Every parent is accustomed to seeing advice on how to raise happy, healthy children all over the place. Commercials tell you which new superfood is the key to helping your little one grow up to be big and strong. Countless blogs describe tips to help you manage your toddler’s “terrible twos,” your threenager’s tantrums, and convince stubborn picky eaters to try new foods.
Most parents take for granted the fact that children need physical activity. But many parents may not fully understand the extent to which exercise and activity are an important component of their child’s development.
Whether your child is an outdoor adventurer, a sports enthusiast, or an aspiring dancer, the exercise that they gain through those activities is crucial to their physical and mental development as well as their long-term health.
Here are four reasons why children need physical activity.
1. Physical Activity Boosts Social Skills
This benefit may seem counterintuitive. After all, your child could be perfectly capable of conquering a jungle gym on their own or engaging in active play with your family dog, neither of which require them to master social skills.
However, many physical activities in your child’s childcare or school programs will incorporate the other children in their class, whether through team games such as soccer and capture the flag or even group activities where each child performs the task at hand on their own but does so in the company of their peers.
Developmental and cognitive scientists agree that a child’s social skills are built on a foundation of regular play and engagement with their peers. Children learn by interacting with the world around them, and playtime with their peers is a very important part of that learning. Therefore childcare programs that incorporate exercise and group outdoor play into their curriculum encourage your child to develop many important social skills, including:
- How to cooperate and coordinate with a team
- How to share toys, playground equipment, and participation
- How to learn new skills and games from their peers
- How to teach new games and skills to other children
And, most importantly, group physical activities help to lay the foundation for strengthened casual social skills. Group activities allow your child to communicate with their peers in an unstructured, natural setting, and this is a skill that will benefit your child for the rest of their life!
2. Physical Activity Improves Motor Skills
Your child’s early education years are a critical time in which they will experience crucial development of their motor skills. Motor skills can be broken down into two groups:
- Gross motor skills utilise larger muscle groups to accomplish activities such as running, jumping, throwing and catching, and kicking.
- Fine motor skills involve more complex interactions with the hands, feet, mouth, and wrists, such as holding small objects, writing, and whistling.
Your child will have developed many gross motor skills, such as sitting and walking, before they are enrolled in a childcare program. However, this is only the beginning of a long list of skills that your child will continue to develop throughout their childhood years.
Gross motor skills can be further broken down into three main groups:
- Locomotor skills involve total body movements, such as hopping and skipping
- Object control in which your child interacts with another object, such as throwing and kicking, and
- Stability and balance.
These skills are important even just for your child’s day to day life, but are also a crucial element in their ability to successfully learn more complicated skills later in life. For example, learning to throw and catch builds better hand-eye coordination, which your child can use to play sports, swat away mosquitoes, and improve their depth perception.
Research shows that more active children are able to develop stronger motors skills than their less active peers, and are more likely to enjoy engaging in sports and exercise games.
Some children will improve their motor skills more readily than others; this is perfectly natural. Repetition and encouragement will help your child to increase their confidence in their abilities and to continue to develop these important skills.
3. Physical Activity Improves Academic Performance
Preschool may seem early to be worried about the academic performance of your child. However your child begins to learn the habits that will shape the rest of their life during these important formative years, and experts agree that physically active children generally perform better academically as well.
The US Centre for Disease Control states that“physical activity can have an impact on cognitive skills and attitudes and academic behaviour, all of which are important components of improved academic performance” and specifically highlights improved concentration and classroom behaviour as contributing factors in improved performance.
Breaking up the school day with intermittent breaks for unstructured play gives your child’s brain ample time to process the information that they are learning in their childcare program. Because their nervous system is still developing, children require breaks and stimulation to foster effective learning.
Additionally, studies have shown that children are better able to focus on their class activities when they are given the opportunity to have recess or outdoor play time.
Physical activity allows your child to “burn off” some of their excess energy, which improves their ability to concentrate in the classroom and maximises their learning potential. In their early years this will help them to learn classroom basics that they will use throughout the remainder of their school years; as they get older, continued exercise can even contribute to improved grades and test scores.
4. Physical Activity is Good For Your Child’s Health
This probably comes as no surprise to you. As a parent, you know that exercise is important for your child’s overall health and development, and that building healthy habits early on in life will provide the foundation for your child to build on those habits for the rest of their life.
Incorporating physical activity into your child’s daily schedule will help to keep them healthy and happy in countless ways, including but not limited to:
- Developing strong and flexible muscles and joints, improving the baseline for your child’s athletic abilities
- Improving cardiovascular health and, int turn, decreasing long-term risk for heart disease
- Maintaining a healthy activity level and weight (especially when paired with nutritious food choices!) helping to decrease the risk of developing diabetes
- Increased happiness and sense of self-confidence by releasing “happy hormones” that improve sense of calm and ward off feelings of anxiety or restlessness
And this list is just the tip of the iceberg!
Every Harmony childcare centre incorporates an outdoor play area specifically for the purpose of allowing your child a time and place to engage in physical activities with their peers. We understand how important these opportunities are to your child’s development.
Our curriculum is specifically designed to incorporate physical play, cultivate self-awareness, and engage your child’s spirit at every level of their education. Incorporating physical play into your child’s daily activities is only one of the many ways that we have structured our childcare centres to help your child to grow up happy and healthy to their fullest potential.