There has been much talk about childhood development, particularly in the areas of obesity and physical activity. You may have seen or heard of a study by the Victoria University into the skill decline of our children. An article Can’t throw, can’t catch: Australian kids are losing that sporting edge highlighted “evidence is emerging that Australian kids are falling behind their international peers and are performing worse in skills such as kicking, throwing, catching and jumping than they were 30 years ago.”
For some time, researchers have been tracking Australian children’s capacity to run, throw, kick, catch and jump. Collectively, these skills are known as Fundamental Movement Skills (FMS). They are called fundamental because they are required to engage proactively in a high proportion of physical activities and sporting pursuits. Children with these skills are also more also likely to become fit adolescents who continue to play and enjoy a sport.
Children are not born with FMS, they are a learned skill which develops through early years and is normally mastered by the age or approx 4 or 5. The largest area of decline found by the study was observed in six-year-olds, who now perform markedly worse than those assessed in the 1980s in simple tasks such as underarm throws, catching and bouncing balls. Using a scaled scoring system whereby 100 points was considered average, the 2014 study found six-year-olds now performed 20 to 30 points less than children three decades ago.
Aussie kids also did not compare favorably to our international peers. See graphic below:
Why does this matter?
It has been found that children who possess good Fundamental Movement Skills have higher levels of physical activity as well as better health-related fitness, but many children are not being given the opportunities to master these skills. At present only one in three children, and one in ten young people meet the current physical activity guidelines for children of 60 minutes of physical activity every day. Furthermore, fewer than one in three children and young people are meeting the guideline for “no more than two hours of screen-based entertainment” every day.
Given this worrying decline in children’s fundamental movement skills, accompanied by rising levels of sedentary behavior, it is clear that more needs to be done if Australia is to maintain its reputation as a top sporting nation.
Primary schools can only do so much in the current educational climate.
Physical education has been pushed to the periphery of the school curriculum with the majority of children currently getting well under the recommended two hours of physical education a week. It is common for classroom teachers to teach physical education but many lack specialists training.
Recent data I have collected from Melbourne primary schools indicate that while 86% of classroom teachers feel confident to take a physical education class, 82% don’t feel confident to make the PE class developmentally appropriate to help children acquire Fundamental Movement Skills.
Mums and dads to the rescue
So, at present, the best chance of improving Australian children’s Fundamental Movement Skills lies with parents and caregivers.
They should try to ensure their children are provided ample opportunities to experience different sports so they can practice and develop a broad range of Fundamental Movement Skills.
These opportunities should take the form of both structured sports coaching as well as unstructured play.
Across the globe, Australia is looked up to as a beacon of sporting excellence. Australians are rightly proud of their sporting heritage but the truth is that Australia is in danger of becoming a country of spectators who watch sport rather than participate in it.
To help turn this tide we must equip all children with Fundamental Movement Skills. This will help to ensure that future Australian children are more active and fitter.
Vida Head Start Program
The Vida Head Start stages are designed to develop and master fundamental perceptual motor skills, the building blocks of sport, physical activity and child development. These don’t develop automatically. Children without FPMS are severely disadvantaged when it comes to the sport, physical and psychological experiences they will enjoy during a lifetime. Through early purposeful play experiences, children will develop the sensory and movement abilities to; locomotion & balance, catch, track & intercept, throw, kick and strike, cognitive development and therefore have every opportunity to develop a love of a sport, health, and fitness. Each activity will use a combination of some or all FPMS at any one time, and have a link to the game of tennis, to help the child transition into the next stages of their “my Vida journey” program.
The program has four levels which are structured around four key developmental areas;
- Throwing, Kicking & Striking
- Catch, Interception & Tracking
- Locomotion, Balance & Agility
- Cognitive Development
Once the child has completed the first objectives in each of the four developmental areas they will receive their 1/4 certificate. Each Head Start level guides the child further towards mastering their FPMS and achieving their FULL Head Start Certificate.