There is a physical activity that can be started way before one year old: swimming (or at least the first splash). “There is no age requirement to initiate a child to a sport” says Caroline Pujol, Senior Director at Sports Montréal and co-founder of Karibou, a program of motor-skills activities for children between 1 and 4 years old. “As young as one year old, they can walk on a balance beam for example.”
However, you’d better get to it before your child is five years old because a lot of motor skills are developed between birth and the age of 5, says Mrs Pujol.
But why should we make any effort to teach them sports? After all, if they are not forced to stay on a chair or in bed, all children ultimately end up walking or moving one way or another but the love of sports can be learned from parents or tutors, she confirms.
Parents who love sports and other people addicted to endorphins (neurotransmitters secreted during strenuous exercise that generate euphoria) can rejoice because on top of your initiatives and efforts, the simple fact of representing a role model for your children can give you the influence needed to convey the love of sports to your descendants. “Children naturally copy their parents, it’s the mirror effect” says Mrs. Pujol, noting that several studies confirm that children raised in sportive families are more often practicing sports.
It is obvious that moving with your children will probably encourage them to continue.
How to get them moving?
We are not all proud owners of a high tech training room but we can buy a few things without spending too much: little soft balls can be a good option for toddlers or little bean bags that they can throw and catch more easily than a ball. Moreover, these little bags are nice to the touch. As well as the tactile stimulation, the visual stimulation also sparks the interest of our young athletes: colourful material and equipment are also preferred.
Success also lies in simplicity, says Caroline Pujol. “It can be leading your child under a chair a few times as if it was a tunnel. It can also be assembling the puzzle-shaped rugs; it looks like a padded floor and we can make it a path on which the child can walk or run:, she explains.
A matter of age
Parents can get inspired from the creators of the Karibou program who carefully chose exercises based on the age of the children and their motor skills development. That way, they will find appropriate exercises and as soon as the child can walk, around 12 or 13 months old, they can help them walk as often as possible and add a bit of challenge around 16 months old when the child can walk sideways and backwards.
Our children are generally capable of throwing and catching balls by the age of 18 months and they can kick them without loosing their balance around 24 months old.
Between two and three years old, the little games-exercises diversify: sack races, running or jumping down a step with joined feet.
Between three and four years old, the motor skills are more complex and refined: the child can jump over a rope tied 20 centimeters off the ground, he can jump on one leg two or three times and throw a ball two or three meters away while keeping his feet still.
Therefore, parents can, without too much effort, initiate their children to physical activity themselves, at least until their preschool age. The key to success? “The child must have fun, otherwise he will not develop his motor skills, says Carolin Pujol, and we must listen to the child and try different things…”
Because it can be somewhat harder to satisfy your child after he reaches his fifth birthday, it may be time to initiate him to group activities. The parent can impose his veto but he should not force his child, says Sports Montreal’s Senior Director. He doesn’t seem too keen on sports? Don’t insist too much but nothing stops you from trying again next year.
To successfully share your passion with your child – or to make it grow on him – you must choose activities that are appropriate for both his age and his fancies. That way, he will want to move and maybe he will truly need to!