Always on the move?
A young child's expanding sense of initiative is often observed in their curiosity, exploration, and very active behaviour. Play is a natural component of a child's everyday life and assists the child to make sense of their world and learn about their bodies and movement capabilities. Children's activities typically incorporate vigorous physical components and are motivated by an innate drive to play. Therefore, it may be called a physically active play.
Promoting Physical Activity in Preschoolers
Accumulated evidence reinforces that physical activity has many health benefits and, furthermore, is an essential requirement of children's healthy growth and development. Behavioural habits, such as physical activity and sedentary behaviour (e.g., prolonged sitting and TV viewing), are formed in early childhood. An active lifestyle in childhood is the foundation for an active lifestyle later in life.
Despite the perception that preschool children are continuously active, previous studies in early childhood have drawn attention to the fact that levels of physical activity are typically low and sedentary behaviour high, and currently, many children do not achieve the standards proposed in global guidelines for daily physical activity.
Indeed, my study found Finnish 3-year-old children spent most of their time in sedentary–level activities, such as sitting, standing, and walking. The present sample of children was physically more active outdoors than indoors. For instance, plays with touching, riding, or pushing wheeled toys such as tricycles, scooters, and wagons showed higher physical activity levels.
Recently, there has been extensive discussion about the sedentary behaviour habits of adults and adolescents. However, the current study findings highlighted a lack of moderate to vigorous physical activity in young preschool children. Therefore, the following suggestions can be offered for increasing physical activity and decreasing sedentary time among preschool children:
- Throughout the year, preschool children should be allowed to play outdoors and encouraged to engage in high amounts of time in moderate to vigorous levels of physical activity activities and minimize the time spent sitting or engaging in sedentary activities.
- Early educators and parents should create environments that encourage children to be active physically, and family and childcare settings should have basic equipment (such as balls, sticks, and fixed playground equipment for climbing) for children's self-motivated activities.
- Positive prompting and encouragement by early educators and parents are needed to promote and further support physical activity engagement and to achieve the daily recommendations of physical activity in young children.
It remains important to continue to evaluate both how much and the type of activity in which children should engage to achieve a sufficient level of physical activity to support the attainment of genuine health benefits. Most importantly, all those involved in the domain of children's well-being need to maintain the current societal focus on how best to support children to be "always on the move"?
Physical activity is the right of every child!
The text is based on a Ph.D. Anne Soini's doctoral dissertation: "Always on the move? Measured physical activity of 3-year-old preschool children". Studies in sport, physical education and health 216. Permanent link to the item: http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-951-39-6029-2
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Anne Soini, PhD
University of Jyväskylä | Early Childhood Education