I admit I was a bit overprotective of my first child, T– okay, probably not just a bit! But by the time my son Little Sir came around, I was ready to be a more relaxed parent and just get out of my children’s way.
It was not only because I hardly had time to hover anymore (right, moms of two or more kids?!), but it was also because I learned through my guinea pig T to embrace how children develop and learn best.
With Little Sir, I managed to suppress gasps when he would climb up our big slide at 13 months, brave ramps that seemed too steep for an 18 month-old and zoom around the house on his balance bike with feet off the floor.
I had to, because I recognize that it’s vital to respect little ones’ need to move and explore with their bodies.
Why movement needs to be encouraged
These days, with kids more interested in tablets and other gadgets than playing for real, it seems like movement needs to be taught or at least given a schedule. In fact, our pediatrician has one prescription for Little Sir, being a growing boy… and that is to have at least 15 minutes of running around every day! (Good thing he does get a lot more than that everyday!)
Numerous scientific studies indicate that movement and thinking are strongly intertwined, with academic performance getting a boost from exercise. Other than brain development, kids improve their motor skills (walking, jumping, running), spatial awareness, physical fitness (avoiding the risk of obesity) and balance and coordination.
Encouraging young kids to move
Since it’s already the rainy season, and kids are more likely to stay indoors and remain sedentary, here are some ideas on how we’ve encouraged our young children to be physically active… to be even, in the vernacular, “malikot.”
1. We let their inner circus performers shine
Most of the time (when my nerves haven’t reached breaking point yet), I just let my kids move around as they please. It can be messy – and noisy – but that’s just the way it is.
T and Little Sir at age 6 and 3, respectively, would use our clothes rack as a gymnastics pole or monkey bar and pretend they were circus performers. Of course I was concerned about the whole thing not being too stable, so we set out rules such as no vigorous swinging and no swinging upside down!
2. We’ve never used strollers
We’ve never owned a stroller and only used baby carriers minimally as soon as our little ones were stable on their feet. I distinctly remember the time when three-year-old Little T stared in wonder at a child her age being pushed in a stroller while she labored to walk, with little carry breaks from her dad!
3. We get them “active toys”
For her third birthday, T got a small trampoline, which like anything else might have safety issues. We also welcomed a hand-me-down hard plastic seesaw that Little Sir promptly fell out of at 14 months, right after I said to a guest, “Oh, he can do that.” Gulp!
More recently, my husband and I opted for simple Christmas gifts and got our big little girl a hula-hoop that she promptly mastered, and a junior-sized basketball for them to share. When they need a short break from our learning time, they go for those.
4. We severely limit TV time
Even while I was just still pregnant with my first child, I talked my husband into agreeing to no TV before age two, after which we allowed them to watch only on Saturdays. The rule also applies to gadgets.
This almost-screen-free existence has taught our children to invent their own games, read books by themselves (or in the case of Little Sir, leaf through them) and yes, run after each other.
5. We enrol them in movement classes
If you’ve been a reader of this website for quite some time or a participant of one of our parent education workshops, you would know that I absolutely love Kindermusik as an early childhood program. Why? Because it embraces and honors children’s need to move and integrates movement in all activities.
I brought my two older kids to Kindermusik classes starting when they were still babies. These days, T attends ballet classes while Little Sir is training to be a Jedi in taekwondo classes.
BUT, movement classes are not a must; what’s more important is for kids to have a space to freely move about… which brings us to number six.
6. We shoo them to play outside
Rain or shine, we encourage our children to go play outside. Barring thunderstorms, you can find our kids in their raincoats, playing in the garden or darting in and out of the garage.
Not having a garden shouldn’t stop you from finding opportunities for outdoor activities, though. Neighborhood parks and playgrounds are great spaces for playing and exploring. If there’s still none in your area, some malls now have outdoor garden areas.
Harried parents can sometimes overlook the importance and benefits of movement activities for young children. We all want some peace, order and quiet in our homes, right? We might also be concerned about them getting dirty and smelly.
But for the love of our children, we should also provide them with the freedom to move, and hold our breaths as they explore the world around.
Being “malikot” is not really a bad thing at an appropriate place and time, and especially when we know how to manage our children’s squiggles and wiggles.