Children are born movers and shakers. Starting in infancy, babies wiggle and squirm in an effort to move their bodies through space, grab onto things, and explore the world. Giving your baby lots of opportunities to manipulate and explore encourages a curiosity and mastery that lays a strong foundation for love of learning and moving. Pillow obstacle courses, tunnels, and blanket “forts” are all challenging and fun for little ones.
In toddlerhood, children discover the joys of kicking or throwing a ball, or racing mom or dad down the hallway. By elementary school, kids are running around the field, climbing on playground equipment, and enjoying learning about different sports in gym class.
While not all of us grow up to be the next Serena Williams or Michael Phelps, there is plenty to be gained from engaging in sporting activities of all kinds. Here are some tips for developing a love of physical activity at an early age.
Kids need encouragement and a foundation of confidence to play most sports. Start early to develop basic skills like catching and kicking balls, hopping, skipping and jumping. You can help your toddler develop these skills by:
- Hopping on one foot, two feet, and jumping over items.
- Making and going through obstacle courses.
- Helping them learn to use the playground equipment at your local park safely.
- Going for walks in your neighborhood and balance on the lines of the sidewalk like a balance beam.
- Playing hopscotch at the park.
- Playing catch with different kinds of objects – balls, paper airplanes, discs like Frisbee’s or balloons.
- Rolling a ball back and forth to one another.
When your child is young, make physical activities fun and simple. Play silly games and get creative with how your child wants to play a game or sport. It’s OK if they don’t “kick” the soccer ball, but instead toss it to you. As long as your toddler or young child is moving their body, it’s OK!
Games like “red light, green light” and “mother may I” help them learn impulse control and to follow simple directions as they move their body. Both of these skills are important as they learn a new game or sport.
Young children also love to be praised, so keep the compliments and high fives coming as you play together. The joy of spending time moving your bodies when you play together releases those feel good hormones that improve overall mood and reduce stress for both of you. Investing time having fun together builds your relationship with your child, putting “money in the bank” for the stressful times ahead. Your child will be more likely to cooperate with you when you have built up those positive interactions.
Tips for older children
As your child gets older, you can start introducing more challenging physical activities to get the body moving, such as:
- Hiking a nearby trail.
- Climbing a rock wall at the playground.
- Practicing basketball shots at the schoolyard.
- Riding a bike.
If you think your child might be ready to learn a sport or participate on a team, ask them about the types of sports they are interested in trying. There are so many options for kids, including soccer, basketball, Tee ball, ice skating, lacrosse, swimming, martial arts, and so on.
Find out what your child is interested in, watch a sporting event together, or attend a lesson to get a feel for what learning the sport is like. If you are unsure where to start, connect with KIDSPORTS, Willamalane Park and Recreation District, Eugene Family YMCA for some ideas. In addition, here are some points to consider:
- Let your child decide the sport they want to play—rather than push your favorite sport on them. Helping kids make choices for themselves will help them become better decision makers and reduce arguments and power struggles later on.
- It’s OK if they want to try lots of sports! Interested in soccer in the spring and softball in the summer? Let them try out their abilities in different ways.
Lead by example
One of the best ways you can encourage your child to engage in a sport or physical activity is through being active yourself. It can be hard to find time for fitness or hobbies when you are caring for little ones, so try to find activities that you can do as a family, such as walking, running, kicking a ball around the field, throwing a Frisbee back and forth. Or you could even learn a new sport together! This fun, physical play supports the whole family healthy ways to reduce stress and reset your moods.
Engaging in a sport, regardless of what kind, provides all sorts of learning experiences and promotes healthful, lifelong skills.
Encouraging your children to participate can be fun for the whole family!