Simple Game, Big Benefits

Although it is a rather simple game, playing Simon Says provides the opportunity to develop a ton of important skills, especially when it comes to physical literacy!

Motor Development

Simon Says is a simple way to practice fundamental movement patterns like:

  • crossing the body (touching the opposite shoulder)
  • using opposition (walking with the opposite leg and arm)
  • moving unilaterally (one side of the body)
  • moving bilaterally (both sides of the body),
  • working through complex movement tasks that combine many skills (jumping jacks, frog jumps, bending and reaching to the opposite toe). 

For children, learning these movements often simply requires an example to watch and an opportunity to try.  Simon Says is just that.

Body Awareness

Parallel to motor development, body awareness is an important skill for young movers.  Body awareness can include anything from recognizing body parts, to understanding the forces needed for certain movements.   

Learning to replicate movements, recognize movements through verbal commands, and move the correct parts of the body in an efficient way to achieve the desired movement are all benefits of this simple game.

Sequencing Skills

Sequences of movements, or organized patterns, can be explored in this game as well.  Doing five jumping jacks, five hops on one leg, and balancing for five seconds in a non-stop sequence is very different and much more difficult than completing the commands separately.


The best way for a child to learn how to lose well just happens to be something rather unpleasant: losing.  Learning how to lose (and win) with grace and perspective starts young, and a simple game in a safe environment is a great way to start! 

This also helps to teach children resilience. When they make mistakes or fail, they’ll have practice picking themselves up and continuing. 


In recent studies out of the US, it has been shown that children who engage in games like Simon Says develop stronger impulse control, emotional stability, understanding of expectations, and language and literacy skills (Timsit, 2020).  Who would have thought that such a simple game could strengthen such intricate skills!

Try This!

Play any time and anywhere!  Don’t be afraid to be creative.  You could play with a theme (like animals or aliens), in a special environment (like a playground), or even with a special goal in mind (cleaning up after play time). 

Give these animal themed instructions a try and then come up with your own!

  • wag your tail
  • wave your trunk
  • walk on four feet
  • jump like a kangaroo
  • balance like a flamingo
  • swing like a monkey
  • slither like a snake
  • search for food with your nose
  • roll like an armadillo
  • fly like a bird
  • preen your wings
  • stretch like a cat
  • scratch like a dog
  • scurry like a mouse

Simon says, “Go have fun!”


Emerge – A Child’s Place. “5 Therapeutic Benefits of Playing ‘Simon Says.’” Emerge Pediatric Therapy, 20 May 2019,

Timsit, Annabelle. “Why Playing Games like ‘Simon Says’ Can Help Kids Do Better in School.” Quartz, Quartz, 29 May 2018,


Need more ideas for busy little ones?

Our blog has got you covered! From book recommendations, to craft instructions, we’re here for you. 

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