We’ve all heard about the golden age of learning for toddlers and pre-schoolers and we all know that young children can absorb new knowledge more than at any other time in their lives. But it is also prime time for children’s physicality to be developed, with life-long implications. If we can maximise physical development in toddlers and pre-schoolers it will put them on the front foot for their whole lives.
Think about the people you know: some people seem innately coordinated and capable. They have good fitness and strength, they can perform almost any sport they try and they seem to move with a fluid, graceful motion. And you probably know some people at the other end of the spectrum too: people who seem clumsy or awkward, just a little uncoordinated. Where a person ultimately falls on this spectrum of coordination all starts with their physical development as a child. The more we can help a child attain a higher level of physical development in the early years, the more they will grow in to a healthy, strong and coordinated adult.
Most people think that physical development happens naturally for children and that they get all the development they need by playing. Well, not quite. That’s like thinking that children would get all the nutrients they need if they were to choose their own meals. Just like with feeding them, it is up to us to ensure they get what they need.
The answer is indeed in playing, but we need to guide and nurture the children through a broad range of activities so that we foster the full package of gross and fine motor skills, including:
• Coordination, including hand-eye and foot-eye
• Strength and power
• Cardio fitness and endurance
• Reactive power and
• Bursting power.
We achieve development in each of these areas by using three types of physical movement:
1. Locomotor movement – movement of the body from place to place, such as by crawling, walking, hopping, jumping, running, leaping, galloping and skipping. These movements help develop the gross motor skills.
2. Nonlocomotor movement – movement of the body in one place, such as pushing, pulling, twisting, turning, wiggling, sitting and rising. These movements help develop balance and coordination skills.
3. Manipulative movement – controlled use of the hands and feet, such as grasping, opening and closing hands, waving, throwing and catching. These movements help develop the fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.
What this means in practice is that your classroom and playground activities need to cover a lot of bases. In addition to your usual games, make sure you have a fun, play-based activity package that covers:
• Animal walks, crawls and jumps
• Activities using cones, hoops, ropes and balance beams
• Ball games for catching, throwing, aiming, kicking and stopping
• Races and obstacle courses.
If you cover all the bases with a purposeful physical development program, you’ll be helping children grow to be strong, healthy and coordinated adults. For me, the goal is to unleash the little tiger that resides within every child so that they grow to be strong, agile, supple, fast and fluid (but without the claws and fangs).