Most people, even educators say that motor skills develop naturally in children, they don’t need instruction, but studies show that this is not true.

astronautIf children don’t learn the basic motor skills like running, catching, throwing, and kicking they won’t participate in sports or exercise. They will struggle on playgrounds and athletic fields. That means they are at risk at giving up on physical activities, at risk of not being fit, and also at risk of becoming obese teenagers and adults.

Like any skill, there needs to be instruction, there needs to be practice, there needs to be feedback. Most children like to move, but does that desire remain? The supervised free play is not adequate to meet the full fitness needs of children. It doesn’t always reach children in underserved areas, and it doesn’t educate about living a healthy lifestyle.

Holding on to the love of movement, children need four elements to support, encourage and facilitate motor activity:

  1. Environment
  2. Attitude
  3. Knowledge
  4. Lifestyle

Environment

What is your child’s environment like in regards to promotion of physical activity? Inside, (maybe inclement weather or other reason), is there room for the two of you to dance to music, or play twister, or even twirl a hula hoop around some part of your body? Is there somewhere in your house where space for activity is valued over the fear of knocking over precious knickknacks?

Is there a place outdoors for running, jumping, rolling? Is there a tree or simple equipment safe for climbing, hanging, swinging? Is there a place to dig, in a sandbox or in dirt? Is there a place to throw, catch and kick a ball? Is there access to a trike, bike, ribbon sticks, skates?

Attitude

Setting up a physical environment to encourage physical activity is demonstrating a proper attitude, as does exhibiting fun and joy while participating. Do you play using motor activities with your child? Or do you moan and groan when it is time to take a walk, or put on a movement tape. Do you huff and puff when you finish your walk or go up some steps? Do you avoid your bicycle? Maybe you express real enthusiasm when you are lacing up your sneakers or following a movement session or a brief walk. It’s ok for your children to understand that sometimes physical activity is an effort as long as they know that anything worth doing is worth some effort.

Most important do you participate in your child’s activities (especially if they are young, under ~7 years of age). Research has demonstrated that playing with your child will have much more effect on his/her activity levels that were just insisting that they be active. The influence of parents and siblings does indeed increase children’s physical activity levels.

You are your kids’ role model. Children learn by watching you. If you spend some of your free time playing with your children, what a role model you will be in addition to having someone to play with. You have a playful attitude, so will they. You spend your time in sedentary activities, so will they. You teach them what is important to you by doing it. If your screen time watching TIV or computer takes up most of your free time, that is what they will want to do too. Lecturing about what they should do does not make a significant impact—setting an example does.

Knowledge

Not only do children need to take part in physical activity, but they also need to understand why it is so important. If they figure out why it is so important, they will develop a positive attitude towards fitness that lasts a lifetime. An explanatory word or two, at the right time, can offer valuable information to carry out exercise for life, such as, after you exercise, it important to stretch out your muscles so they won’t get cramps in them. Or, “ Wow, playing tag with you really got my heart pumping. I can feel it. Sometimes it is healthy to do that. Is yours going faster too? Can you feel it beating?

When you choose recreational activities, like skating or biking, or active vacations, words like, It’s not only fun to be active, but it is very important so we can be healthy are helpful for your children to be aware of the importance of movement for a healthy lifestyle.

And the children should have a vote as to which activities they would like to participate. Choice is a necessary ingredient in fostering internal motivation. Would they like to go for a walk. roller skating, or a bike ride? Would they prefer going to the playground to mess around with the equipment or playing Frisbee in the park?

Lifestyle

If your child will derive the benefits of physical fitness, then physical activity must be habitual and lifelong. Moving must be as routine as brushing teeth and bathing. Early childhood is the best time to start instilling habits, laying a healthy foundation.

Resources

  • esciencenews.com; Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, Goodway, J, Robinson, L, Crowe, H. 2010.
  • (Rae Pica, Experiences in Movement, 3rd ed. 2003)