Movement from the outset

By Uwe L├╝bking, German Association of Towns and Municipalities (DStGB)

Movement from the outset

If we're honest, however, the sight of children playing outdoors is becoming rarer and rarer. This lack of mobility indicates serious consequences for the children concerned.

The findings are alarming:
- 60% of children have postural problems by the time they start school
- 30% of children are overweight by the time they start school
- 40% of children demonstrate weaknesses in their physical coordination
- 50% of children can't run backwards anymore
- 44% of year 4 pupils suffer from occasional back pain and 8% from permanent back pain.

Increasing physical passivity has extensive effects on health. These range from a low level of physical fitness to postural problems and poor mental capacity. Long-term effects in adulthood concern the early onset of cardiovascular diseases and back pain. One third of patients newly diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes (adult-onset diabetes) today are adolescents. Experts also report an increase in accidents relating to poor physical control amongst young people.

The children of today are often referred to as the 'backseat generation'. An increasing number of children no longer master the routine task of cycling e.g. keeping on track. This means there will be children who don't see bikes as a means of transport.

The reasons for this lack of mobility are complex: many parents feel that the route to school is too dangerous for their children or don't send their children to the nearest primary school but to their chosen school, which can often only be reached by car. Public areas are becoming more and more condensed, so there is often nowhere for children to play near their home or adults rule out such places as problematic. Even when there are places for children to run around, they often stay at home, preferring to spend their free time in front of the TV or computer. The amount of time children spend outside has been decreasing since the seventies, from an average of four hours to just one hour.

There are also additional problems for uneducated families: bad diet, smoking around children and an excessive amount of time spent at the computer are often a hotbed for weight problems, lack of concentration and speech disorders. 7.6% of children indicate problems in social behaviour, 34% of six-year-olds have language or speech disorders and 7.2% of children have a noticeable mental illness.

A child's natural urge to move around should be better met in nurseries. A 'sitting nursery' needs to become a 'physical education nursery', which, in many cases occurs in collaboration with sports clubs or other institutions, for example. The concept of a physical education nursery should be implemented as extensively as possible. A PE nursery will establish movement as the fundamental design tool in the overall educational concept. It is based on the correct basic assumption that children have a natural urge to move around and are moving beings. A PE-friendly nursery promotes motivation for movement, play and recreation early on by offering an open physical activity programme and by ensuring these activities take place every day.

Moving around is a prerequisite for the physical, mental, social and emotional development of children. Exercise and sport are not only a means of preventive healthcare but they also encourage a child's awareness, thoughts and actions. This being the case, physical activity is one of the fundamental principles of the work in nurseries. The promotion of physical activity is not intended to compete with a nursery's educational mandate but to enhance it. It is equally as appropriate and important to encourage speech in nurseries, like the "Little Scientists' House" project, for example. All these programmes will only be successful, however, if they are supported by physical activities. Physical activity programmes carried out on a regular basis not only lead to an increase in motor skills, but also to improved performance within the learning phases and mental development.

PE nurseries or PE-friendly nurseries do not create themselves. Childcare workers must first be given the relevant training. The nursery also requires a movement-friendly design both inside and out. Children need a space that gives them unlimited opportunities to run riot, play, race, walk and try things out themselves. An attempt should also be made in the classrooms to integrate elements and stimulus of physical activity, which the children can use independently and flexibly. Corridors and side rooms are typically an invitation for physical activity. Finally, the outdoor area needs to be designed appropriately. Playing outdoors provides another opportunity for a child to develop physically, mentally and emotionally. An outdoor area that is as close to nature as possible should encourage play, creativity and movement and provide the children with possibilities for games, physical activity and winding down. An outdoor play area includes climbing frames and slides, fixed surfaces for riding and rolling, options for rocking, swinging and balancing as well as open spaces for playing.

Combining appropriate parent training is also ideal. Parent work should also be intensively driven in the nurseries in order to promote physical activity e.g. by running an "active parent's evening" with physical activity. This gives parents the tools they need to make the right decisions for their children. This way, nurseries can be developed as places that promote health, which, to some extent, is already happening. Many parents, even those from socially problematic tiers and with a migration background, can be reached through family centres or parent and child centres within the nurseries. Thus, parents can be supported in preventive healthcare, and in how to encourage physical activity, and health-conscious actions for their children can be initiated at an early stage.

Foto: EIBE
 

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