Written By: Jenne Parks
Publish Date: Jul 16, 2015
You are what you believe, and your beliefs are ingrained early. According to psychologist Dr. Abigail Brenner, behaviors are set in place, in fact programmed, very early in life by parents, peers, teachers, and other important figures in a child's life. Once "hard-wired" within our subconscious mind, these beliefs, behaviors, and attitudes become firmly entrenched and we operate based on the programs installed in early life.
It would make sense, then, that we want to ensure that we are programming healthy behaviors early on, and in a variety of ways. Physical Literacy is a new concept that affirms the belief that children need to understand how to move and feel confident in their bodies. Physical Literacy, already popular in Canada and the U.K., has been recognized in scientific journals and asserts that similar to the way children need core competencies in reading, writing and basic math in order to be successful in school, opportunities for physical activity are necessary for school success as well as a fulfilling social life.
In the same way that a child models speech, he also learns to move with confidence. According to sports psychologist Richard Monette, "Physical literacy is merely about developing the fundamental movement skills that all children need. These movement skills in turn give kids the confidence to participate in different physical activities, sports and games."
The National Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that the lack of physical activity in U.S. children and the resulting epidemic of childhood obesity is leading to a national health crisis. In 2012, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese. In a population-based sample of 5- to 17-year-olds, 70% of obese youth had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease. One study showed that children who became obese as early as age 2 were more likely to be obese as adults, which will put them at risk for health problems like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer and osteoarthritis.
The CDC adds that schools play a particularly critical role by establishing a safe and supportive environment with policies and practices that support healthy behaviors. Schools also provide opportunities for students to learn about and practice healthy eating and physical activity behaviors.
The early childhood classroom is an ideal environment to address Physical Literacy. In addition to opportunities for unstructured play outdoors, children can also learn about and model positive healthy behavior during structured Center Time play. Educational toys that show children under the age of five how to do simple exercises and create an imaginary fitness center make it easy for preschool teachers to set up a "Pretend Gym" in the Dramatic Play center.
Equating fitness with fun by encouraging children to imagine a gym environment helps them become more comfortable with their bodies. Setting up a Pretend Gym in the classroom familiarizes young children with the basic concepts of fitness that they need to be physically literate, fit and healthy - and have fun at the same time.
What are you doing in your classroom to encourage physical activity?