By: Kristine Hayward
Running, skipping, jumping, throwing a ball; all these things should come naturally when you're a kid, right?
Well, maybe not so much anymore.
Children used to spend hours outside, playing leapfrog, rolling down hills, playing catch at the playground or skating at the local community club rink.
By being active, they learned the basic skills that allowed them to participate in more complex sports and activities as they grew older. A kid who learns to catch a ball at age four or five will be able to play pick-up baseball when they are six or seven. A kid who learns how to skate when they are young can participate in a variety of sports and activities that involve skating.
But times have changed.
Today, fewer children possess the fundamental skills that kids used to develop naturally through active play. In other words, with the loss of free play opportunities, our kids are less physically literate.
This poses a serious problem because if kids lack the fundamental physical skills, they are less likely to participate in sports and other physical activities as they grow up. And that means they will not be as active as they need to be to maintain good health.
Dean Kriellaars, a professor at the University of Manitoba's School of Medical Rehabilitation, is an expert in the emerging field of physical literacy. He says parents need to be made aware of the growing problem of physical illiteracy, and what they can do to reverse the trend.
"Physical activity is the key to good health. Unless parents take more of an interest in this issue, the generation growing up today are going to experience a lot of health problems that could be avoided simply by being more active," he says.
The 2013 Active Healthy Kids Canada report serves as evidence of the problem. It cites a 2012 survey that found that although 58 per cent of Canadian parents walked to school when they were kids, only 28 per cent of their children walk to school today. In just one decade (2000 to 2010), the proportion of five- to 17-year-olds using only inactive modes of transportation (bus, train or car) to get to and from school has increased to 62 per cent from 51 per cent.
The time spent driving to and from places, along with the time spent in front of the computer and playing video games, all add up to the fact only five per cent of Canadian kids meet the physical activity guidelines of 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per day.
"Exploring the world in a physical way is critical to the process, from learning what does and does not work, to attempts at movement, to learning spatial awareness to confidence and creativity in movement," says Kriellaars, adding a life-long attitude toward fitness starts early, often between Grades 3 and 6.
You're probably thinking your children are learning these skills in school, the same way they learn their ABCs. They are! But just like reading and writing, families and communities need to support the skills learned at school. This is done by providing opportunities to practise and master fundamental movement skills outside school hours.
The good news is efforts are underway to make our kids more physically literate. Community programs are focusing more on skill development. And neighbourhoods are being redesigned to support better physical activity.
Kriellaars is the first to admit there are no easy fixes to the problem. But if parents start learning more about the problem, they will be able to take steps to fix it.
Kristine Hayward is a physical activity promotion co-ordinator with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.
HERE are some ways you can help your child become more physically literate:
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 27, 2013 A27