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5 Top Tips on The Importance of Physical Activity in the Early Childhood Years

By Saturday afternoon, the laundry room at my house, resembles a dumping ground for a vast array of sports shoes, socks, jerseys and bags, each with its own special selection of mud, dirt and grass. It is a task I am so familiar with, and one that reminders of how lucky I am to have active and sport loving children. Yet, as a teacher I am also very aware that physical activity is just one facet of developing an active, positive and lifelong attitude that promotes a healthy body and healthy mind. Early childhood educational settings, teachers and parents are pivotal in setting the stage for children’s involvement, enjoyment and creating an expectation of a healthy body equals a healthy mindset. These early formative years establish for children their first memories, successes and awareness of what being healthy really looks like on a daily basis. With this in mind, what keys aspects should we as role models, educators and parents remember when we promote the concept of healthy body and healthy mind to our children?

Physical Activity is like a building block of health

A wealth of early childhood research and literature attests to the fact that a child’s early years are a stepping stone into a world of fundamental movement patterns, skills and gross motor competencies. But the extent of a child's success, interest and engagement in this healthy movement, is so dependent on how we as parents and teachers promote these skills. Just like any new skill, we need to support children to try, persist, be resilient and actively play and repeat these experiences. Like a building block, physical activity establishes a strong foundation for children as they learn to balance this with sedentary time, screen time and sleep time. In a world that offers children so many options for immediate entertainment, gratification and learning, surely learning to be active is a skill in itself. When we consider that children should be physically active for 180 mins each day

( Australian Department of Health 2014) then this certainly places a big emphasis on how we use this time and what skills we want to promote and why.

Establishing fitness and exercise as a norm – not a novelty

Fitness for life is an action , but also an attitude. Instilling in our children an expectation of exercise on a daily basis, develops wonderful life long habits for young children. The curriculum at Ganeinu is designed to provide both spontaneous and intentionally planned physical activity on a daily basis. Current research indicates a strong correlation between educational settings that value and promote children’s physical skills and children developing an understanding of fitness and aerobic exercise as a normal. Just as literacy, numeracy and music is present in everyday, so is participation in physical activity. This takes many forms, as children dance, learn sporting skills and are involved in planned obstacle courses to refine, extend and challenge locomotor movements, postural control and muscular endurance.

Developing a whole-body approach to health

As your child’s first teacher, parents have an enormous impact on establishing and nurturing a healthy attitude towards physical activity, diet and sleep health. At Ganeinu we aim to work with families to promote a fitness for life attitude that encompasses so many aspects of healthy body and healthy mind. Children who are routinely active, create an expectation of physical activity in their day, and this promotes long term health benefits both now and in their future. With the guidance of the Munch and Move ( A NSW Department of Health Initiative) we plan for a tasty and diverse range of meals, teach children about food choices and even grow our own vegetables. Our little green thumbs love nothing more than eating straight from our herb garden or veggie patch, as they design healthy lunch box options and prepare for big school. It really is all about surrounding children with positive messages to support their choices. Physical activity is also about building capacity for cognitive memory, attention span and an ability to self-regulate. Children who learn to balance active and passive activity are far more likely to feel positive as learners, to feel fit and to recognise how to nourish their bodies with sleep, food and relaxation based experiences.

A healthy team and community approach

Our children do not grow, develop or learn just as individuals. So much of what we do in life is done as a team, as a group and as a community. A healthy approach to both mind and body recognises this and instils in our children a sense of team spirit, sportsmanship and fitness as a tribe. We model and support children to be good sports, to try new foods and to prioritise their involvement in our community. Being physically active prompts children to negotiate with peers, role play, self-regulate their responses, turn take and cooperate. As children demonstrate physical activity, they are also learning to develop their confidence and self-esteem. Studies indicate that children who have a good balance between active and passive, are more engaged, more motivated and have greater sense of pride in their own achievements.

The best part – making it fun, enjoyable and family friendly.

Just like music, active participation, sport and healthy choices are a universal language. Anywhere in the world the joy of a football game, a walk along the beach or a shared healthy meal as a family is equally valuable as a life lesson for children. The most relevant educational tool for children is seeing parents engage in and share in their learning and activity. It must be remembered that it is not enough to merely educate our children about a healthy body and mind, but to live it with them also. Embedding healthy choices is always most effective when it is fun, and laughter is shared. It could be the Hokie Pokie on a wet and rainy day, a game of cricket at the park or a decision to put down the computer game in place of walking the dog, but each parenting and educational choice we foster is an opportunity to learn. Your children will not remember their tired feet, all the exercise they got or the ingredients in the meal, but they will recall that time with you as most important and as most valuable. Keeping it fun, family focused and friendly, and we are winning already!

Early childhood is a critical time to foster expectations and understandings as we work towards a healthy body and healthy mind attitude. The research, evidence and documentation points us in one simple direction here….just start early. If we are to have lifelong benefits, impacts and attitudinal changes in our children then these lessons are most effect and most maintained if started when our children are young. Early childhood settings that support parents to develop and promote these skills, play a fundamental role in partnering with families, as they build capacity, activity and an expectation of physical exercise into every day. Now back to my laundry and that pile of dirty sports gear that I am so grateful for……..

Just remember our five top tips

* Physical Activity is like a building block of health

* Establish fitness and exercise as a norm – not a novelty

* Develop a whole-body approach to health

* Take a healthy team and community approach

* The best part – make it fun, enjoyable and family friendly.

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