By Kasie Moffitt
The importance of Active Play
We all know that it is important to be physically active for our health and well being and for babies and young children it is extremely important- The first years of life are the foundation for all later growth, development and learning (Kazimierczak, P, 2012).
Physical activity is not only important for building gross and fine motor strength, coordination and agility, but it also impacts on many other areas of development as well as their sense of self.
Movement is a child’s first ‘language’ and the more they become active in this first
language, the better they will develop other powers of expression, exploration and
development. Howard Gardner (1983) referred to movement as an ‘entry point’
to acquire knowledge. (Kazimierczak, P, 2012).
It is of course important to note, that whilst developmental milestones do exist, children are individuals who develop at different rates and in their own time. Milestones do typically occur in the same order and provide us with a benchmark of around when particular skills should become evident, and when we should perhaps become concerned and seek an experts opinion, so should not be discounted. In the meantime, what are some things we can do with our young children to help them become physically active?
For infants, being given the opportunity to move freely is of utmost importance. This means reducing the use of constraining devices (such as carriers, bouncers, Jolly Jumpers, prams, walkers etc) and placing them on their back or tummy on the floor to freely explore their body in space- of course remaining in close physical contact with their carers. Tummy Time allows children the opportunity to build head, neck and trunk muscles, as well as an awareness of their body in space amongst other things. Tummy time should always be supervised and babies should always be placed on their back to sleep. Babies love interacting with others and getting down on the floor and singing and playing with your baby is the best way to encourage them to spend more time on their tummy- introducing interesting toys and rattles to watch, laying on different surfaces, singing simple rhymes, such as ‘round and round the garden like a teddy bear’, you could even read a story. By the age of 4 months, babies should be pushing up on their forearms, lifting and holding their head up.
Crawling usually happens at around 9-10 months. Crawling strengthens muscles in preparations for walking and allows children a new found sense of independence as they can now make their own choices about where to go and what to play with. Encourage crawling through tunnels or in and out of different spaces, over different surfaces (foam pieces/pillows under a blanket to create uneven surfaces). Offer toys at different heights to encourage reaching, keeping the head up and later encourage children to pull themselves up.
Walking and onward:
It is recommended that children between the ages of 1 and 3 be active for at least 3 hours (spread throughout the day). During this time children begin to learn Fundamental movement skills. These are a set of skills that allow children to ‘make the most of physical opportunities’
“Fundamental movement skills are divided into three areas for infants and toddlers:
loco motor, non-manipulative or non-loco motor and manipulative:
· loco motor—when moving from one place to another. For example, crawling,
walking and running
· non-manipulative or non-loco motor—when the body is stationary but
different body parts move. For example, balancing, turning, wriggling, pushing
· manipulative—using gross or fine motor movements to engage with objects.
For example, holding and releasing, throwing, kicking, throwing and catching.”
(Kazimierczak, P, 2012)
For children to develop and build upon such skills and thus become more active, effective and responsive explorers, they need the adults in their lives to provide opportunities that encourage their growth and development, as they are not always naturally acquired.
For different ideas and information on encouraging physical activity with your children, visit these sites:
Visit http://health.act.gov.au/kids-at-play/active-play-everyday/ and access their fact sheets for more ideas!
Kazimierczak, P, (2012) Everyday Learning Series (v10, n2): Physical activity: Helping children grow
Extract from Putting Children First, the magazine of the National Childcare Accreditation Council (NCAC) Issue 30 June 2009 (Pages 3 - 5) Supporting Children’s Development
Get up and grow: Healthy eating and physical activity for early childhood: Staff and carer book http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/2CDB3A000FE57A4ECA257BF0001916EC/$File/HEPA%20-%20B5%20Book%20-%20Staff%20and%20Carer%20Book_LR.pdf