Moving, moving, moving – even in lockdown
Dr Tessa Grigg
When children’s movement opportunities are restricted, there is an impact on their brain development. The studies of children left in cots for much of their early life have shown this 1. Their brains were deprived of essential stimulation and they did not develop typically. The lockdown situation many families are finding themselves in as we work to combat COVID-19, is nothing like the restrictions of a child’s cot, but if we learn from these studies, the importance of children finding ways to move must be in focus. As this COVID-19 situation continues, ‘waiting it out’ as far as our children’s development goes is not a good option. Development does not go on hold until a solution is found for COVID-19. This article has some ideas to help you if you are at home with young children.
Now that some of us have been through a lockdown and are back seeing groups of children, some interesting observations have been made. Remember these are things experts have noticed, there has not been any robust research completed, but observations often form the basis of future research.
- We have noticed that children coming out of lockdown were not able to successfully complete physical tasks that prior to their isolation period had been well established. However, with regular practice these skills are returning.
- Children who engaged with online classes maintained a higher level of skill when compared with children who did not participate in online classes. It is early days and so it is not clear yet how long it will take these children to catch up. We know that online classes are not perfect, but it appears they can be better than doing nothing.
Children need constant practice of physical skills such as jumping, climbing, throwing, catching, rolling, swinging and balancing. These activities help the brain develop and they establish skills used in later sports 2. And we know that engaging in physical activity keeps us healthy.
What can parents do?
It is evident that good health habits and regular physical activity established during the early years is likely to have long term benefits to both learning and health 3. Our challenge is to minimise the impact of COVID-19 on the development of our children.
In order to combat the rising concerns over children’s development most experts recommend that children eat a healthy diet and engage in 60 – 90 minutes of daily exercise. How can we manage that in lockdown??
Toddlers need to be involved in exercise that is sustained, prolonged, and where movement is not restricted, and children can practise their motor skills. The local park provides a great open space for running on the grass, exploring the gardens, swinging, spinning and tumbling over, jumping, hopping, skipping and riding scooters, trikes and bikes when we are not in lockdown. However, recently I watched two 11 month-old boys play with some plastic balls (the size of an apple) and a container they were kept in for 25 minutes. Their mother helped the game continue as they dropped the balls from where they were sitting, then chased them all over the floor, tipped them out of the container again, then put the container on their heads and looked at each other. Then repeat!! There was lots of learning happening, they were moving their bodies – and it was cheap fun.
Two to five-year-olds should have the opportunity to participate in 30-45 minutes of structured physical activity daily as well as an hour of unstructured physical activity both indoors and outdoors. Not so easy in lockdown.
Here are some ideas you can use if you are home with young children:
- You can devise your own list of age appropriate activities that your child needs to do each day. Smart Start (or a similar resource) is full of ideas.
- On the GymbaROO-KindyROO Facebook and Instagram pages we post regular ideas for keeping young children involved and active at home. We have done the thinking for you. (https://www.facebook.com/GymbaROO.KindyROO/)
- Age appropriate online classes serve up ideas that focus on the developmental needs of the child – each week. You can watch them multiple times. Again, we have done the thinking for you. (https://www.gymbaroo.com.au/online/). For young children the classes are mostly for the adult to gather ideas and complete the task with their children, either during the class or sometime later.
- Turn your House into a playground. Here are 10 tips:
1: Set out a track for creeping/crawling games. Can the child creep/crawl on all fours with a pillow on their back?
2: Cover the white couch if you have one! Children will climb over, slide off, jump on, hang upside down off the couch when allowed. It is a very useful piece of play equipment.
3: Make a balance activity using a strip of something that will not slip, fabric, card, or rope. A balance ‘board’ does not need to be off the ground for preschoolers. In fact, they will be more adventurous if they know they will not fall.
4: Make a jumping course. Use flat cushions or similar so that children can jump from one to another. Make sure whatever you use will not slip on the flooring. And when that is easy for them: “Can you jump while holding something in one or both hands?”
5: Make tunnels. Tables with a sheet over them, or a sheet with a fold under the table legs so they have to push through.
6: Use chairs as a weaving activity. Place the chairs in a line and weave through them.
7: Set up something low to jump over. Jumping provides many opportunities for skill development and children love to jump.
8: Make a simplified hop-scotch pattern using masking tape on the flooring. The number of squares will be determined by the age and skill of the child.
9: Stick a line of masking tape on the floor where there is some space. This can be used to roll like a pencil on the floor, so that the child has to roll in a straight line. It can be used as a balance beam and as something to jump over.
10: Use a hoop or masking tape on the floor to make a circle 40 cm diameter. Get the child to throw a bean bag into the hoop, increasing the distance as the skill increases. This circle can be used as part of the jumping track, or to do different types of jumping (backwards, sideways, jumping while counting etc.)
We hope you have fun creating movement opportunities at home. And when everyone is tired, they can build a hut and relax with a book!
- Johnson DE, Guthrie D, Smyke AT, et al. Growth and associations between auxology, caregiving environment, and cognition in socially deprived Romanian children randomized to foster vs ongoing institutional care. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. 2010;164(6):507-16.
- Black JK, Puckett MB. The young child – Development from prebirth through age eight. 2nd ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Merrill, Prentice Hall Inc; 1996. 539 p.
- Davis CL, Tomporowski PD, McDowell JE, Austin BP, Miller PH, Yanasak NE, et al. Exercise improves executive function and achievement and alters brain activation in overweight children: A randomized, controlled trial. Health Psychology. 2011;30:91–8.