Young children on exercise equipment?

This rant comes comes courtesy of prekindergarten teacher Annette Swantek, who sent me the cover of the latest Play with a Purpose catalog, asking: “What is wrong with this picture? Young children on exercise equipment? Really?”


At the bottom of the cover, it says “Physical activity can improve kindergarten readiness.” And while it’s true that physical activity contributes greatly to cognitive development and school success, this is not the kind of physical activity that’s developmentally appropriate for young kids!

Think about it. Adults have long attention spans and the motivation to endure the monotony of repetitive exercises. Despite that, many adults loathe physical activity because to them it means the monotony of repetitive exercises! Do we really want young children, who do not yet have long attention spans and the motivation (or rationale) to endure monotony, learning to dislike physical activity?

Moreover, although there is some debate on the appropriateness of fitness training for kids, most experts agree that children under the age of eight shouldn’t be using weights or machines
— child-sized or not. Rather, the best fitness training for children involves the use of their own weight in physical activities they’d be performing anyway, like running, jumping, playing tug-of-war, and pumping higher and higher on a swing (where they can still be found).

There’s a good deal of interest in children’s fitness right now and plenty of programs cropping up to take advantage of that interest, especially among parents.

If you’re a parent, you need to know that even if you could convince your child, who lives squarely in the present, of the need for daily or three-times-a-week exercise and you were right there alongside her, working up a sweat and the two of you “into shape,” any results achieved would most probably be temporary. If physical activity is something your child has had imposed on her, she’s likely to stop doing it as soon as the choice is hers to make. Then any benefits gained will soon be lost — because fitness is fleeting.

Even if you reward your child for time spent in physical activity — with stickers or coins or much-desired TV or computer time — what happens when there are no longer rewards forthcoming? When the child has grown up, is on his own, and there’s no immediate payoff for dragging himself out of bed half an hour early or for hitting the road for a jog after a long day in class or at work?

If you’re an educator in the early years and believe in the importance of physical activity, thank you! But don’t for a second buy into the notion that this is the kind of physical activity young children need. We know that in early childhood process is far more important than product. Kids don’t care about the results of physical activity; all that matters to them is that it’s fun!

The goal is to ensure lifelong fitness. That means children will have to grow up with a love of physical activity and the way it makes them feel. The kids on this cover may be smiling now, but you can bet those smiles won’t last long once the camera is no longer aimed at them — because stationary exercise is B-O-R-I-N-G to a child that age.

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