Part II of Active Early & Healthy Bites: Home Edition focuses on Increasing Physical Activity Levels of Young Children
To Review Part I, click here.
Sedentary activities refer to those that include very little movement of the body. This includes things like sleeping, watching television and using a computer. Light physical activity refers to activity that moves the body, but doesn’t result in a quickly beating heart. Moderate physical activity refers to activity that requires effort and gets your heart beating faster. Things like walking, bike riding on level terrain, etc. Vigorous physical activity refers to activity that gets that heart beating really fast, is often challenging and makes one sweat. Activities like jogging and biking uphill are vigorous.
The orange circle on the continuum of intensity level represents the level of physical activity that is highly common among young children. The green circle represents the ideal that we’re working towards. When we think about getting kids more active, we really want to reduce the amount of sedentary time and increase the amount of moderate to vigorous physical activities. This way the amount of light physical activity is maintained.
When we’re working towards increasing the activity levels of young children, it’s important to keep in mind the pattern of physical growth in young children:
- At birth, the head is the fastest growing part of the body. With the head being the largest part of the body, infants and toddlers have a higher center of gravity.The high center of gravity makes it hard to balance and is the reason why young children are likely to fall.
- Throughout early childhood, the torso lengthens. This lowers the center of gravity.With this growth, children are able to balance and are less likely to fall. Children do not develop a center of gravity similar to adults until they are about 6 years old.
- Children grow from their torso out.This means that their arms will grow before their hands, which will grow before their fingers and their legs will grow before their feet.This also means that a child starts to develop gross motor skills before they start developing fine motor skills. This can be seen in an infant as they learn to grasp things. Newborns will use their whole arm to swipe at things. As they grow, they will use their whole hand to grab something, which is the ulnar grasp. Then, they will use their fingers to grab something, which is the pincer grasp.
All of these elements of physical development come together in the learning and mastering of gross motor skills. For example, when learning to throw, a child has to develop balance (which is easier as the torso lengthens), a sophisticated grasp and the ability to string several movements together (i.e. turn sideways, step forward, bring the arm back, bring the arm forward, follow through). This takes time and practice. As adults, we can help by providing children with varied activities and experiences in practicing both individual and combined motions in developmentally appropriate ways.
Learn more about this developmental domain and the patterns of growth it involves in the Wisconsin Model Early Learning Standards starting on page 20.
There are many, many strategies for increasing physical activity levels:
- Consistent Routines. Incorporate times of day in which a child expects that they will have the opportunity to be active. Hold true to these which often means have back up plans for bad weather and new ideas ready to try to keep every day exciting.
- Less Screen Time. Unplug! Minimize the number of screens available to young children and the amount of time they are in use.
- Modeling. As an adult, make sure that your kids see you being active and enjoying being active! Make sure you use various gross motor skills in front of them, from running to jumping to catching and throwing.
- Varied Intensity Levels. We know there are times when we can be louder and more rambunctious and times when we have to quieter and more restrained. But we can be active in both environments! While running and jumping get our heart rates up, quieter active motions, like yoga or stretching also have their benefits.
- Practicing Gross Motor Skills. Be sure that children of all ages, infants to kindergartners have opportunities for practice. For example, tummy time is critical for infants. Early on, being on their tummy on your chest or on the floor may be just enough. As they grow, spice up tummy time by playing with infants and their favorite toys. Place the toy just out of reach so that they have to move their arms and legs to get to the toy. Make sure this game remains fun by ensuring that infants can get to their toy!
- Transitions. Going from one activity to the next presents a great opportunity for activity. Whether this is hopping down the hall like rabbits or frogs to go to breakfast in the morning or stretching before nap time, it all counts!
- Active Stories. Make children’s favorite books and stories come alive by acting them our and moving through them. Some great stories to get active to include The Snowy Day and We’re Going on a Bear Hunt.
- Move to Music. Just turn on the radio or your iPod and dance!
- Homemade Materials. Physical activity doesn’t have to cost a lot. Rolled up socks can become balls, laundry baskets can become goals and sheets can become parachutes. Get creative!
The importance of making physical activity fun can’t be overstated! This will ensure that children have positive experiences, memories and connotations with being active from the earliest age.
Parts III through VI of Active Early & Healthy Bites: Home Edition Coming Soon!