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Preschool Education Articles

Make Sure Children Exercise Regularly

Brandon does the bunny hop twice and stops. He would rather watch the other children. Brandon is overweight.

Wendy has high cholesterol. Her provider can't believe that a child as young as Wendy could have this problem.

Juan never charges around the play yard with the other kids. He says he would rather watch.

Almost half of American children are not getting enough exercise to develop healthy hearts and lungs. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends more physical education programs at the preschool and primary level, and they'd like to see families promoting fitness at home.

Most of us believe that preschoolers are always active. Research has found, however, that children spend very little time exercising vigorously. Children who are overweight or inactive are the least likely to participate in vigorous exercise. These children are at special risk.

People who work with young children are usually more concerned about language development, science projects, and art than with developing large motor skills. Although providers often urge children to participate in indoor activities, outside time is often viewed as free play. Providers are apt to set up the slide or put out the tricycles and then stand by and watch. They rarely encourage the children to take part in gross motor activities, even though fitness is vital to good health.

Children imitate adult behavior, and children with active parents are usually active themselves. Providers can be good role models, too. Get involved in the activities you plan for them. If children see you running, jumping, climbing, dancing, and exercising, they will probably join in.

Build an activity plan for large-muscle physical activity, just as you would for art and science. Here are some ideas.
  • Help children do warm-up routines that include stretching, flexing, and balancing. Make sure the exercises you select are suitable for small children. Draw attention to their bodies. Get them to feel their muscles, enjoy their flexibility, and compare tight muscles with relaxed ones.
  • Present exercise in ways that will interest children. Plan active games, dancing, group exercises, and relay races.
  • Start with very brief activities so that overweight or inactive children can succeed.
  • Be sure that children participate on the playground, especially the ones who need it most.
  • Plan daily physical activities for providers and children to do together. Plan to jog or walk around the block once or twice before going to the playground. Or you could exercise to music each morning. Start slow and work up to 10 minutes.
  • Combine music and movement every day. Give children the chance to be a jet plane, a galloping horse, or a speeding train.
  • Set up obstacle courses designed for your age group.
  • Require children to take part in gross motor activities, just as you require them to wash their hands after using the toilet.

It's hard to break old habits, but you can help children get into the exercise habit early. This habit will pay off both now and later for providers, children, and their families.

Reprinted with permission from the National Network for Child Care - NNCC. Carlson, G. (1994). Make sure children exercise. In Todd, C.M. (Ed.), *Family child care connections*, 4(3), pp. 6-7. Urbana-Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service.

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