Are your preschoolers physically active? Do they ‘run around’ using up their energy in active play? Or does your preschooler sit in front of a screen more than he or she should? It may seem a bit much for us to be pointing this out so early in a child’s life, but the truth is, habits established at a young age are more likely to ‘stick’ as the child grows up. So making sure your preschooler is active really does matter.
For children aged three to five years, daily physical activity is essential for their growth and development. Fortunately, kids this age typically love being active, even if they don’t call it that. They also love to have conversations with others, both real and imaginary. They want to be engaged in the world around them. They want to be seen as cooperative, which makes them engaging to be with. And fun!
Four year-olds are at a perfect age to learn and develop skills such as following road safety rules and healthy lifestyle routines. Of course, they still need adult supervision for most activities, but they are usually ready, full of energy and have an exuberance to try new things.
We need to remember how much children learn from the people around them. Parents and family members teach the younger ones all manner of life lessons, both good and bad, so it pays to be aware of your own habits. It helps to instill good practices by involving your preschooler in events as they occur. You may have seen a flock of birds before but has your toddler? There are many ‘teachable moments’ every day that you can share with your toddler. For example, you could ask, “Why are all those birds flying together?”
Research shows that children of this age should have at least two hours of physical activity every day (yes, 120 minutes). Of this, 60 minutes should be structured play and the balance unstructured activity. Unfortunately, cutting into this crucial development time is increasing time in front of screens including television, computers and even smartphones and tablets. Can we wonder why obesity is more of a problem now earlier than ever?
Structured play is intentional and requires adult planning, for example, outings and field trips. These provide opportunities to teach preschoolers about their community. There are many organized programs for children and families. Find out by calling the new “211” information service to find out about community, social or government services. This service is also available online
Unstructured play can take place in the house — preschoolers can help to tidy up toys or participate in various other activities. And it can happen outside: going for ‘walks and talks’ on trails or neighbourhood streets offer good practical learning times. It’s not only for the child — the adult also benefits from the physical activity.
Keep things simple for preschoolers. They like to run, climb, jump, to balance on one foot and myriad other ‘odd’ things. This leads to tip number two: keep it fun. Preschoolers learn through play and can develop the motivation to stay active and engage with others at the same time. If you have questions about child development generally, or if at any age your child experiences a noticeable loss of skills they once had, talk to your physician or local Public Health Nurse.
Written by Dr. Paul Martiquet, Medical Health Officer for Rural Vancouver Coastal Health including Powell River, the Sunshine Coast, Sea-to-Sky, Bella Bella and Bella Coola.