“Children move to be happy, to express themselves, to develop their bodies, their intellects, and their motor skills.” Through movement, children learn about themselves and their environment. Movement also improves children’s coordination and health. Movement that improves gross motor skills is a crucial part of every young child’s developmental process.
Why Do Children Need to Move?
Research and experience suggest that movement helps children grow intellectually, emotionally, and physically and has an impact on their future health.
“Beginning in infancy and continuing throughout our lives, physical movement plays an essential role in creating nerve cell networks that are the essence of learning.”
Children who spend extra time in daily physical activity show a higher level of academic success than children who engage in less physical activity. Movement also improves a child’s self-concept, arguably the greatest contribution of physical activity. Children’s bones and muscles, balance, agility, reaction time, and overall coordination are all improved with movement.
Research indicates that the most significant problem facing children today is obesity. Unless recent trends change, experts predict that the current generation of children in America will be the first to live shorter lives than their parents (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2000). According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the percentage of children ages 6-19 who are overweight has doubled since 1980. Childhood obesity often translates into serious health concerns like heart disease; colon, stomach, and breast cancer; hypertension; type 2 diabetes; and osteoarthritis. The CDC cites various benefits of regular physical activity including weight control; building and maintaining bones, muscles, and joints; promoting psychological well-being. Two of the most important aspects of dealing with childhood obesity are daily activity and healthy eating habits.
How Do Children Learn to Move?
Children need many movement opportunities during their first years, a vital period of motor development. “The critical time for the development of motor skills is between eighteen and sixty months of age” (Rosalind Charlesworth, Understanding Child Development, 1992).
Children need instruction to become skillful movers. Many preschoolers, when left on their own, will tend toward sedentary activities like watching television and playing computer games. Research suggests that a slight increase in physical activity may significantly improve coordination and endurance. Preschool children respond to their environment. On a playground without adult interaction, children will participate in familiar actions rather than experiencing the variety and depth of movement that intentional learning activities could provide.
Meaningful movement programs are essential for children to learn movement skills in an interesting, organized manner. These programs include all children, and they focus on children learning movement skills rather than just keeping them happy and good. Preschoolers learn best through exploration and experimentation, so they should be taught with a child-centered approach. In this type of approach, the teacher facilitates growth by providing environments designed for learning. Children decide what part of a particular learning environment they want to explore. It is crucial that children feel emotionally safe and successful in their quest to learn coordinated movement. An atmosphere of safety is created through age-appropriate, varied group activities. Designing games with the concept of equalization, allowing players to participate at their own levels, contributes to a comfortable and secure learning environment. A prepared teacher who is loving, enthusiastic, and positive is an essential ingredient to each child’s growth.
In his book, Active Start for Healthy Kids, Dr. Steven Virgilio, an expert on children’s health for more than 25 years, presents his philosophy of physical activity for young children. His philosophy, focusing on creating positive health habits in young children, is based on five principles.
Children at Play
When children play games, they are feeling, thinking, and moving all at the same time. They are making numerous decisions:
Purposeful play helps children develop in the affective, cognitive, and motor domains. Feelings and attitudes that children have while they move are part of the affective domain, which refers to emotions. Movement programs should strengthen the way children feel about themselves, develop children’s social skills, and develop enjoyable and purposeful play. Children develop in the cognitive domain, referring to knowledge and perception, when they learn how to communicate, follow rules and directions, recognize shapes and colors, and move parts of their bodies. The motor domain refers to movement, and children develop in it when specific movement skills are improved.
The Whole-Child Philosophy
Renowned educators agree that a child’s education should attend to a young person’s mind, body, and emotions. An educational plan should address a child’s social, emotional, intellectual, physical, spiritual, creative, and artistic development. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) asserts, “Development in one dimension influences and is influenced by development in other dimensions. This premise is violated when schools place a great emphasis on the cognitive domain while minimizing other aspects of children’s development. Because development cannot be neatly separated into parts, failure to attend to all aspects of an individual child’s development is often the root cause of a child’s failure in school.”
Goals in the Affective Domain
Expressing ideas and emotions
Listening to others
Helping others and accepting help
Negotiating and cooperating
Goals in the Cognitive Domain
Generating alternative solutions
Goals in the Motor Domain
Maintaining aerobic fitness, flexibility, muscular strength and endurance
Improving hand-eye-foot coordination
Within the motor domain, there are two categories of a child’s development: fundamental movement skills and health-related physical fitness.
The fundamental movement skills are classified into three groups:
Health-related physical fitness is divided into four categories:
TEAM: Together Everyone Achieves More
In order for children to develop healthy habits, the home, school, and community must work together to promote proper nutrition and exercise. The family is the predominant influence on a child’s health and physical activity habits, so parents should make active play and healthy eating a way of life. Any out-of-home activity program should fully inform and involve parents through newsletters, seminars, and progress reports. Parents should participate in activities with children.