We all know how important exercise is for both our physical and mental wellbeing, and it is just as important for children. Kids are generally very active by nature, and most will get plenty of exercise throughout the course of a day of play, but it is important to try and introduce them to more structured forms of exercise as well. Being part of a team or a group activity teaches kids vital skills around cooperation, taking turns, communication, as well as the health and fitness outcomes that we are all striving for. It can also promote confidence and self-fulfillment which has flow-on effects for other parts of their lives.
If your child is drawn to a particular sport, maybe one that your family is already interested in, it can be easy to encourage them to join in, but many kids will try a few different things before they settle on something they love. Primary school-aged children will be exposed to a lot of different sports once they start PE class, but if you don’t know where to start, especially with younger children, here are some great suggestions!
Gymnastics is an amazing activity for the whole body, targeting core strength, balance and flexibility. Most kids absolutely love throwing their bodies around, climbing up and over the furniture, and testing their physical limits, and gymnastics and Gymberoo give them a safe environment in which to do so. Programs for babies and younger kids are great for gross motor development and body awareness, and they usually involve a few circuits of fun activities throughout the gym such as balancing on low beams, crawling through tunnels, jumping on a trampoline or throwing and catching toys. Children with poor core strength often have problems with sitting still at school, handwriting etc, as well as with more coordinated ball sports, so something fun like gymnastics can have amazing benefits for other activities.
Swimming is also a fantastic whole body activity, and classes start as early as 6 months old. Early water familiarisation and play can reduce fear but also promote a healthy respect and understanding of the water, which is vitally important in a water-loving country like Australia. Swimming is a great booster for cardiovascular fitness and muscle tone, and is often promoted for children with asthma, as the warm, humid environment reduces constriction of the airways, and fosters better breathing techniques. Classes for babies and toddlers involve games and songs with movements to promote kicking, floating etc, and then move into more skill-based lessons from about age 3, with kids learning to use kickboards independently, how to breathe correctly, and eventually how to swim the four main strokes. There is also a lot of education around water safety, how to enter and exit the pool, and even rescue techniques.
Aussie rules is enormously popular with kids, and those interested will usually start at Auskick from kindergarten or early primary school. There are hundreds of Auskick centres, usually affiliated with local footy clubs or schools, and they are lots of fun. A typical session involves a group warmup, and then breaks off into groups according to age, where kids can learn to handball, kick, dodge and tackle. They will then play a short, modified game with plenty of parent coaches to guide the kids on where to run and kick, and they will make sure everyone has a go. The emphasis is on fun, teamwork and inclusion, and with the huge popularity of women’s football, there has been a huge influx of girls into Auskick, which is very encouraging. Auskick can be a great introduction into playing a team sport, without the added pressure of fitting a training session into the week, and without the commitment to a team or club when you don’t know if you like the sport yet. Plus, it’s cheap, and there are great prizes on offer for effort and participation rather than winning!
Kelly Sports/Ready Steady Go Kids
Many parents become frustrated at having paid for a full term of sport, only to find that 3 weeks in, the kids have lost interest and don’t want to go! It’s very common for kids to chop and change between sports until they find the one for them, so something like Kelly Sports or Ready Steady Go can be a good option. These programs focus on one sport at a time, for just a few weeks, before moving onto another. This means that kids can give things like soccer, tennis, basketball etc a go and see if they like it, whilst learning lots of great skills along the way. It can be a great way for a child to find their confidence around sport, so that when they have PE at school, or are invited to play with some friends, they already have some experience and may know the rules.
Dance tends to have more of a female and performance connotation, but movement classes for children can be amazing for confidence, creativity, core strength and body awareness. This doesn’t have to mean costumes, makeup and concerts (although many love this!), it can simply be creative play, song and dance with a small group. There are dance schools around that emphasize fun rather than technique, and some even take place in mirrorless rooms, so the kids are focussed on the task rather than their reflection! It may also create a love of dance that can then lead into more formal classes such as ballet, jazz and tap, which many people turn into a lifelong passion.
Many parents will be familiar with Little Athletics after participating themselves as kids, and it is as popular as ever. It’s a great way to expose children to many different track and field events, and includes age groups as young as under-6s, with a big emphasis on ‘having a go’, and focussing on improving on your own achievements, rather than comparing yourself to others. Ribbons are awarded for personal best performances, and kids are encouraged to keep going even if they are coming last, with lots of cheering from coaches and parents. They are also given tips on running technique and work on agility drills eg obstacle courses, between events, which is great for coordination and body awareness. Athletics is another way to familiarise children with sports they will come across at PE, taking the fear out of joining in.
So if you want to get started on some sport and fitness for your kids, have a look at what is around in your local area. It might take a few attempts before they find what they love, but every opportunity to move and play will help boost their strength, coordination and confidence, and building a healthy relationship with physical activity at a young age will put them in good stead for a lifetime of fitness, and most importantly, fun around sport. Happy exercising!