The Origin of Action Mats

Making exercise fun.

Action Mats was born out of an idea to convert an unused piece of a school’s grounds into an inviting, fun and safe place for children to exercise on. I had been working with schools for over 10 years, designing playgrounds and outdoor learning environments, when I was asked to solve this problem. After lengthy discussions, I created a concept to make each exercise appealing, easily understandable and without the use of descriptive words.

There are no words.

The ‘no words’ aspect had two very great benefits. Firstly, the school population was exclusively of ethnic origin, therefore any resource had to be clear and understandable, because English was not their first language. Because the space had to avoid words, the stations needed to be highly visual to make them simple to follow and thereby, making exercise fun. At the outset, I was also informed that many of the children from that specific ethnic culture did not take readily to exercise.

The first project.

The waste-ground needed so much work to make it useable, that a synthetic surface was required. This presented the opportunity to create graphics that could be integrated into the surface to lead the children around the space. Footprints, handprints, arrows and other graphics were used. Action Matt, the stick man, was devised to work alongside the graphics. A series of stations were designed, each featuring a different exercise leading to 150m2 of new play and exercise space. I called these exercise areas ‘Action Stations’. The new space was a huge success.

The result of creating vibrant graphics and universal accessibility was hugely positive, it meant the Action Stations were totally inclusive across all learning environments; nursery, infant, primary and special needs schools.

An excellent resource for all.

I knew that this concept would be an excellent resource for other schools, however, I also recognised the extent of the work and investment for each installation could be prohibitive.

What I wanted to do was create a resource that was immediately viable and accessible. It would need to be different, lightweight, flexible and cheaper than the creation of a new playground. I wanted it to work for every school, not just those with large grounds and larger budgets.

Developing the solution.

The initial idea was prefabrication, but again it had limitations because I was still thinking of permanent installations. Through continued research and development, I soon realised that same highly visual graphics, used in the permanent installation, could be used on a portable material, and used indoors. That was when the Action Mat product was truly born.

I enlisted the help of an expert with a Physical Education PHD, to work on delivering the exercises through correct instructions, as well as the pedagogy side of the resource, which became the catalyst for the flexibility of use.

Originally it was observed that the mats were simply exercise stations which, if I was being honest, most PE teachers and sports coaches were already doing. Without the need to spend additional money, schools were already stretched financially. Therefore, it was essential to me, that my product had a wide variety of physical uses and also provided multiple benefits to both the students and the schools.

Providing children with positive learning and physical experiences.

Being an experienced Cub Scout leader, I understood the pressures of keeping a large group of kids gainfully occupied for several hours a week. The fundamental purpose of the Cubs Scouts is to provide children with; positive experiences, learning opportunities, encouragement to work together and the ability to gain life skills. If I could combine the mixture of those Cub Scout attributes, with physical exercise, then Action Mats would be a uniquely wholesome and positive resource.

I incorporated games and challenges which use the mats in a variety of configurations. This ensured that every lesson could feature something new and provide the mats with longevity. I created Team Home bases and set challenges that would encourage children to use their mental and physical skills – in equal measure. The differing configurations provided fun opportunities for exploration and allowed for each session to have an alternative emphasis, such as team building, problem solving, competition and cooperation, all with physical exercise at the heart of them.

The mats, starting as a concept for simple exercise, had developed into a highly visual learning tool for all young people. In fact, the mats quickly became a toolkit that was internationally understood, engaged all cultures and was fun.

With each development of the mats, a new positive aspect appeared. The highly visual graphics used to explain the exercise on each mat, meant that it became instantly appealing and intriguing to children.

Always on the move.

The Action Mat concept continues to develop in line with the very positive feedback we get from the schools. The new ideas help shape the next generation of mats. We have added Action Packs which provide the teacher with clear guidance and the numerous ways in which the Mats can be configured and used. These packs are available on our website and come with every purchase of an Action Mat set.

From where this started, the Mats have been on a long journey. They have been developed enormously. Yet the original concept remains the same. To provide children around the world with a highly visual, easily understandable, fun set of exercises that help them develop both physically and mentally.