A toddler boy enjoying himself on a slide in the park

The Benefits of Getting Kids Active, Starting Early

Children can’t become active toddlers, teenagers and adults without a strong foundation of basic skills. Motor and traveling skills – like catching, throwing, balancing, running, jumping and climbing – are the building blocks of physical activity. You can think of them as the alphabet of fitness; children must learn the alphabet before they can form words and sentences. In the same way, children must learn basic physical skills so they can participate in fitness and sports and ultimately lead active lives as adults.

So what’s all the fuss about? Don’t children develop motor and traveling skills naturally as they start crawling, walking, climbing and – many parents’ favorite – grabbing and throwing everything they can get their hands on? To some extent, yes; but these skills will be so much stronger and more developed if you make an effort to work on them with your child. You may be thinking, “Well, I don’t particularly want my child to be better at throwing things,” but we know from research that children with more developed motor skills are more active. And there are so many benefits to encouraging your child to be active early on.

Aside from helping children develop strong muscles and bones and maintain a healthy weight, physical activity skills help set the foundation for a healthy, active lifestyle. They open up a world of recreation opportunities, help children develop confidence, and prepare them for activities and sports that can lead to friendships. Not to mention increasing evidence that daily physical activity helps children perform better in school. For these reasons, Primrose Schools developed its Thumbs Up! program to help the children in its schools get excited about fitness early on.

Now you know the benefits of early physical activity skills, but how do you help your child develop them? When my two sons were young, my wife and I went out of our way to ensure they developed a strong foundation of physical skills during their preschool years. We started helping them develop motor and traveling skills when they were infants, and increased our efforts after they began to walk. We made sure to spend time playing outside and participated in activities with them, as research indicates family involvement in fitness helps make it a lifelong habit for children. As the saying goes, “A family that plays together, stays together.”

Because we created plenty of opportunities for our children to develop basic motor and traveling skills, physical activity became an important part of their daily routine. And although they were better at some things more than others, they were able to participate in almost any sport or activity they chose throughout elementary and high school because they had a good foundation of basic skills. You can help build this foundation for your child in many ways:

  • Move your infants legs in a running motion during daily tummy time activities
  • Encourage your toddler to move to music, kick, catch and jump
  • Take your preschooler biking and walking with you
  • Play outside together

These may seem like simple tasks, but they can make a world of difference in your child’s perception of physical activity and his inclination to find joy and fun in fitness activities when he gets older. Once you find out which activities your child is most interested in, make sure to engage her in those activities on a daily basis. And remember: always make time to play with your kids. It not only involves them in fitness, but allows you to spend quality time together doing something that benefits all of you.

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