Kids' First Years

Hey Parents with Young Children: Movement Matters!

This Fitness Cube in four languages from Move2Learn is a fun tool to inspire movement. (Photo: KFY)

By Michelle Smith Howard, President and CEO, Kids’ First Years

Alexandria, VA – Activity and movement help young children make sense of their world. Also, it creates a strong foundation for a healthy lifestyle as they grow. Here at Kids’ First Years, we wanted to kick off the new year with some insights about how movement helps young children thrive.

During the years from birth to age five, the development and mastery of gross motor skills impacts a child’s ability to learn. Basic gross motor skills include sitting, standing, walking, running and jumping – all of which are essential elements of early childhood development.

“Everything in the body of a growing child is interconnected, from the gross motor skills to the fine motor skills to speech,” says Dr. Jennifer Browne, a physical therapist in the Office of Specialized Instruction with Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS). She works with the city’s youngest students in eight ACPS schools.

“It’s important for parents to provide opportunities for children to reach key developmental milestones,” added Dr. Browne. “Lots of brain-building activities can easily be done at home, no purchase required. I have even found some great ideas on YouTube and Pinterest.”

This Fitness Clock poster from Move2Learn helps kids stay active throughout the day. Also available in English, Arabic and Amharic. (Photo: KFY)

Some examples of home-based opportunities to help kids be on track to meet their developmental milestones include:

  • Give babies lots of tummy time. This builds head, neck and core strength as well as sharpens reflexes and encourages observation skills.
  • Make a safe place in the home where it’s OK for babies to crawl around or for toddlers to hold onto/pull up on things. This builds a sense of curiosity and confidence.
  • If your home or apartment has stairs, practice walking up and down them with your child; even long hallways are perfect for walking and hopping. This benefits coordination, leg strength and balance.
  • Practice walking outside on uneven terrain such as a playground. This enables children to navigate all types of surfaces.
  • Devise a fun scavenger hunt to find items in the house and put them in a basket. This improves memory and cognitive thinking ability.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) offers resources on developmental milestones at many stages from birth to age five, including a free Milestone Tracker App. For details, visit cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/milestones/index.html

Move2Learn Makes Movement a Mission

Movement is the operative word at Move2Learn (M2L), an award-winning nonprofit in Alexandria that brings tools and programs that encourage movement to students in ACPS schools.

“We’re big believers in the science of movement,” said Brooke Sydnor Curran, M2L’s President and CEO. “During the early years of a child’s life, they grow brain cells when they move their body. Our tools, programs and resources use movement to transform learning so students can focus better, remember things better, and perform better in the classroom.”

Active Seating with accordion stools and under-desk pedals is one of the innovative initiatives that M2L brings to early childhood programs at ACPS schools such as John Adams Elementary and others. With the under-desk pedals, for example, kids with a case of the “fidgets” can keep their feet busy by pedaling away while listening to the teacher or working on a task.

Curran, who readily admits that she was a child who struggled with sitting still in class, wishes that active seating had been available when she was getting started in school. “It’s a fun solution for young kids who seem to be in constant motion,” she said.

Jen Wiser, Director of Programs for M2L, shared details about another M2L tool – a cool Fitness Cube that features a different movement activity on the cube’s six sides. “This tool allows teachers to easily infuse a short burst of movement that perks up the kids and helps them re-focus on the task at hand,” she said. “Students can take turns rolling the cube and leading the selected activity.”

Another of M2L’s visual aids to promote movement is a fitness clock poster that provides suggestions for activities at various times of the day. “Getting children up and moving with purpose throughout the day is the goal, so they can feel and do their best,” Wiser noted.

All of M2L materials are translated into four languages: English, Spanish, Amharic and Arabic. A fifth language, Dari, will be available in the future. Also, all of the M2L tools and materials are free, thereby removing any barriers to access M2L’s programs.

An avid runner who has completed marathons in every state and on every continent, Curran knows that movement teaches children about the life skill of personal agency to own their lives and be empowered to stand up for themselves. “We’re proud to say that movement is becoming the norm at ACPS. Also, it’s wonderful to see students and their families learn about movement, so they can do activities together at home.” For more information about Move2Learn, visit move2learn.org.

To connect with Kids’ First Years or its community partners, visit kidsfirstyears.org.

(Graphic: KFY)

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