It's undeniable: kids need exercise, and they need fresh air. And it's September! Which means, here in Texas, we know that soon...okay, soonish...okay in a few months...it will cool off! And in the north, it means that warm weather hasn't completely given way to snow...yet (hopefully...?) So take advantage of the autumn and get outside with your kids!
I belong to MOPS: Mothers of PreSchoolers (which I praised in this post), and at a recent meeting our speaker was Nell F. Bush, Ph.D, mother of 4 and university professor. Her talk was "Positively Parenting Your Preschooler," and she emphasized the importance of children's physical development. For young children, having time to develop their gross motor skills is just as important as developing their fine motor skills. LOTS of FREE play outside is good exercise for them, and helps build their muscle tone and coordination. During this outdoor play, a child's central nervous system is actually making the connections they will need when they're older, sitting still and learning math concepts!
Sometimes our children seem to have so much energy to burn off, and show early interest in sports, that we think an organized sports activity will be good for them. We think they'll be more coordinated, more disciplined, more socialized, more whatever, if we sign them up for a sports team. However, Nell Bush pointed out that sports for children has become a money-making industry. Now that I think about it, that makes sense: just because the amount of sports and teams available has risen since I was a child doesn't necessarily mean it's because we've discovered how much it benefits children; it's because people figured out that parents would pay for it. In organized sports, a child must spend more time not moving than if you were to go to the nearest park. For an organized sport, the child may have to sit in a car seat on the way there, and back, be still while listening to directions, and be still again while taking turns practicing a skill. According to Professor Bush, in such a structured environment, the child is actually making fewer neural connections than if they were to be running free and using their imagination. She also pointed out how having too many structured activities can set yourself up for more discipline issues: "I don't want to go to soccer, I'm playing!" or "I don't want to wait my turn!" etc. (She did concede, however, that swimming and gymnastics are two sports which do tap more into a whole-body experience in which the child can engage with their environment. Also, it's certainly not wrong to put your toddlers and young children in structured athletics, but keep your expectations low and enjoy the practices and games as opportunities to be outside.)
And let's face it: most of our children won't grow up to be pros. If a child has had plenty of time to freely develop their gross motor skills, then in early or even later elementary and beyond, it can take a child less than an hour to catch up with the skills it takes to play most team sports. Did you know, Michael Jordan didn't start playing basketball formally until high school? So, get those kids outside!
I feel strongly about this subject, and I've written two other related posts:
Old-Fashioned Friday: 3 Hours Outside?
How Much Time Outside?