Ideas Exchange: "How Important Is Activity in Young Children (Preschool) to a Lifetime of Physical Activity?"

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Early exposure to physical activity is important to the development of healthy exercise habits and developing skills that allow for a lifetime of fitness. Advocates of physical education can easily argue for daily physical activity at the preschool level, citing positive effects of exercise such as: healthy bone, muscle, and joint development; reduction of fat, depression, and anxiety; lower blood pressure; and a higher capacity for learning. Moreover, educating children ages 3-5 of the value of physical activity can help combat negative influences on health, such as bad eating habits and sedentary lifestyle choices. All of this is supported by research and few would argue the need for daily physical activity at the preschool level. The question now is how to address implementing high quality physical activity at the preschool level.

Many advocates of quality preschool education would agree that offering daily time for structured movement would be beneficial to the development of healthy habits in the realm of physical activity. Unfortunately, this agreement rarely leads to action. Many teachers in preschool set tings have little-to-no training in quality physical education or simply do not understand the benefits of lifelong physical activity. This often leads to unstructured physical activity, or "free play," resulting in the implementation of games and activities of poor quality that do not help students develop foundational movement skills.

The disconnect between preschool and developing movement skills can be boiled down to two problems: accessibility and understanding. In order to build a bridge between preschool and effective physical activity, we must first address accessibility of quality theories and practices in movement education. AS experts and advocates of effective physical activity, we must offer preschool teachers and early childhood programs an understandable and simple, yet effective model to deliver quality physical activities. The Skill Theme Approach is the answer. This approach is an accessible, ready-to-deliver model of physical education that addresses the developmental needs of children through age and skill appropriate activities and games. It is a high quality, research supported curricular model that offers activities with specific, often word-for-word instruction that even a teacher not trained in physical education could utilize on a daily basis.

Many advocates of physical education would agree the earlier a person is encouraged to be physically active, the more likely it is that person will choose to be active for a lifetime. However, the question of quality must be addressed in order to ensure our children have the foundation of basic skills necessary to develop into lifelong movers.

Glenn Hushman

University of New Mexico

Albuquerque, NM

I remember attending a COAHPERD conference two years ago when Chris Strater spoke of the importance of physical activity for preschool children. As their bodies begin making neural connections with the brain and body, it opens up the pathways for the cognitive-type activities, such as reading and writing.

In my opinion, this isn't brain surgery, but just something people might have overlooked. However, the "a-ha" usually comes too late, when a teacher or adult is able to compare and see a child that isn't able to walk, skip or even roll correctly. That child is also likely to be having difficulty in the classroom, but it could have been corrected in preschool before the bad habits developed.

The solution, however, may not just be more funding to preschool physical education, but for us as physical educators to connect and advocate with preschool teachers in our community. Do yon know of a preschool in your neighborhood? Could you give them a call and even let them borrow some of your lessons or physical activities that your kindergartners do? …