Articles
Active Play: Participate Instead of Spectate

 

As I watched a boy glide on his “Heelys” shoes next to his dad, it occurred to me that the boy was probably using fewer muscles and burning fewer calories than if he walked quickly to keep up with his dad. The amount of physical activity that children get has diminished over the last few decades. A Canadian study found that over the last 15 years children’s physical activity has dropped 40%. The Surgeon General advocates an hour of physical activity a day, while in 2003 a study by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of 3rd graders at 10 U.S. sites found that they were getting only 25 minutes of physical activity a week while they were at school. That leaves parents and caregivers a mandate to keep kids physically active after the school day ends. After school time is often filled with homework as well as the lure of computer, TV, and videogame screen time.

Physical play is a developmental need of children. Children learn by playing and actively exploring their environment. Play helps children master basic body awareness, control, and the motor planning necessary to accomplish a task or action. Children learn in a very hands-on, experiential way. They experience the world using their senses, collecting information on how things look, feel, smell, and taste. Children need to play in order to develop the capacity to learn and grow into healthy individuals.

Promoting active play within children’s daily routines also builds the foundation for an active lifestyle. Active adults have healthier lifestyles. Set a good example for your children by making physical activity a priority.
Gymnastics is an excellent foundation for physical activity and any sport because it builds strength and flexibility of the whole body. Motion is also an integral part of gymnastics, since moving the body through space, also known as motor planning, happens at each apparatus. In gymnastics classes, kids practice balance, jumping, running, and learn how to control their body. Body awareness is an essential part of tumbling skills.

A philanthropist in New York City is building an extensive playground, which will have staff to assist children in “playing.” Some of the public reactions have been that since play should be imaginative and free, “staff” definitely should not guide it. However in our technological society, outdoor physical play does not come naturally to all kids. Television, computers and video games are powerful influences that pull children away from active play. A reality of today is that kids rarely have the opportunity to wander freely to explore their surroundings. We need to acknowledge that, make opportunities for free play, and coax reluctant kids in “playground skills.” Pre-school gymnastics classes teach playground skills.

Active kids have a good start on becoming active, fit, and healthy adults. Build physical activity into daily routines and make it fun. Active play is invigorating, mood enhancing, and contagious. Children who are comfortable navigating a playground are fun to be with, cheerful, and viewed as outgoing. So get up off the couch, participate instead of spectate, and reap the benefits of physical activity.