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Get Babies out of Strollers and onto the Floor
Getting babies to be active isn't rocket science.
Put a 3-month-old briefly on his tummy and watch him struggle to lift his head. Move an infant's hands to play patty-cake. Provide crawlers with sturdy furniture to pull on and soon they'll stand.
But too many tots are confined for long periods in strollers, baby seats, or playpens, when they should be moving around, says the National Association for Sport and Physical Activity.
Instead, babies, toddlers, and preschoolers need simple but targeted daily activities that are crucial building blocks in learning to walk, run, and eventually do all the other tasks the rest of us take for granted, the Association says in new guidelines for children under 5.
The non-profit group, known for exercise guidelines for older children and adults, aimed its latest recommendation at helping parents, car care centers, and preschools help tots develop motor skills.
Activities Which Develop
Infants, Birth to 12 Months
Bounce, throw and chase balls to develop hand-eye coordination.
Dancing to music and follow-along songs promote body awareness and balance.
If the child's under foot during dinner preparation, create a game by asking him to help carry something -- that won't spill or break -- to the table instead of putting him in a high chair or playpen.
Preschoolers, 3 to 5 Years
Help the child walk along a line on the ground or, in a safe area not around cars, along a sidewalk curb, to promote balance.
Lay out objects to create a maze or tell a child to run around a tree and back, providing vigorous exercise plus mastering turns and balance.
Around age 3, children learn to hop. Ask the child to hop first on one foot, then the other, promoting balance and strengthening leg muscles. Promote different rhythms by asking them to skip, learned around age 4.
Many parents assume skills such as rolling, sitting, and walking will just come naturally as babies grow, said Jane Clark, a movement specialist at the University of Maryland. But "you have to provide that environment that hooks the brain up to the muscles," she said.
"We 'containerize' kids to keep them safe while parents are busy," added Michigan State University exercise physiologist Jim Pivarnik, a co-author of the guidelines. Give them a safe environment and "let them out, let them explore, let them move."
The goal is common-sense, fun activities — and making physical activity part of normal, everyday life in hopes that the children will not grow up to be among the 60 per cent of Americans who are overweight.
For example, an infant who spends much of the day in a bouncy seat may like watching the suspended toys, but probably will roll over or sit later than babies who spent more time on a blanket.
Watch a two-year-old throw. It's inevitably overhand, and they step forward on the same side as the throwing arm. If parents do not like throwing balls around, the tots will not progress as quickly to the next step — throwing in more of a baseball stance — as their peers, Clark said.
One solution is using soft balls that will not break anything. They do not have to be special or expensive. Clark advised making a ball with old pantyhose or wadded newspaper and a little tape.
Because young children naturally move around a lot, many caregivers assume they are getting all the physical activity they need. But TV and video games keep a lot of preschoolers sedentary for longer than parents may realize, said Dr. Nazrat Mirza of Children's National Medical Center.
In inner cities, youngsters often have few safe playgrounds or bike paths. Plus, different activities are needed at different ages to spur development, Clark added.
Among the Guidelines
Physical activity should not be forced or used as punishment, the guidelines say. Instead, it should be a routine part of daily life — and parents should join in, not just sit on a park bench and watch the children romp.
Article by LAURAN NEERGAARD, The Associated Press, as printed in the Idaho Statesman, February 12, 2002. Reprinted with permission.
How to Get Your Children Moving (some articles available in Spanish)