Whether you’re an infant or an adult, regular exercise is one of the key ingredients to developing physical skills.
Participating in and enjoying physical activities throughout life often depends on reaching a competent level of skill through lots of practice.
Parents can help children reach this level by making skill-developing playtime a daily practice and by providing fun activities and challenges that build on each other to keep their child’s interest.
More difficult tasks
Even when children are succeeding at a high level, there will come a time when they will be ready to move on to a more difficult task.
For example, if the child is throwing a ball into a basket that is 5 feet away and hits the basket five times in a row, he or she is ready to incrementally increase the distance from the basket.
Challenges should have a way to measure progress, such as using successful attempts in a row or out of 10, using time or distance, or using different sizes of equipment (e.g., a smaller or larger ball). When a child can complete a task seven or eight times out of 10, he or she is ready to increase the difficulty.
Try these activities at home to challenge your children to continue to practice and improve their skills:
With infants, practice all activities several times in a row. Then, repeat several times daily and for several days in a row. Infants need simple challenges — place your infant on her stomach and hold a ball in front of her, encouraging her to reach and scoot her body to grasp the ball.
Repetition is a challenge for infants. No matter the activity, repeat, repeat, repeat.
Ball roll: Ask your child to roll a ball between two chairs. Challenge her to take a step back every time she rolls the ball between the chairs and to take a step forward when she misses.
Timed hold: Go to the playground and ask your child to grasp a bar over his head and hold his feet in the air. Have him count with you to see how long he can keep off the ground.
Also, try holding a scarf high in the air in front of your child and then drop the scarf. How many times in a row can the child catch the scarf?
While pre-K challenges should increase in difficulty, don’t make them too difficult: Allow children to be successful 70 to 80 percent of the time to keep them practicing and improving skills.
Landing jumps: Have your child jump and land on two feet. Ask, “Can you jump and land on two feet five times in a row without losing your balance?”
Long jump: Place a line on the ground and ask your child how far he can jump over the line. Mark where he lands and have him practice jumping past the mark.
Ball catch: Throw a ball into the air and catch it. Ask, “How many times can you catch the ball in a row?” and “How high can you throw the ball and still catch it?”
Ball dribble: Using a large playground ball, see how many times your child can dribble the ball in a row without moving her feet. Then, see how many times in a row she can dribble while walking.
Ball bounce: Have your child bounce a ball with one hand and then the other. How many times can he keep the ball bouncing?
Kindergartners and beyond
Kindergartners still need lots of skill practice and individual challenges. One of the best ways to challenge these children is to insert them into a simple game situation.
Soccer: Set up a goal and play one-on-one soccer with your child in the backyard.
Batting practice: Pitch a ball to your child and challenge her to strike it with a bat. See how far she can hit the ball, and mark the distance so your child can work on hitting it farther with each pitch.
Keep-away: Challenge your child to dribble a ball and keep it away from you as you try to tap the ball away with your hand. Then, ask your child to see if he can guard you and tap the ball away.
Challenges help children to continue practicing their skills. Play with your children every day, and use challenges to help keep them engaged and improving. Physically active and skillful children will have the tools to enjoy and benefit from daily physical activity throughout their lives.