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A brief insight from an early childhood perspective.

Early childhood is an extremely important period for children to develop their gross motor skills. Research indicates that those children who are unable to develop these Fundamental Movement Skills (FMS) are less likely to indulge in sporting activities during the early years.

 

In a research article, Hardy et al. (2010) suggest that there is a need to implement programmmes that promotes FMS in early childhood establishments. This was based on a study they conducted with primary school children in Sydney, Australia which showed a low level of FMS. This result indicated a need for programmmes in preschools that promoted these movement skills. This study also indicated that girls had a higher score than boys with regard to locomotor skills whereas the boys displayed more proficiency over object control skills. Based on their findings Hardy et al. (2010) state that, "These findings highlight the need to provide structured opportunities which facilitate children's acquisition of FMS, which may include providing gender separated games, equipment and spaces". I am not sure how that statement sits with me as in my teaching practice I provide one approach for all children and look upon gender separation as questionable in terms of self efficacy and equality. At the early childhood stage of development, I feel that there are also a number of other benefits to promote fundamental movement skills in a mixed setting. Most importantly these benefits include social skills, being part of a group without being segregated, and promoting leadership skills with boys and girls in a level playing field. Segregations begin at a later stage of gender awareness and competition.  

There is no doubt that a number of research articles correlate the development of gross motor skills with the engagement of physical activities. Gross motor skills are, therefore most certainly associated with physical activity. These skills are developed from birth onwards as babies need to develop their muscles to hold their heads up, crawl, walk, and eventually run. I would have thought that promoting fundamental movement skills would have a high priority in bringing up children. I could never comprehend why many mothers in Hong Kong would never let their babies crawl in public spaces whereas most of the expats would probably encourage their children to crawl, be curious, and let them explore where it was safe to do so. However, everyone has his own opinion as I have also seen posts on forum boards suggesting that there is no scientific evidence to suggest problems at a later stage of development if a child does not crawl during infancy. I feel crawling should be encouraged as most importantly it instils that sense of individuality and freedom to explore and investigate. There can be no doubt in my mind that crawling also benefits hand-eye co-ordination, balance and equilibrium, and spatial awareness. McEwan, Dihoff, and Brosvic (1991) conducted a study and claim that, "Relative to the performance of crawlers, non-crawlers showed lower average and subtest-specific performance on selected measures of the Miller Assessment for preschoolers".

As preschool teachers we all mentally visualise and are aware of milestones in respect of gross motor skills. Depending on each individual child we would expect them to accomplish certain tasks to display their balance and movement skills. For example, I would expect the three year old to walk in a straight line, balance on a foot for a few seconds, use the swing and slide, and climb a little up a tree. As the gross motor skills develop, I would expect a four year old to play the wheelbarrow game where the child is walking with his/her hands and another child is holding the legs like a wheelbarrow, be more confident with balance, and perform a number of more difficult physical tasks independently. These activities are what I would consider age appropriate for a four to five year old. These expectations and milestones are set by us as teachers based on our own perceptions but are based on the individual child and importantly for us, an awareness that the development of gross motor skills is an important aspect for development.

As a lot of research suggests, children who have low levels of fundamental movement skills are less active than those who have higher levels of fundamental movement skills. "This relationship between motor skill performance and physical activity could be important to the health of children, particularly in obesity prevention. Clinicians should work with parents to monitor motor skills and to encourage children to engage in activities that promote motor skill performance." (Williams et al., 2008). This study by Williams et al. provides evidence that, "the level of motor skill performance may be an important factor in promoting a physically active lifestyle in preschool children." This relationship of motor skills to physical activity suggests that a higher level of motor skills promotes physical activity, which in turn is beneficial for the health and well-being of the child.

It is generally agreed in research document findings that physical exercise is psychologically beneficial as it builds on positive moods and lowers levels of anxiety with adolescents and adults. However, research on the young child is still unclear on this factor and more work has to be done in this regard. Timmons, Naylor, and Pfeiffer (2007) cite a study conducted by Alpert et al. (1990) on three to five year old children using aerobic activities with music, demonstrated a positive impact on children's self-esteem. This was compared to other three to five year olds in the same environment who participated in outdoor play. Piaget in his developmental work suggested that the improvement of gross motor skills contributed to cognitive development through exploration of the environment. Timmons et al. also cite Son and Meisel (2006) who through their research determine, "significant relationships between fine motor and hand-eye coordination in kindergarten and early school achievement in mathematics and language".  

In conclusion, if I were looking for an early childhood centre for my child, a high priority of mine would be a decent outdoor area that offers physical challenges to promote balance, climbing, and movement skills. The development of fundamental movement skills and engagement in physical activity would definitely be an expectation from me as a parent. Nature walks are another way for children to explore the natural environment, our greatest resource and teacher. Balance, movement, and upper body strength are all promoted when children are exposed to the great outdoors.


References
Hardy, Louise L. et al. (2010). Fundamental movement skills among Australian preschool children. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. September 2010, Volume 13 , Issue 5 , 503 - 508.
McEwan, M.H., Dihoff, R.E., and Brosvic, G.M. (1991). Early infant crawling experience is reflected in later motor skill development. Perceptual and Motor Skills: Volume 72, Issue , pp. 75-79.
Timmons, B.W., Naylor, P.J., Pfeiffer, K.A. (2007). Physical activity for preschool children — how much and how? Appl. Physiol. Nutr. Metab. 32: S122–S134 (2007).
Williams, H.G., Pfeiffer, K.A., O'Neill1, J.R., Dowda1, M., McIver1, K.L., Brown, W.H., and Pate1, R.R. (2008). Motor Skill Performance and Physical Activity in Preschool Children. Volume 16, Issue 6, pages 1421–1426, June 2008.