Structured physical activities are usually led by a qualified adult and include organized sports, guided play, and school PE programs. Structured activities are important throughout a person’s life, but they play an essential role in early childhood—from birth to about five years of age. These are very tender years for a child. What they learn at this early age lays the groundwork for their future cognitive, social, emotional, and physical skills. Let’s take a look at how structured physical activity benefits early childhood programs.
1. Structured activities encourage healthy behaviors to dispel childhood obesity.
Aside from our own research into the value physical activity plays in the lives of children under the age of 5, many other resources are coming up with similar findings. According to the CDC, over a third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese in 2010. Obesity puts kids at an immediate risk for cardiovascular disease, prediabetes, and bone and joint problems. In the long term, obese children are much more likely to be obese as adults, putting them at risk for a number of severe issues, including osteoarthritis, diabetes, heart disease, and various forms of cancer.
Structured activities go a long way to prevent excess weight and obesity. Studies show that obesity prevention programs in preschool are highly effective, particularly in areas of poverty. Participating in guided, controlled activities for just an hour a day burns calories, builds muscle, and encourages kids to maintain an active life.
While it may seem overboard, especially for toddlers, we can assure you it isn’t. Instilling healthy behaviors through structured activities at such an early age lays the foundation for a healthier society as a whole.
2. Structured physical activities develop motor skills, coordination, and movement at a young age.
Infants and toddlers are little balls of energy. They crawl, roll, kneel, creep up stairs, and eventually find themselves upright, taking their first tiny, stumbling steps. It’s no easy feat for an young child, but structured physical activity encourages movement and helps a child learn how his limbs and muscles can move in unison; in other words, the basics of coordination.
As their physical abilities develop, kids learn to use their hands more. Around the age of two, kids particularly enjoy finger play activities, like “The Itsy Bitsy Spider,” which assist in developing dexterity and hand-eye coordination. Other finger play exercises, like “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes,” allow children to touch and identify different body parts.
Even the most basic exercises and activities—throwing, catching, bouncing, or kicking a ball, for instance—help kids coordinate their movements.
Furthermore, structured activities pull developing babies away from products that inhibit free movement. According to Aid to Life, bouncers, walkers, and playpens significantly limit movement and force infants to move before they’re ready. As the saying goes, you have to crawl before you can walk.
To accommodate a toddler’s coordination, movement, and growing interest in navigating his space, try to accumulate at least 60 minutes of structured physical activity a day, which could involve simple games, going for a walk, or participating in a parent-child tumbling or dance class.
Examples of how our Early Childhood lesson plans help improve these skills include: Hoop It Up, Super Stunts and Have a Ball. Feel free to review our other sample lessons plans from our Early Childhood instructional unit.
3. Structured activity improves mood and self-esteem.
You know how great you feel after a run, thanks mainly to the production of endorphins, the good-feeling chemical that floods your body. The same happens to kids, but it’s not something they entirely need to understand. What they do understand is the fun and good times that come from engaging activities.
Structured physical activities reduce anxiety and depression and give children a healthy outlet for managing everyday stress. These ideas extend beyond childhood, well into adult life.
During structured activity, parents and adults also have the opportunity to address body image. We live in a world filled with false perceptions of body image, which builds an unhealthy ideal perfectionism and an overly critical sense of self, both of which are linked to depression and anxiety. Structured activities provide kids with a positive body image—personal and otherwise—which provides a greater sense of self, builds self-confidence, and gives them the emotional and social skills they need to cope with restrictive, highly skewed societal norms that define how a person “should look” in a healthy, positive manner.
As evidenced by this report by the American Academy of Pediatrics, playing with kids also reinforces the strong bonds they have with their parents and teachers, bonds that offer unwavering love and support. This supportive foundation helps kids develop resiliency, optimism, and the ability to bounce back from adversity, traits that are important for facing future challenges.