Serious look at child's play

Serious look at child's play

Parents the world over are getting increasingly concerned over their children’s health and fitness. Society is seeing an increasing level of child obesity and associated physical and psychological ailments.

The remedy should start with understanding what a child's body and mind are ‘designed’ for. A lot of health and fitness programmes start with the adult context - and thereby miss out on the key elements that will work with children. Kids, for example, should not be going to gyms. Their bodies are not designed for such highly structured, repetitive activities as well as weights. They should not diet. While there is a certain balance necessary for any person, diet as a means of weight control for children is inappropriate, given that the child’s body is developing.

Children are designed to play. And this is how nature ensures that children stay healthy and fit!

From the time they are born, children learn through play, about the world around them, about their own body, learn how to interact with others; learn what gets them a pat on the back and what gets them a scolding. Play helps children understand how various aspects of the world around them work and interact.

From a child’s physiological development perspective, at an early age, exposure to multiple physical activities is the key as a child's body is developing and different ‘games’ help different parts of the body.

Also, from a psychological perspective, different activities expose the child to different aspects of teamwork, leadership, goal setting, dealing with failure etc.

While it is important to ensure that children get opportunities to play, it is a key to ensuring that they enjoy the experience. The only reason children play is to have fun.
They do not play for health and fitness. Nor do they play because it will help them become better leaders! If they have fun, they will continue to seek out physical activity for life - and thereby stay healthy and fit.

So, how can we ensure that they are having fun? Some of the key elements are:
nAge-appropriate play spaces: In addition to child safety, the area that the child plays in should be appropriate to the child’s age and skill level. Getting a small child to play in a large stadium can unnerve the child. Similarly, if the child is playing basketball, ensure that the height of the post is adjusted to a level where the child can realistically score a few baskets - and therefore enjoy the experience.

- Age-appropriate play equipment: For each age, there is a certain level to which a child can manage particular equipment.  In the basketball example, taking an adult level basketball for small kids will ruin their technique for life. Children will start throwing the basketball like a shotput!

-Inclusion: The activity should ensure that all the children are included - and is not designed for those children who already have a sporting ability. This ensures that all children stay interested in the playing experience - and don't switch off from sports.

- Introduction to fundamental skills: It is important that some time is spent on ensuring that children learn the fundamentals before engaging in game-play. In the absence of the foundation, the sporty kids will outperform the rest - and the remaining kids will not enjoy the experience.

So, the next time you find your child not getting excited about physical activity and sports, do take a moment and analyse the nature of the experience you have provided the child. Ask yourself if you would stay committed to playing regularly, given the nature of the experience. There might be some simple, yet startling answers there!

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