Children need more exercise.  

This was the finding of a University College London study which monitored the physical activity levels of 6500 children, and found that only 51% of them were engaging in the recommended 60 minutes per day.

What are the main culprits?

  • ‘Academic’ time – time spent sitting to learn and work –  is being favoured over physical activity or free play time at school
  • Screen time – worldwide most children are spending 2+ hours per day engaged in some kind of sedentary screen time
  • Safety concerns – our children are not nearly as free to play outside, in parks, in the street, going between friends houses as we were as children 20 or 30 years ago
  • Too much information – the more we learn about what can go wrong, the more we protect our children!  We tend to be far more protective of our children than our parents were of us, stopping them from engaging in so many physical activities that they would otherwise experiment with.

So how can we get our modern kids to move enough?

  • Teach life skills first.  Children under 8 should not be trying to master sports skills before they have the essential, most fundamental movement skills in place first.  Young children need to understand that exercise and sport are not the same thing.  And, they need to feel great about what their body is capable of, not worry about whether they’re going to be chosen to play based on their abilities, or whether they’ll be the first to go out first in a skill-based game.
  • Class activities.  There’s SO MUCH that teachers can do in the classroom!  Teachers can no longer deny the link between physical activity and learning, and I challenge every teacher to bring movement into their lessons every day.  Exercise improves reading, writing, maths, language skills, memory skills, social regulation, concentration, behavioural issues, and the list goes on.
  • Free play.  Children desperately need free play time to help them organise, regulate, integrate new skills, practice, experiment, build confidence and so much more.  Whilst we as adults often tend to see free play time as being unproductive (which isn’t true, that’s just our perception), for children it’s an essential time of growth and development.
  • Leisure and sport.  I believe that having fun, connecting with others, being a part of something bigger than yourself, and feeling good about yourself, are far more important than performance in sport for children aged 8 to 12.  Also, children need to understand that sport isn’t the only way to exercise – there are so many leisure pursuits that can add to your weekly movement ‘diet’, and that will have so many short and long term benefits for your child.

Most importantly, remember that your children learn so much more from watching you than from anything you can teach them.  By living a healthy, active lifestyle yourself, your children will experience first hand what it means to keep physical activity in their lives every day.

Simon McQueen

Simon McQueen is the founder and creator of Fit Kids, a fundamental movement program of the highest quality. He currently lives in Cape Town, South Africa, where he spends his days building Fit Kids and running the best nipper club in the country on the beach where he grew up - Fish Hoek Surf Lifesaving Club.

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