Exercise is considered an activity that enhances or maintains physical fitness and overall health and wellness. In order to successfully participate in these activities, fundamental movement skills are required. Without them, exercise for kids can be a frustrating experience. If kids don’t enjoy exercise now, they will most likely not enjoy it as adults. By understanding fundamental movement skills, parents, teachers and coaches can ensure kids engage in physical activities that are suitable for their current stage of development, which is more likely to result in ongoing adult participation.
Fundamental Movement Skills
There are 12 fundamental movement skills that form the basis for successful participation in all physical activities and sports. Each of these needs to be mastered for a child to become completely physically literate:
- Log roll
- Stork stand
- Overarm throw
- Sidearm strike
Although children learn and mature at different rates, almost all children learn their fundamental movement skills in the same sequence and go through the same phases:
Phase #1: Not yet ready to learn the skill
As a child grows and matures nerve cells make more connections as the muscles of the body are getting stronger. The brain needs to be mature enough and the muscles need to get strong enough before a child can learn a particular skill effectively. Trying to teach the child at this point does little good. What is important at this time is providing the child with as many opportunities to explore a wide range (and variety) of movements in an environment that is both safe and challenging.
Phase #2: Ready to learn the skill
As a child matures, there is a certain point where the muscles and nerves have developed enough that they can perform a particular skill. It’s at this point (the readiness factor) that they can effectively learn the skill. As the skill begins to emerge naturally, learning can be dramatically improved through opportunities for fun practice using lots of different equipment and materials. Giving the child some simple instruction and lots of practice can help the child develop confidence that stays with them for life – even though this may not speed up the learning process.
Phase #3: Optimum time to learn the skill
For every emerging skill there is an ideal time for the child to learn. At this time, helping the child through simple instruction and practice can improve learning. Although the best time to teach a particular skill to an individual child varies, there is great consistency in the sequence in which children learn skills.
Phase #4: Time for remedial work
If a child goes too long without learning a skill, learning it may become more difficult. However, the sooner the child starts to overcome the learning deficit, the easier it will be for them to catch up. Developing the skill and confidence needed to be fully active with their friends and peers is ultimately the goal.
Exercise for Kids and Missing Out on Physical Literacy
A child who misses out on developing physical literacy is at a great disadvantage. On the playground and in the park, children really like to play with other children at the same skill level, who can keep group games and activities going. If a child has shown that he/she can’t keep up, they typically won’t be asked to join in. Missing out on fundamental movement skills (FMS) also means that the child is unlikely to choose to take part in formal sporting activity that requires proficiency in that skill. This ultimately restricts their choice of life-long health-promoting activities and restricts their opportunities for sporting excellence. Being unable to perform even a single fundamental movement skill can seriously restrict later opportunities for recreational or competitive activity. For example, if a child can’t run they won’t take part in soccer, basketball, track and field, football or tennis.
Parents, teachers and coaches need to understand the importance of providing kids with opportunities to have positive experiences with movement skills and to provide a supportive environment to succeed.
Coming Up Next …
The next article in the series will outline how children and youth, at various stages of development, learn fundamental motor skills and the challenges associated with early or late physical development.