The Importance of Developing Fundamental Motor Skills
Article by Steve Sanders, Ed.D.
It is clear that children and adults who are physically active on a regular basis are healthier than those who are not active. It is also evident from research findings that many children and adults do not regularly take part in physical activities that contribute to a healthy lifestyle.
There are many reasons for this lack of physical activity, the most evident being the lack of exposure at an early age to physical skill development activities. If you do not possess the skills to strike a tennis ball you are probably not going to play tennis. If you are not skilled in throwing or catching you will most likely not participate in games where those skills are needed. Over the past 20 years we have created a world of very young techno wizards who spend huge amounts of time watching TV, playing video games, or surfing the Internet instead of using and developing their physical skills during outdoor play. Have we created an entire generation of children who do not know how to throw and catch a ball?
If children do not learn to throw, catch, jump and kick when they are young they will not possess the skills needed to participate in physical activities as adults and thus most will not get appropriate amounts of physical activity.
Developmentally appropriate practice suggests that we as adults make educational decisions based on what is known from research and experience about how children learn and develop. For example, learning to strike a ball with a bat is not an easy task especially when we use a regulation baseball and a wooden bat. Using a plastic ball and bat is more developmentally appropriate and will initially better help the child learn the skill.
In schools today, children find themselves focused on learning basic concepts in math, reading and social studies. Physical activity, in many schools and in many homes, does not have the level of importance it deserves. Children who do not develop physical skills are those who get left out of play with their friends and could be those who remain physically inactive throughout life.
The simple fact is that if you are going to learn to read you have to spend time reading. If you are going to learn math skills you need to practice calculations using numbers. And, if you are going to learn to catch a ball, you have to participate in a developmentally appropriate and logical progression of catching activities. We know that in order to develop physical skills children must spend time practicing those skills.
Helping Children Learn How to Catch
Catching is receiving and controlling an object by the body or its parts. As children learn to catch, they may first fear the ball and pull away to protect themselves. Children progress from catching a ball with their whole body, then with their arms and hands, and eventually with their hands alone. What are some basic activities that parents and teachers can introduce to children to assist them in learning how to catch?
It is considered developmentally appropriate to select catching equipment that is matched to the size, confidence and skill level of children so that they are motivated to actively participate. Equipment must be modified to assist children in learning the skill. It would be inappropriate to use an official volleyball or basketball to initially learn how to catch. More appropriate equipment would include scarves, balloons and beanbags. Inappropriate equipment leads children to frustration when they are unsuccessful and thus they do not develop the skill.
Initial catching activities should involve the use of a large balloon called a punch ball balloon. The punch ball moves slowly through the air giving children time to track the balloon and get their arms in the position to catch.
Catching Using Balloons
In order for children to catch the balloon they must first be able to throw it straight up into the air. Parents and teachers can provide the following simple directions to assist children in throwing the ball into the air.
- Hold the balloon out in front of you with one hand on each side.
- Lower the balloon below your waist until it touches your knees.
- Raise both hands into the air and let go of the balloon as it passes your nose.
- Timing the release of the balloon is important. If the balloon is released too soon it may travel far out in front of the child where it is hard to catch. If the balloon is released too late it will travel behind the child and be almost impossible to catch.
A progression of balloon catching activities might include:
- Drop the balloon, let it bounce, and then catch it.
- Throw the balloon into the air and catch it.
- See how high you can throw the balloon and still catch it.
- Throw the balloon into the air and see how many times you can clap your hands before you catch it.
- Throw the balloon against the wall and catch it.
- Throw the balloon back and forth with a friend.
Catching Using Launch Boards
A launch board propels the ball into the air directly in front of the child and thus children do not need to be skilled at tossing the ball into the air. When a child steps on one end of the board, a ball or beanbag, placed on the other end, flies into the air directly in front of the child. Launch boards are easy to make. Use Â¼" thick birch plywood cut 30" long and 5" wide. Seven inches from one end, attach a 5-inch-long, 1-1/2" diameter dowel stick with glue and screws.
Place a small ball or beanbag on the launch end of the board. If using a ball, drill a 2" hole in the end of the board to lay the ball in. A beanbag may be the best choice as it lays flat on the board and is easy for children to grab out of the air.
"Place your beanbag on the low end of the board. Go to the other end, get your hands ready to catch by holding them out in front of you, then raise your foot and stomp on the end of the board. As the beanbag flies into the air in front of you, clap your hands around the beanbag and catch it."
The instructional emphasis for this activity should be to have children concentrate on getting their hands ready to catch the beanbag and to focus on watching the beanbag as it moves through the air. Children should first focus on attempting to catch the beanbag with both hands at the same time then with the right and the left hand alone.
As children get better at catching, other challenges can be added such as stomping on the board so the ball or beanbag goes higher, attempting to catch two beanbags at the same time, and launching and catching other items such as a child's favorite stuffed animal. For more information on physical skill development, including specific activities and cues to help children develop skills, log on to PE Central at http://www.pecentral.org or go to the lesson ideas at http://www.pecentral.org/lessonideas/cues/cuesmenu.html.
If we want our children to participate regularly in physical activity we must first provide them with developmentally appropriate activities that will assist them in the development of physical skills. Catching is but one of those skills. When we as adults assist children in development of specific physical skills we empower them to learn about the importance of physical activity in their lives and to become physically active and healthy for a lifetime.
By sharing this valuable resource, educators can suggest one way parents can be involved as their child makes educational advancements. Parents can also use these resources with younger siblings to provide fun and engaging activities designed to enhance the child's knowledge and help the child enter school ready to learn.
- CDC. (2000). Promoting better health for young people through physical activity and sports: A report to the president from the Secretary of health and human Services and the Secretary of Education. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, CDC National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.
- Sanders, S. W. (1992). Designing Preschool Movement Programs. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics Publishers.
- Sanders, S. W. (2002). Active for Life: Developmentally Appropriate Movement Programs for Young Children. Washington, DC: NAEYC.
- Images reprinted, by permission, from S.W. Sanders, 1992, Designing Preschool Movement Programs, Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 63 and 69.
About the Author
Dr. Steve Sanders is Chair of the Department of Health and Physical Education at Tennessee Technological University. He is the Editor of the Preschool Section for PE Central, a nationally acclaimed physical education website, http://www.pecentral.org and author of the Books Designing Preschool Movement Programs (1992) and Active for Life: Developmentally Appropriate Movement Programs for Young Children (NAEYC, 2002).
Published: November 2002