The psychical fitness of young children is extremely important. It provides the build stones for the rest of their lives. Young children will form healthy habits early in life. As early childhood professionals we need to teach children the importance of physical activity and fitness during this impressionable time (NAEYC. 2011).
Here are five points as to why physical fitness is important for young children:
- It helps prevent chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, asthma and much more. Children who are physically fit are less likely to get an illness because their diet is well balanced and they are physically active. (Robertson. 2013).
- It decreases the likelihood of being obese (Robertson. 2013).
- It builds, stretches and strengthens all their muscles (Robertson. 2013).
- It boosts their brain development and cognitive activity (Robertson. 2013).
- It strengthens their bones and will help prevent tiredness (Robertson. 2013).
Here are three developmental skills that children are learning at this young age and ways that physical activity can help them master these skills.
First, children will learn gross motor skills by walking, running, jumping, and climbing. Physical activity can help improve these skills in outdoor play. Early childcare outdoor spaces and equipment allow children to practice and improve these skills. Young children need these motors skills to advance in life, they are an essential part of learning at a young age (Robertson. 2013).
Second, children learn fine motor skills by writing, holding small items, buttoning clothing, turning pages, and eating. Fine motor skills require coordination and control of small muscles. This is why building these muscles through physical fitness is so important.
Third, children learn cognitive skills by critical thinking, problem solving, exploring, putting items together and breaking them. Physical activity can enhance these skills by counting the number of time the child has walked past the teacher during “duck duck goose.” Children can play games like pass the ball by describing them in their color, texture, and shape. Making a game a cognitive learning session (Goodway & Robertson. 2013).
When children do not engage in healthy fitness activities they are exposed to chronic diseases such as asthma, cancer, diabetes, and cardio vascular diseases. Children also have a higher risk of becoming obese which can then lead to the chronic diseases stated above. It’s a circle of cause and effect. If you’re being lazy and spending all your time on electronic devices then you’re not going to want to be outside and physically active. But then if you are outside and you are physically active you won’t be lazy because you’ll actually have the energy. Another point that often gets over looked is children who are obese are more likely to have a low self-esteem because there are some physical activities they aren’t able to perform without being embarrassed. Having a lack of physical activity can lead to a wide range of developmental setbacks for children, this is why it is so important to get children more engaged in physical activities early in life.
There are many ways adults and parents can help children develop good fitness habits. One of the most obvious is to be a good role model for young child, show them that you are active and healthy so they can follow in your footsteps. Parents and teachers could put on an obstacle course game where they can use multiple games to improve development of the gross motor skills. Games like jumping over a log, skipping to a song, jump roping, jumping jacks, rolling down a hill, and many other outdoor activities to get the children physically active and their development encouraged. Parents and teachers could have the children do side walk chalk drawings of each other’s shadows to improve development of the fine motor skills. This activity gets the children outside in fresh air while using their hands to learn writing and drawing skills. Finding activities that promote gross and fine motor skill development during physical activity is important. Children can achieve this with the help of the adults around them.
Here are a few inspirational and thought-provoking quotes:
“The problem of childhood obesity can be improved by an increase in physical activity, diet management, and behavior modification. Physical activity alone does not seem to be effective, but the addition of diet and behavior modification contributes to successful weight loss in obese children (Robertson. 2013).”
“All it takes to encourage an active start is a little time and imagination and a commitment to a healthy lifestyle (NAEYC. 2011).”
“If children are given goals for physical activity that are reachable, it is much easier to expect them to achieve a healthy level of activity as part of their fitness regime (Robertson, 2013).”
“Physical activity is not merely necessary to the health and development of the body, but to balance and correct intellectual pursuits as well. The mere athlete is brutal and philistine, the mere intellectual unstable and spiritless. The right education must tune the strings of the body and mind to perfect spiritual harmony (Plato).”
By showing young children the importance of physical fitness we can start impacting their lives for the better at a younger age. Help them realize that if they don’t start now it could have major effects later in life. Physical fitness can be an essential part to a healthy long life.
Goodway, J. D., & Robinson, L. E. (2006, March). SKIPing toward an active start: Promoting physical activity in preschoolers. Beyond the Journal: Young Children on the Web. Retrieved from http://www.naeyc.org/files/yc/file/200605/GoodwayBTJ.pdf
National Association for the Education of Young Children. (2011). Why preschoolers need physical education. Retrieved from https://www.naeyc.org/files/yc/file/201103/Leaps&Bounds_Online0311.pdf
Robertson, C. (2013). Safety, nutrition, and health in early education (5th Ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning.