The Importance of Fitness in Early Childhood Education
It is common knowledge that exercise is important for your health. However, recent discussions in the early childhood education field have arisen around the importance of exercise for children as young as 2 years old. The American Heart Association recommends that children age 2 and older participate in at least one hour of physical activity every day that is developmentally-appropriate, diverse, and enjoyable. Moreover, recent studies have revealed lifelong social, physical, and mental benefits of exercising from a young age.
In addition to its obvious health benefits, exercise improves children’s psychological and social well-being. As Haitham, one of our Core Child Program teachers says, “Sports and exercise improve children’s self-confidence, ability to connect with others, understanding of teamwork, and respect for their peers.” Moreover, incorporating exercise into early education programs actually fosters children’s academic success. Studies show that when children begin to exercise at an early age, they tend to academically perform better, have fewer behavioral and disciplinary problems, and can pay attention in class longer than their peers.
Because of the vast benefits of physical activity at a young age, experts recommend that early childhood programs incorporate 1-2 hours of fitness through both structured and unstructured exercise. Structured activities are planned and led by an adult, whereas unstructured activities are periods of free play. At TYO, children in the Core Child Program begin their day with a game of “Simon Says” where they mimic Haitham as he runs in place, does jumping jacks, claps his hands, and swings his arms. They also participate in both structured and unstructured activities in their sports class for 30 minutes each day. Experts also recommend using transitions throughout the day as fitness opportunities. TYO's Core Child Program implements this through its holistic methodology where children move from classroom to classroom throughout the day.
Above all, experts stress that physical fitness for young children must be fun and developmentally appropriate. For more information on incorporating exercise into early education programs, please visit the LetsMove!Child Care website or listen to this interview with experts from the education community. If you have successfully incorporated fitness into an early childhood program in a fun and stimulating way or have a child in such a program, please share your experiences with us.