Most children are born with a love of movement, but many kids lose this zest for activity as they grow older. Why does this matter? Because research has shown that being physically active is one of the most important things your child can do to stay healthy when he or she grows up.
In light of this, what can you do to nurture your child’s love of movement? Here are some ideas to steer you in the right direction.
Fitness for All Ages
Selection of appropriate physical activities for our child will vary depending on the child’s stage of development. Because of this, it is impossible to give exact guidelines based on age. Below is a general approximation of what to expect during different age ranges.
Ages 2 To 5
What to Expect. During this time children master many basic movement skills, such as:
- kicking and tossing a ball
- hitting a ball with a bat
- walking on a straight line or low balance beam
- doing a running jump
- pedaling a tricycle
Children this age love to use their imagination.
What to Do When Your Child is this Age. Parents need to foster social, intellectual and physical development during these “building block” years. The skills learned during this time lay a solid foundation for grasping more complicated sports and activities. Learning the basics will help your child experience success later on.
Try taking your child to movement classes that encourage individual creativity and teach the child to control his or her body in space. At home, try telling imaginary stories about animals or storybook characters and let your child act out the stories. Emphasize movement as play, and be sure to encourage and praise your child’s desire to explore movement.
Ages 5 To 8
What to Expect. Children in this age range can use basic motor skills to build complex movements. For example, instead of just hitting a stationary ball with a bat, they can practice hitting a ball when it’s rolling or in the air. They can play longer and harder than younger children, which means their fitness levels can improve. Some children become interested in organized group or team play, but not a competitive level.
What to Do When Your Child is this Age. Enrolling your child in noncompetitive group sports or group movement classes is a good idea. Your child should experience bike riding, roller skating, ice skating and a host of other activities. A wide range of physical experience will help your child figure out his or her likes and dislikes. Commend your child for trying different activities, even if they aren’t your favorites.
Ages 8 To 10
What to Expect. Children can now participate effectively in team and partner activities and continue to improve their fitness levels. Appropriate physical activities can strengthen their hearts, lungs, muscles and bones. Children this age lack the needed hormones for large muscle development.
Warning: The decline in children’s physical activity often begins during this age range, according to Kenneth Cooper, MD, MPH, author of Kid Fitness. Kids become self-conscious and compare themselves to their peers. Children who develop early have a physical advantage and may be intimidating to other kids their age.
What to Do When Your Child is this Age. Team sports and kids’ group classes are recommended, if your child shows interest. Remember to be extremely supportive! At home, help your child celebrate speed and endurance successes by keeping a logbook on how fast he or she can walk half a mile or get from one end of the block to the other. Understand extreme supervision and given effective program design, your child may also enjoy the benefits of strength training. Getting stronger improves a child’s attitude and self-esteem.
Ages 10 To 12
What to Expect. Children can continue to play on teams, as well as participate in individual activities, like walking, swimming, skating, etc. They can take part in different dance forms, such as folk dancing, line dancing and hip hop. Peer acceptance will influence which activities many children choose. Major hormonal changes occur in children at this age. Puberty finds many children feeling awkward and unattractive as their physical bodies mature.
What to Do When Your Child is this Age. Look for programs and classes that focus on developmental levels (i.e., beginner, intermediate, advanced) as opposed to chronological age, since kids mature at different rates. Work with your child to develop a fitness schedule that he or she likes. Kids’ fitness expert Debi Pillarella, MEd, suggests purchasing youth-sized steps or jump ropes and letting your child have a special workout area in your home. Let your child play his or her favorite music as a source of motivation.
How Can You Help
Here are some suggestions for encouraging your child, no matter what his or her age.
1. Take part in your own fitness program. A research study showed that in families where both parents were active, 95 percent of the children were active. ( Even if you aren’t as fit as you’d like to be, don’t worry! Your encouragement still makes a difference.)
2. Teach your child the physical skills you know, and try to develop additional skills to pass on to him or her.
3. Emphasize that physical activity is a fun adventure, and avoid making negative comments about performance.
4. Encourage your child’s school to make time for fun, age-appropriate physical activity taught by a knowledgeable instructor.
The Right Stuff
Whether your child participates in physical education classes or extracurricular sports or movement classes, look for an instructor who does the following:
1. Designs activities to accommodate students of varying physical characteristics and ability levels and uses appropriate movements for the age range he or she is teaching.
2. Nurtures each child as an individual and provides a noncompetitive environment.
3. Educates kids about fitness and healthy living.
4. Has a plan for the class but knows how to improvise if the plan obviously isn’t working.
5. Is educated about emergency protocol and safety issues.
Looking For A Program
To find children’s fitness program in your community, contact your local YMCA or check your local Yellow Pages under Athletic Organizations, Camps, Clubs, Gymnasiums, Recreation Centers and Youth Organizations and Centers. You should also ask instructors at your local health club if they know of any children’s fitness programs nearby or if the club you attend offers any children’s programming.
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