Early Childhood Physical Education: Providing the Foundation

Article excerpt

Preschool educators must provide children with developmentally appropriate motor skill instruction in an effort to build a foundation for successful participation in later childhood and adult physical activities.

A developmentally appropriate curriculum for preschool children provides experiences which encourage development in the psychomotor, affective, and cognitive areas. If any of these areas has been neglected in the past, it is perhaps the psychomotor area. Historically, early childhood educational programs have focused more on academic readiness skills and less on motor skill instruction. Psychomotor goals have been addressed by providing learning centers with gender stereotypical play equipment (e.g., kitchens, dolls, fire trucks, tools), sandboxes, and swings. Recently, however, many positive changes have been taking place in preschools throughout the nation as a result of the efforts of several professional organizations.

Among the recommendations proposed by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (Bredekamp, 1987), the Council on Physical Education for Children (COPEC) (1994), and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (1992) is to provide physical education for students enrolled in preschool programs. This recommendation is based in part on the assumptions that school physical education assures a minimum amount of physical activity for children and that it encourages continued physical activity beyond the school years. It is based also on the evidence that physical activity is essential for children to develop an understanding of the movement concepts and to refine skills such as striking, jumping, and balancing (Bredekamp, 1987; COPEC, 1994).

Perhaps more convincing is the evidence suggesting that school physical education programs for young children can have a significant, positive effect on children's fundamental motor skill performances (Ignico, 1992a, 1992b) and health-related fitness (Ignico, 1990). In two studies, I found that preschool children who received a 10-week motor skill instructional program showed significant improvement in fundamental motor skills as measured by the Test of Gross Motor Development (Ignico, 1992a, 1992b). In my study examining fitness levels of children enrolled in daily and weekly physical education programs (1990), I reported that children enrolled in daily physical education programs obtained a sufficient amount of moderate to vigorous physical activity to achieve Physical Best fitness standards. Furthermore, these children performed significantly better on tests of health-related fitness than children enrolled in twice-weekly physical education programs.

COPEC recommends that preschool children receive daily instruction in fundamental motor skills, movement concepts, and activities which are designed to help them understand and value the basic concepts of fitness (1994). There is considerable support, therefore, for the inclusion of fundamental motor skill instruction and daily gross motor activities in every preschool program.

Fundamental Motor Skills and Movement Concepts

The content of physical education in preschool programs consists of both fundamental motor skills and movement concepts. Motor skills are the "action verbs" and movement concepts are the "modifiers." In other words, motor skills are the movements (e.g., hop, kick, throw) and movement concepts provide the how, where, with whom, or with what a movement will be performed (Gallahue, 1993; Graham, Holt-Hale, & Parker, 1993; Sanders, 1992). Fundamental motor skills are commonly classified into three categories: locomotor, manipulative, and stability. The three categories of movement concepts are space, effort, and relationships.

Children are ready to begin learning these basic motor skills and movement concepts by age three or four (Gallahue, 1989; Sanders, 1992). Complex skills required for participation in most games and sports are comprised of adaptations, combinations, and refinements of these fundamental movement skills. …