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Everyone knows the value of physical education and fitness for adults, but how many know the benefits of physical education for young children? After all, how many mothers plan daily fitness routines for their infants?
Well, according to a Dr. Brown, pediatrician, “In a culture of decreased exercise and increased junk food consumption, American children are facing an epidemic of obese and overweight concerns resulting in severe health issues.” Considering the rising rate of obesity in children and adults, finding out how to be physically fit benefits everyone.
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Let us examine the advantages of introducing physical education and fitness in early childhood. Physical education and fitness leads to:
- Develops balance and coordination, and exercises large muscle groups and gross motor skills (necessary for walking, holding up the head, and other related skills)
- Encourages small motor development (important for hand writing and dexterity)
- Ensures future health and decrease risk of serious illness
- Sets the foundation for cognitive, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills
- Helps children verbalize emotions and feelings without the need for language skills
- Encourages children to move and explore their world in a variety of ways
- Helps combat childhood obesity and maintain appropriate body weight
By teaching children about fitness (physical education), the foundation is put in place to start them on a path of lifetime fitness.
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The Benefits of Physical Education
Physical education is the process of learning about physical fitness and health, as well as imparting that knowledge to others. As parents, there is a responsibility to model the behavior expected of children; parents have the opportunity to help young children develop healthy habits for a lifetime. While children receive physical education at school, early childhood introduction to the basics is invaluable.
Here are a few of the benefits of physical education:
- It creates a bond between parents and children. Learning together is fun.
- Parents can monitor children's progress in regard to developmental milestones and seek appropriate help if they detect problems.
- It prepares children to take responsibility in the future for their health.
- It allows parents to be proactive in protecting their children's wellness.
Imparting physical education to children is vital to overcome the trend of childhood obesity.
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Physical Fitness Guidelines for Young Children
The National Association for Sports and Physical Fitness (NASPE) is proactive in encouraging movement and physical education from birth through adulthood. Their position statement reads: “All children from birth to age 5 should engage daily in physical activity that promotes movement skillfulness and foundations of health-related fitness.”
Here are the NASPE guidelines for children up to five years of age.
Infants should have the opportunity to move or interact for several short periods daily. Hanging a mobile in the crib - babies reach for the bright objects - or playing music is an excellent way to encourage babies to wave their arms. Place them on their tummies for a short period and let them kick and move, but be sure to put them on their backs when it is time to sleep.
Toddlers need structured and unstructured physical movement opportunities. Aim for 30 minutes of supervised activity combined with 60 minutes of free play, and try not to let them sit for longer than one hour at a time unless they are asleep. Keep it simple - put on some peppy music and invite them to join you in moving to the beat.
Preschoolers should have 60 minutes daily of guided movement activities, and a minimum of 60 minutes to hours of unstructured free play time. As with toddlers, try to limit sitting activities, like watching television or movies, to 60-minute durations.
Since most preschoolers are happiest when they are in motion, simply joining them in play or movement may provide the necessary activity level. An important part of physical education is to train by example, so be an appropriate role model for kids.
Now that you know the benefits of physical education for young children, why not put the kids in the car and head for the nearest playground for a short lesson? Everyone’s health will be improved, and you may just be giving them the extra incentive to follow a lifetime of physical fitness and health by teaching them why fitness is important.
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The Emporia Gazette, “Childhood Obesity Concerns,” Brown, D. J., M.D., 01/2010, accessed 06/30/2010
University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, “Follow My Lead,”accessed 06/30/2010”