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Developing an active child

Developing an active child

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Lizette van Huyssteen
Developing an active child 


Lizette van Huyssteen founded the Practica Programme in 1993 and she has been a source of information and inspiration to many thousands of parents ever since.

Monday, September 3rd, 2018

Episode 3 - Part 1

Episode 3 - Part 2

The three-to-six-year window of opportunity

Most people have never heard of ‘physical literacy’.

That’s why, when most parents decide to do what they can to raise an active child, they tend to only think of ideas for things that they can do to help kids get fit, as opposed to being sedentary, sitting on a couch watching cartoons and eating snacks. And when they encourage their children to play outside, they do it as a way of getting them away from technology and into the garden where they can get fresh air and burn some calories.

In fact, even the most supportive parents in our country are often largely uninformed about how important the three-to-six-year period is for preparing their children’s physical abilities and everything that can be done during this crucial period in their children’s lives to refine their basic movement skills and build their confidence. The good news is that there is a whole array of very specific things that can be done to build a child’s confidence and get him ready and excited to enter into the sports arena when he is between seven and eight years old – and it’s not very difficult at all!

Genetic programming drives physical development in babies and toddlers.
Right from birth, children’s language and thinking skills are almost entirely shaped by what their parents do or don’t do for them. For example, if nobody speaks to a child during the first years of his life, he simply will not develop any language skills.

Physical skills, on the other hand, develop pretty much on their own during the first two years. If parents give babies enough freedom to move around, food, love and a safe environment, they will learn to sit, pull themselves up against furniture, walk and bend over to pick things up from the floor. The parents won’t remember doing anything specific to train or teach them.

However, after the third birthday, physical development is no longer on autopilot.
The problem is that most parents are so used to seeing their children’s physical skills appear as out of nowhere during the first years of life, that they don’t realise that once the children are around three years old, things no longer happen automatically.

Children who are between three and six years old definitely need their parents to encourage and teach them, or else they won’t refine the basic movement skills that developed when they were babies and toddlers.

If they don’t get the opportunity and guidance they need to practise important movement patterns to the point where these patterns mature and become automated for them, they won’t grow into truly competent movers and they won’t be excited about entering into the sports arena in primary school.

At the age of six, children who have received more parental input are far more competent.
If you look at a group of three-year-olds on the playground, you’ll notice only slight differences in the way they move, how confident they are and how much they enjoy themselves – but look at that same group three years later when they’re six years old. Some of them will be much stronger, fitter, more agile, better coordinated and much more confident than others. Coaches refer to such children as ‘competent movers’.

The other children assume their lack of competency is caused by a lack of talent.
The problem is that the children who didn’t get the same level of support see what their friends can do and expect to also be able to do it and they get disheartened when they cannot compete and keep up. What they don’t understand is that their friends and those friends’ parents have invested a great deal of time and effort over a number of years into learning and perfecting their skills.

The clumsier children look at the competent movers and think: “I’m clearly not as naturally talented as them. I’m simply not an athlete. The sport scene is not for me,” and they regard those thoughts as facts.

Parental involvement is crucial during this period.
The key to making sure that your child won’t end up sitting on the sidelines by the time he is older is for you as the parent to be as proactive as you can when he is younger. There are many games we can play with our children to help them develop physically so that they will be competent, confident and excited about their abilities when they go to primary school.

Some of the games focus on developing strength, agility, coordination, speed and balance, so that a child can feel ready and able to compete. Others are aimed at helping a child feel more comfortable in his body, have good timing, get a good sense of direction and position, develop the ability to coordinate the two sides of his body, use a dominant eye, hand and foot and navigate himself in space.

And then of course there are games that focus on teaching and refining the fundamental movement skills, such as leaping, jumping, catching a ball, kicking a ball and so on. Learning to do these things is important, because they are the basic building blocks of all of the sport-specific skills that a person needs to master for entry into any kind of sport. By teaching these skills early on and developing them to a mature level between three and six years of age, you can make it very easy for your son or daughter to slip into the sporting world during their early years in primary school.

The key to helping your child reach his fullest potential is to do the right things in the right order, offer feedback and guidance, practise, practise, practise and have fun! You can google ‘how to develop movement skills’ or ‘the fundamental movement skills’ in the interim if you’d like, but I believe you’ll be happy to learn that we’re planning to share more information on these topics soon. So keep your eyes peeled!

As parents, we all make sacrifices to work and earn money to provide a good life for our children, but ultimately it’s the time that we invest in them that will direct the course of their lives for ever.

The ABCs of raising a competent mover
The three-to-six-year period offers a golden opportunity for building confidence.
Children who are competent movers by the time they enter primary school feel confident, hopeful and excited about learning to play ‘real sports’. On the other hand, if a child feels clumsy and hesitant at the same age, he would typically avoid movement and won’t actively pursue taking part in playing games or climbing the monkey bars.

It’s about preparing body and mind.
What’s more, researchers say that over and above a child’s actual physical abilities, there are also three psychological factors that can make or break his performance:

1. His level of self-consciousness: The less self-conscious a child is, the easier it is for him to be daring and act confidently.
2. A child who believes he is talented and that other people will be impressed by his abilities are more eager to participate and ends up practising more.
3. Children try harder and shine brighter when their parents are interested and excited about their performance.

It’s very difficult to backtrack after eight years of age.
Unfortunately, children become more self-conscious as they grow older and once a child has realised that other children have skills that he hasn’t yet mastered and has decided for himself that he is not naturally talented, it’s very difficult to motivate him – so difficult, in fact, that trainers have a term for the obstacle that this situation creates. They refer to it as ‘the sports skill proficiency barrier’.

Ironically, all of this can be prevented with fun and games.
The irony of the matter is that all of the important building blocks of future athletic performance can easily be developed by playing easy and very affordable games. These games can be played at home with parents, at no extra cost.

In fact, up to a generation ago, children used to develop these skills at home. They learned fundamental movement skills through free play, and it was reinforced in physical education classes at preschool and later at school. However, outdoor free play has almost disappeared and physical education has been scaled down in schools. Children now spend more time indoors and when they do something that involves movement, it’s usually to play an organised game or to practise for a sport.

The problem with sports practice is that it’s not age-appropriate for three- to six-year-olds.
Classes aimed at developing general sports skills in toddlers and preschoolers are ideal, but when children take up one specific kind of sport, they spend much time waiting their turn during practice. Also, since every sport requires certain sport-specific movement patterns, they don’t get to practise the full range of fundamental movement skills that they need to be confidently prepared for playing any sport.

That is why there is a growing concern that modern-day children are getting less and less of what they need to develop vital skills and become competent movers. It will be extremely valuable if coaches, who may have a special interest in developing sports skills in children who are in this age group, would share whatever knowledge they have with the parents of young children – especially with those who don’t have easy access to quality training programmes. Every parent in South Africa should know how to play focused games at home to ensure that their children are competent movers by the time they enter primary school.

The good news is that you need only three kinds of games and you may have many of them up your sleeve already!
We’ve listed a comprehensive variety of activities for parents to play in the parents guides that are included in the Practica Programme, but many South Africans aren’t financially in the position to invest in one of our kits. So in order to help more parents, we’re saying that it’s not that difficult. The good news is that you need only three kinds of games. We call them A, B and C games. And, who knows, when you know how to spot an A, B or C game, you may look at games that you played as a child or that you’ve come across in your life and realise that it is valuable for training foundational sports skills.

A games are aimed at developing a strong athlete.
Think of the capital letter A and imagine it being a stick figure with its legs planted wide apart, standing strong. The A represents being a strong athlete. In other words, the games you need to include in your home training programme need to be focused on developing everything that you associate with a boxer or rugby player on his way to score a try. What does he look like? He is strong, agile and fast, and he has impressive coordination and balancing skills.

B games help children understand their bodies better.
Think ‘B for body’ to remember what B games stand for. In case you were wondering why these games are important, let me explain. Babies come into the world without an understanding of where their bodies end and the outside world begins. What’s more, it takes them no less than five to six years to figure out all they need to know about their own bodies. And as they do, they also learn a great deal about other things.

The crux of the matter is that young children are designed to learn, slowly but surely, from what their eyes, ears, skin and muscles tell them as they move and explore, to tune into their own bodies and into their surroundings in four ways:

1. They learn about their body parts. This basically involves discovering where different body parts are, what the different ones can do and how they feel when they do these things. (This is called ‘body awareness’.)
2. They learn about position, distance and speed by first learning to understand how much space their bodies occupy, how to use their bodies in the space that is available to them and how their bodies take on different shapes as they assume different positions. (This is called ‘spatial awareness’.)
3. They learn about the direction of movement by sensing the left and right sides of their own body, and using that inner sense of direction to make sense of all the other directions in which their bodies, and objects around them, can move. (This is called ‘directional awareness’.)
4. They learn about how their bodies can move in relation to rhythm and time, and so also develop a deeper understanding of how sequences are put together. (

  1. They learn about their body parts. This basically involves discovering where different body parts are, what the different ones can do and how they feel when they do these things. (This is called ‘body awareness’.)
  2. They learn about position, distance and speed by first learning to understand how much space their bodies occupy, how to use their bodies in the space that is available to them and how their bodies take on different shapes as they assume different positions. (This is called ‘spatial awareness’.)
  3. They learn about the direction of movement by sensing the left and right sides of their own body, and using that inner sense of direction to make sense of all the other directions in which their bodies, and objects around them, can move. (This is called ‘directional awareness’.)
  4. They learn about how their bodies can move in relation to rhythm and time, and so also develop a deeper understanding of how sequences are put together. (This is called ‘temporal awareness’.)


C games help children to develop a movement vocabulary.
To remember wat the C stands for, imagine rotating a capital letter C to the left to form a bowl. Now think of all the different ‘moves’ or fundamental movement skills that children of this age can learn to prepare them for sports. Think of typical skills such as catching, throwing and kicking a ball, jumping, leaping forward, skipping – that kind of thing. Then see yourself adding those movement skills to the bowl one by one. That is you building your child’s movement vocabulary. You are adding skills to your child’s repertoire.

Parents who know better, do better.
Knowing about A, B and C games is empowering, because with this as a starting point, parents can sit down and make a list of various activities they can think of that can be categorised as either A, B or C games. They can even ask friends, coaches that they know or friends who are teachers for advice.

What’s more, when you know what you need, it’s easy to spot possible opportunities for getting those needs met. A parent who knows about A, B and C games may pass a flight of stairs in the neighbourhood and think: “I can use that to play an A game with my child. Going up and down on that can build strength and develop balance and coordination.” Or when a mommy sits in front of a mirror with her child next to her, she may think of B games and ask him to point to his body parts. A parent may be driving their car, think of B games and encourage his child to clap to the beat of the music playing on the car radio to help develop his ability to move in relation to time.

For free examples of games, you can visit the Practica Programme’s website at www.practica.co.za.

Thinking in terms of A, B and C games makes playing more exciting for parents.

At the Practica Programme, we’ve learned over many years of working with parents who love to play with their children to build skills that any parent can be motivated and have fun with skill-building games when he or she understands what the individual games are supposed to do for a child.

So, there you go. Let’s think in terms of ABC and get moving.

This article was written by Lizette van Huyssteen. She founded the Practica Programme in 1993 and has been heading up the Practica Advisory Service since then. You can learn more at www.practica.co.za.

*IMPORTANT NOTICE. A-well balanced diet, both during pregnancy and after delivery, helps sustain an adequate supply of breastmilk. Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended during the first 6 months of life followed by the introduction of adequate nutritious complementary foods, along with sustained breastfeeding up to two years of age and beyond.

“NANKID® 4” is not a breast-milk substitute. As babies grow at different rates; seek advice with your health professionals on the appropriate time when your baby should start receiving this product.

 

 

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