Catch them really young

Catch them really young


Catch them really young

Sports in preschool? You bet! Programmes such as Kinderdance  blend educational concepts with various forms of movement, dance and gymnastics. They aim at helping toddlers develop gross motor skills, movement creativity, fitness, and body awareness, which help the children steer and balance themselves.

“Today’s parents are very anxious to start off their children on a game or sport or fitness routine as early as possible. Even a one-and-a-half-year old is able to develop a sense of movement,” says Kirthana Ramarapu, Executive Director, Kinderdance.

Child psychologists and educators seem to agree that a planned developmental programme in movement should be part of every child’s education. And, since early childhood education is the foundation for higher education, how a preschool child learns to learn will have a lasting influence throughout his or her school years, they say.

But Care and Cuddles proprietor Kavita Pareek doesn’t agree. “We do not have any dedicated sports training for small kids. In fact, we do not think it is safe for toddlers to be sports trained. We try to keep the kids active and develop their gross motor skills,” she says.

At Apples N Cherries Preschool, children are taught a variety of games. “Toddlers are taught to connect foot to the ball... this enables their gross motor skills.  They are taught basic soccer rules of using their feet, head and restricting usage of hands. They learn basic gymnastics — they  are taught to tumble, somersault, balance on a low beam, do cartwheels, etc. Baseball is a good sports activity, which teaches a child to use a soft plastic bat and learn to connect bat to ball. Swimming is a fun sport during the hot months. Kids learn the basics of swimming and enjoy splashing around in a kiddie pool.

Karate is a very popular form of exercise. It teaches self-control as well as gives an active and enjoyable form of exercise. Exercise routines for toddlers are not strenuous. They are meant to be enjoyable. They are formatted in such a way that children do not feel they are exercising,” explains Anjum S Khan of Apples N Cherries Preschool.

Incidentally, soccer and gymnastics training starts at two years, karate at four years, baseball and swimming at 18 months in many centres in Bangalore and Mumbai.
The big debate then is what is the right age to start?

“Our approach is to look at each child’s overall level of fitness and development, and their potential with a view to helping them become fit for life. The foundation for fitness and the ability to play any sport is essentially the same, irrespective of age. One needs stamina, balance, co-ordination, flexibility, discipline and good health,” says Katherine Rustumji, CEO, Kara 4 Kids. 

To achieve these objectives, Kara’s in-school programmes use international climbing equipment and include specialised early-childhood adventure sports, contemporary and classical dance, soft gym obstacle courses, yoga, gymnastics, football, cycling, and more.
“We are often asked by parents how much exercise a child needs every  day and how to help keep their child fit. The answers are simple. A child needs a minimum of 60 minutes of good aerobic exercise a day, complemented by a balanced diet and some good, old fashioned fun,” says Katherine.

At the Basavanagudi Acquatic Centre in Bangalore, coaching starts at six years. Says S Pradeep Kumar, head coach, “The ideal age to start to learn swimming is between 6 and 8 years as the child understands instructions and can learn fast. If the child needs to become competitive after age 10, it is vital that we start early and then after three or four years, focus on different aspects of training. As a life-saving skill it is a must to learn swimming.”

Table tennis coach Mallesh believes that starting young is the mantra for success. “We start coaching when the child is about four years, when commitment to studies is less. At this age the child’s attention is not diverted with things like the television and computer games,” he explains.

Health and safety

Sports at an early age help children to stay healthy, fit and active. Obesity levels are high even among toddlers. Exercise causes the brain to release chemicals called endorphins, which naturally make  people feel happy and healthy. “Children with active lifestyles tend to excel in sports. Physically active kids tend to be academically motivated, alert, and successful,” observes Anjum Khan.

Due to the rise in juvenile diabetes and childhood obesity it’s crucial for children to inculcate healthy habits which will encourage them to continue these habits well into their adulthood.

However, unless done by a specialised child physio (sports coach), who has good knowledge about child growth and physiology, it is not advisable to put children through specialised sports training until they are over five years.

Dr Chandra S Siddaiah, Consultant, Sports Medicine, Manipal Hospital, says: “I have seen toddlers put on specific training programmes in western countries. They have programmes which include activities like walking, running and kicking a football, gymnastics, choreographed dances, balance bikes etc. Such activities are said to improve body balance and co-ordination. However, we need more evidence in this regard. In addition, we have to remember that there is a risk of overuse injuries at an early age. I believe all children should be allowed to grow through different group activities appropriate to their age in order to have proper overall growth and development.”

“Child-teacher ratio should be checked to ensure proper attention and safety of child. The training environment should be free of hazards. Be aware of the exploratory nature of children and remove any broken equipment from the exercise room before classes start. The exercise room should be well lit and adequately ventilated. Since children are more prone to heat illness than adults, they should be encouraged to drink water even if they are not thirsty. Beginning with relatively light loads will allow for appropriate adjustments to be made,” explains Vickaash Agarwal, MD, Kids Campus International Preschool.

However, before enrolling your little one into a fitness programme or a sport, always visit the facility and check out the antecedents of the facilitators to ensure they are appropriately qualified.

Children have soft bones and connecting tissue, and fractures and dislocation can easily occur if inappropriate forces are applied.