Being physically active can improve a child’s overall health and reduce their risk of obesity and chronic disease as they grow older. Providing more physical activity simply by increasing playtime alone may not be enough (1). For many children playing sports and being physically active doesn't come naturally, isn't easy, and many activities may not be seen as fun! For these children especially, more time won't change the way they use that time. They need more guidance and encouragement to become physically active.
Physical activity answers the question, how much activity does a child get. Physical fitness tells us how strong his heart, muscle and bones are. Skill mastery, a very important component of physical activity, addresses children’s level of physical skill and ability. Some children may have developmental delays or impairments that need professional attention, caregivers should see their healthcare provider to address these concerns. Children should be provided opportunities to master both fundamental movement skills such as hop on one foot, balance, jump, spin and skip and perceptual motor skills, those that connect the five sense (brain) with motor skills (body) like crossing the feet or moving in slow motion (2).
Provide an environment that is fun, educational and promotes physical literacy through helping children build the necessary skills to be active!
Fundamental movement skills are a specific set of skills that involve using different parts of the child’s body and form the “building blocks” for more complex and specialized skills they will need throughout their lives (3). Many of these fundamental movement skills are specified in state pre-kindergarten standards and describe what children should be able to do before they start kindergarten. Examples include hop on one foot, spin on one foot, step forward and back, and balance on one foot for 5 seconds.
Teaching and practicing in early childhood years is the key to helping children master these fundamental skills. Waiting until elementary school to teach these skills when specific sports and other physical activities are introduced, contributes to the child’s lack of self-efficacy (6). Famous psychologist Albert Bandura defines self-efficacy as a child’s self-belief in their competence or chances of successfully accomplishing a task. For example, if children are confident in their ability to throw, catch and hit a ball, they are more willing to try baseball with their friends believing thatthey will succeed. If children can do a forward roll, spin on one foot, and jump high they are more enthusiastic to try dance, cheerleading or gymnastics.
On the other hand, children, who are not skilled, will gravitate away from active sports, games and dance towards less threatening sedentary hobbies (7). This is especially noticeable as children move from childhood to adolescence in what’s known as the “physical activity divide”. Low-skilled, inactive children suddenly perceive themselves as poorly skilled and may withdraw, unlike their higher skilled, more active friends who find physical activity rewarding and fun" (7).
A child who is confident in their movement skills at an early age is more likely to be physically active in later years (5). Gaining confidence and skill development doesn’t happen overnight. Therefore, just relying on natural maturation is not enough, engage children in fundamental movement skills.
“Maturation is not a miracle!” – Jane Clark (4)
Activities that move children from one place to the next (locomotion) including:
Activities that require the child stays in one spot (stationary) such as:
Activities that involve small muscle groups that allow for the handling of an object (e.g. a ball) such as:
Healthy Kids Resource Center
A one-stop shop for evidence-based research, resources, curricula, activities and materials that focus on obesity prevention for teachers and parents of young children. It is designed to educate parents and teachers as well as provide the tools needed to teach young children how to live a healthy lifestyle.
Healthy Kids - Physical Activity Toolbox
The toolkit will assist parents, child care providers and teachers with integrating physical activity throughout each day and providing programming that helps children meet age-level physical activity recommendations.
Lindsay, A. and Byington, T., 2020, Fundamental Movement Skills | Active Kids Are Active Adolescents, Extension | University of Nevada, Reno, FS-20-12
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