Little girl plays with a balance ball

FAQs about Children, Exercise and Sleep

1. My child is turning 4 this summer. Should I sign him up to play sports?

Competitive sports are not recommended for children under 5 and many child development experts suggest waiting until 7 to 8 years of age. The rule-based environment of competitive sports is not considered suitable for young children. Instead, the emphasis of physical activity should be on enjoyment and play.

Your child needs non-competitive opportunities to learn basic movement skills like jumping, running, throwing, catching and kicking. The skills that your child develops through active play form the basic building blocks for more specific development that may be used in future sporting activities.

2. What kinds of skill development equipment should I have at home for my child?

The best equipment to have at home is balls of different sizes, textures and colors. Other helpful gear to consider for your child’s enjoyment and learning includes plastic bats, paddles, hoops, jump ropes, beanbags and even a low balance beam. Just remember all equipment should be specifically designed for children.

Match equipment with the age and skill level of your child and do not use equipment made for adults. A baseball, football or golf club made for adults would be unsafe for a child developing throwing, kicking or striking skills. Also provide climbing, balance and gymnastic opportunities to help your child build strength, which is crucial to her development.

3. My child wants to climb on everything but I am afraid he will fall! How high should my child climb off the ground?

Climbing is a great way to help young children develop strong muscles and motor skills. Providing daily opportunities for your child to climb helps him develop the muscular strength needed to throw, kick or strike a ball.

Climbing equipment comes in many shapes and sizes. Find safe objects for your child to climb on, including playground equipment, vertical and horizontal ladders and the occasional small tree. Be sure your little one is aware of safe ways to climb — use both hands, get a good grip, move slowly, and do not race (especially when climbing down). Children under age 5 should climb no higher than five feet and should always have adult supervision.

A young baby boy climbing up

4. My son at age 4 is not as skilled as my daughter who is a year younger. Why?

Boys often take longer than girls to develop motor skills. Research shows that in general, boys initially tend to be better at object control skills (throwing, catching and striking) and girls usually have better balance and locomotor (running, galloping, skipping) skills. By around age 10, boys and girls demonstrate similar motor development if they are given the same practice opportunities.

A young baby girl climbing up

5. Can being physically active help my child in school?

Physical activity increases oxygen flow to the brain and directly affects brain development. The Centers for Disease Control suggests that physical activity can positively affect cognitive skills and improve academic performance. This includes improved attitudes, good classroom behavior and enhanced concentration and attention. Researchers are continually finding that children who are physically active are more likely to be motivated, attentive and successful academically.

6. How much sleep does my child need each night in order to be alert and physically active during the day?

Sleep is directly related to physical activity and is essential to your child’s health. Ten to 12 hours of sleep each night is recommended for 3- to 6-year-olds. Research suggests that children who spend time daily engaging in vigorous physical activity are quicker to fall asleep and sleep longer. Children who are less active take longer to fall asleep.

7. How much TV watching is healthy for my child?

Too much screen time can interfere with physical development. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that children under age 2 should not watch any TV and those 2 or order should watch no more than one or two hours a day. Children who watch more than four hours per day are more likely to be overweight and may have more difficulty sleeping at night.    

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