The statistics aren’t good.
Only 24 percent of American children between the ages of 6 and 17 get the physical activity recommended by the Centers for Disease Control. That means three-quarters of our children are not getting 60 minutes (or more) per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity and vigorous intensity physical activity at least three days per week.
Even more alarming is the fact that our children aren’t mastering fundamental movement skills (FMS). While children have the capacity to master these basic skills by age 10, studies have shown some children have not mastered them well into their middle school years.
“Fundamental movement skills have been described as the building blocks for developing higher level movement skills required for sports participation,” said Lauren Butler, Physical Therapy Supervisor at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami, and co-author of a recent study that examined how elementary school physical education instructors teach these basic skills.
“Think of them like we think of our ABC’s,” Butler said. “In order to achieve reading literacy we have to first learn our letters and their sounds. Then we start to combine sounds in the form of word blending which eventually leads to the ability to read and write. Physical Literacy is the same, we must first learn and master basic movement skills before we can learn higher level sport skills. For example, you must first learn how to throw before you can play baseball.”
Mastery of these skills requires a combination of direct instruction and practice. Butler’s research indicates that from early (grades 1-3) to later (grades 4-6) elementary physical education classes there is a significant decline in teaching these skills.
In the study, conducted with the PRiSM Injury Prevention Research Interest Group, 66 percent of phys ed instructors working with students in grades 1 to 3 taught fundamental movement skills, but that number declined to 42 percent by grades 4 to 6.
Nearly half of elementary phys ed instructors in the earliest grades used one-on-one training with their students, but only about a quarter of phys ed instructors in grades 4 to 6 reported providing any individualized instruction. This means a student who is falling behind is not getting the kind of remediation that could help them build the skills.
Why does this matter?
Because a failure to master fundamental motor skills can impact future participation in physical activity, basic health and weight control.
“PE is the most appropriate time for a child to receive FMS instruction and to be evaluated for proficiency,” Butler said. “Our study found that only 3.5 percent of elementary PE teachers reported using a formal assessment of FMS. And, given the financial cuts to PE across our nation as a whole, there may not be enough resources–both financial and time–to complete this type of assessment.”
Given the current trend for youth physical inactivity, more comprehensive FMS instruction may be needed throughout the elementary PE curriculum.
How is your child doing?
Keeping in mind that every child develops at their own pace, here are some basic guidelines for developmental milestones.
The skills below can be mastered by age 10. Some, including throwing, running and catching can be mastered roughly by age 6 or 7. The more advanced skills, such as skipping, jumping, kicking and striking, may not be fully mastered until age 9 or 10.
Most children should begin to be exposed to basic movement skills as early as 1 ½ years of age.
Fundamental movement skills fall into two categories: Locomotor Skills and Object Control Skills.
Locomotor Skills include:
Object Control Skills:
- underhand rolling
Introduce your child to a range of physical activities and offer exposure to different sports, games and activities to promote a healthy, active lifestyle.
A new appreciation for physical education opportunities
When we get through this Covid-19 period, perhaps we can take a deeper look at our children’s physical activity and youth sports. School districts will eventually be assessing programs and budgets that have been impacted by the coronavirus. Let’s hope they recognize this as an opportunity to reinforce the value of school sports.
“My hope is that we enhance funding for physical education, as this is the primary way that all kids–independent of financial status–access physical activity and sport,” Butler said. “Large travel club leagues tend to cost a pretty penny. Many parents post-coronavirus will have financial constraints, but that shouldn’t mean their child’s participation in sports will need to be sacrificed.”
This time at home is an opportunity for all involved in youth sports to reconnect with the important things such as health, wellness, and family. We have an opportunity to improve children’s health and fitness in a post-Covid era through emphasis on training NOT competition, fun NOT winning, diversification NOT single sport specialization, all-inclusion NOT all-star identification.
If there is any silver lining to this horrible pandemic, it’s that we have a chance to correct what was going wrong in youth sports and fitness. We can fix these problems, so let’s collaborate and help our future generations stay healthy and happy through fitness.
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