Kids need at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day.  Every day.

It sounds like a lot, and that’s because it is.  I’m fortunate enough that I’m in a position where 1) I learn about the impact of physical activity on people of all ages on a pretty much daily basis, 2) work in an atmosphere that allows me to apply this knowledge directly to the kids in our program and 3) I can, in a small way, contribute to helping kids and their families meet this total.

Here’s the thing though: resources aren’t available to make quality physical activity programming in childcare accessible to all programs.

When i started my current job, my boss and coworkers were excited that I actually like gym games.  It’s basically my thing at work.  I love it.

I’d like to say to start: yes, our kids still play sports. I think that sports are valuable for kids to learn, to play, and contribute to long-term athlete development and being active for life beyond what gym games do.  But I also believe that non-sport physical activity can play a huge role in getting kids active for the simple reason that it is just fun.  Some kids, even as young as five, get serious about sports.  Because even when kids are little, they know what competition is.  There are kids who are young who get onto a field or a rink and are just little natural all-around athletes.  They’ll make the good passes, score the goals, and be that kid that everybody’s looking at and talking about positively.  When competition comes into play, these kids will thrive on it.  In turn, though, this can make kids feel that maybe because they aren’t natural athletes and aren’t that kid that they shouldn’t bother. It’s cyclic. That kid who’s always picked last decides they shouldn’t bother trying, they stand around on the field, sit around picking daisies and grow up fighting PE teachers trying to stay on the bleachers.  And if such behaviour isn’t modified, that same kid can grow up to face a number of health concerns due to inactivity.

I was that kid.  That kid who hated PE, and didn’t start liking physical activity until I took dance in my last semester of high school.  Because of that, I’ve hit a proficiency barrier in many fundamental skills that I just didn’t get during developmental PE in elementary and middle school.  So these kids that don’t like sports or just aren’t as proficient in the skills?  I feel for them, big time.

So I organize/facilitate our Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday morning physical activity component at our program.  It’s optional.  Monday is usually floor hockey, and I have no idea what they do Fridays.  I plan four gym games per month, but I play a lot more of them.  On a soccer morning, I’ll have probably ten or eleven kids.  On a FUN game day, perhaps Ollie Ollie Octopus or dodgeball [yes, we play dodgeball. I hated it, but the kids LOVE it, and it teaches a ton of valuable skills–running, throwing, dodging, agility, catching, etc–so I submit to the “Miss Kerriiiiiii, can we play dodgeballlll?” and let them play.  Gatorballs and typically below-the-waist hits only.  No injuries as of yet, it’s a good time], which are our more popular choices, I’ll have up to seventeen or eighteen.  On tag game day last week we had eighteen.  Seven more kids is huge.  We have usually about 24 to 30 kids in the mornings, so we get a big chunk of them moving first thing in the morning–engaged body, engaged brain.  While not every kid comes every day, I can’t pinpoint too many kids who never come.

The thing is, I’ve taken classes on teaching kids physical activity, and I’ve taken courses on making physical activity more fun for ALL kids.  I’ve learned where to find physical activity resources. From what I’ve experienced, this isn’t common knowledge among childcare staff, because that’s not where their focus typically lies. Additionally, many childcare staff do not have education in childcare.  I started working at a daycare [not the one I’m at now] less than a month after I turned eighteen with nothing but high school Family Studies classes behind me.  They either come straight out of high school, or from a variety of other professions.  That said, the people running programs are certified Early Childhood Educators, and thus create a program centred around that knowledge.  We’re required to offer specific amounts of outdoor play per day, but I’m not sure if there are regulations requiring active play to be a part of the day.  Keep in mind, too, that the bulk of resources are for phys ed teachers.  The very last thing I want is for morning gym games to feel like PE–for the kids who aren’t good at PE or who don’t want anything to remind them of school when they’re not in school, I try to keep a clear barrier.  That means lots of pick-up games and games with minimal instruction so that they can play and not sit and listen.

As for programming, think about this: a school-aged daycare at any given point typically provides programming for kids five to twelve years old.  Then wrap your mind around providing developmentally appropriate physical activity programming for that group, that encompasses a variety of opportunities for increasing a child’s physical literacy, as well as providing opportunity for cognitive and affective growth through physical activity.  Fortunately, physical, affective and cognitive development can be incorporated into a child’s day through active games — pretty much any game that requires a child’s body and mind to be engaged simultaneously [read: pretty much any physically active game] will provide opportunities for all of these to occur.  However, there is a huge difference in all domains between a five year old and a ten year old, and a seven year old and a twelve year old.  This makes finding games that this wide of an age-range will enjoy difficult.

Unfortunately, the barrier keeps growing in providing quality daily physical activity in programs — there aren’t enough resources available to early childhood educators or early childhood educator assistants (like myself).  Resources are either very difficult to find (even online), or they are provided by such organizations that are pushing for daily quality physical activity/education, but also charge between $50 and $100 for a resource book.  I was blessed to receive some resources from my friend Dia, but these resources were only available via partnership that Special Olympics Ontario has with other sport organizations.  The same organizations challenging the world to provide more opportunity and options for physical activity to kids are the same that are making it inaccessible for the bulk of organizations to do so — it’s understandable that profit and business takes precedence, but these things only work if the programs seeking the resources have the funds to access them, making it a catch-22.  These barriers are not typically due to childcare centres in themselves, but their governing bodies or sport and physical activity non-profits not reaching the intended market in the most effective way and/or not receiving adequate funding to be able to reach the places that need it most. What can be done to overcome them is likely a huge mess of economics, politics and continuing education.

I am only a small piece in the puzzle, and the centre I work at joins in the picture.  The puzzle needs to keep being put together to give our kids active, healthy futures and encourage physical activity for life.  I play a small role in helping get these kids more physically active–in a week, I spend an hour and a half in the gym with them.  It’s not enough, but it’s all I can do, and hope that the rest of the active component of our program, physical education class, outdoor play and parental engagement are doing the rest.  As for other childcare programs?  There’s got to be something more out there.

If you’re a childcare provider or have a child in a licensed daycare, let me know your thoughts — what’s your physical activity program like?  Do you feel that it’s enough?  What would you like to see your kids doing differently?  Let me know what country you’re from so we can compare.  Additionally, if you’re a childcare provider and can direct me to any resources, I’d greatly appreciate it!

4 thoughts on “developmental physical activity: barriers in childcare

  1. Awesome article–there is a lot in here that I have been looking to verbalize–and I feel like what you are saying is really practical too, not just about feel-good-ism which won’t help in the long run. People who don’t do well in organized sports can do amazing things in outdoor activities like hiking, climbing, cycling, kayaking and the like. It is important to recognize that organized sports are not the only measure for athleticism-which I feel like you hit on here.

    During 2012 I will be working on a film documenting the benefits of outdoor activities for diabetics (its going to be WILD) while traveling all over North America. I would love to share a little presentation with either or both the kids there and or anyone in your organization who might benefit from hearing the firsthand accounts of what we are doing.

    Great article!


    1. Thanks Steve! :]
      It’s funny, while I love the concept of “alternative” sports [I need to get into something like that! Have been thinking about Dragonboat], it sucks that they have to be thought of as ‘alternative’, ya know? (does that make any sense?) I think getting more kids engaged in such things would be fantastic. If you choose to do any work in that area in the future, and I can help in any way, let me know! :]

      If you’re in the area, or are able to make a diversion, I’d love to work something out! Keep in touch! :]

  2. Outstanding! Getting kids into alternative sports (IE climbing, hiking etc) is what we are all about. We want to SHOW kids (and their parents) the good that can come from participating–through filming “LivingVertical: Project 365”. I have experience building climbing walls and facilitating their use for kids of all ages. We will stay in touch and hopefully build on this in the future!

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