We were designed to move! That’s why the importance of physical activity for children cannot be overstated in the 21st century.
Physical exercise and activity is essential for children. The earlier they start, the healthier and more capable they will be in all aspects of their education and life.
Recent research has shown that an hour spent playing or exercising helps a child’s cognitive, intellectual, emotional and social development as well as the development of their physical and physiological systems to ensure a healthy, active and productive body.
Time’s Health/Exercise/Fitness Magazine recently published an article that described the discovery, “for the first time ever, there is evidence that being fit can improve the speed and connectivity of brain neurons in children….what the results show is that physical activity may be an important part of keeping children’s brains active and open to doing well in school as time spent in a classroom.”
Here are some active solutions to the movement revolution:
First of all, as parents, strongly advocate for full-time physical education in our elementary schools. Physical activity equals physical literacy.
• Physical literacy means that a child can move their body confidently and competently. Like reading, writing and arithmetic, the ABC’S of movement – Agility, Balance, Coordination, Speed – are learned optimally ages 0-10.
• Once learned, physical literacy becomes a competitive advantage, not just in terms of physical and perhaps athletic performance, but more importantly, it helps your child develop their full human potential and capital.
Second, find time to play games with your kids outside.
• Activities that focus on the FUNdamentals: running, jumping, hopping, skipping, tumbling, climbing, throwing and catching. Visit the pool for swimming lessons and water activities.
• Old-school playground games such as hopscotch, four square, tag, skipping rope, playing catch, plus any games modified for the backyard, can provide tremendous learning opportunities for physical literacy development.
Third, enroll your child in activities that help their physical, mental, emotional and social development. Participation in many different activities and sports helps children to develop to their full potential: academically, athletically and socially.
• Be cautious of specialization in one activity or sport too early: Research shows that specialization before age 12 contributes to one-sided, sport-specific preparation; the lack of ABC’s (see above); overuse injuries; and early burnout.
• Children have optimal windows of opportunity for developing their agility, balance, coordination, speed and flexibility or range of motion. The crucial periods of fundamental movement and motor skill development are prior to age 11 for girls and age 12 for boys.
Learning to play and playing to learn helps children to develop a comprehensive and holistic foundation. Children who learn to love physical activity in all of its forms often grow up to be active adults who live longer, healthier, happier and more productive lives.
Bev Smith is the executive director of Kidsports, a nonprofit offering youth sports programs for Lane County children in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.