Fitness and exercise are becoming as critical to a child’s early development today as learning to read and write. More than one third of children in America today are overweight or obese, with many children suffering from coronary heart disease, high blood pressure and high levels of cholesterol. Today’s children need safe spaces to walk, playgrounds, parks and centers where they can play, and sports, dance or fitness programs outside of school to keep them challenged and engaged. What’s more important is that they start early. According to research by C. Gabbard (1998), the “window of opportunity” for acquiring basic motor movements is from prenatal to five years of age, and for fine motor skills the window is from after birth to around nine years of age. Therefore, incorporating daily movement activities into the early childhood curriculum will help lay the foundation for a healthy, active childhood.
While national initiatives such as the NFL’s “Play 60” or Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign are geared towards children in elementary school and older, early childhood education curriculums can still employ similar strategies for keeping young children active. Remember that play time is also a child’s way of learning and exercising – from dancing to playing on the playground and learning to walk, we can engage children in active lifestyles. Exercise and fitness will only bring a child so far if they are not getting the proper nutrition. Reinforcing healthy food choices will make an impact on a child’s energy and ability to participate in play time and games.
At the Friends Center for Children in New Haven, CT we take the children for outside play twice per day, depending on the weather. In our new state of the art facility, we have a movement room dedicated to practicing yoga and dancing. In his article “Fitness Begins in Early Childhood”, Dr. Gary Sanders recommends the following for children two years of age and younger as an introduction to an active lifestyle:
- Start early (before two years of age) with gross motor movements (the use of the large muscles in the body). Examples of gross motor activities include climbing, walking, running, kicking, throwing, catching, and jumping.
- Combine movements involving eye-foot and eye-hand coordination such as striking large colorful beach balls and balloons. Include manipulative items where reaching-to-grasp, puzzles, and building blocks.
We’d like to hear from you: How do you engage your children in physical fitness and exercise? How effectively do you integrate fitness and exercise into an everyday early education curriculum?
For more information on the studies mentioned, and to read Gary Sander’s entire article, click here: