It is known that early childhood physical education plays an important role in the life of any child because it gives an opportunity to improve not only physical wellness, but it also assists and improves both mental and emotional development of children at an early age, from infancy to kindergarten.
In a physical aspect, those children who widely participate in physical education at an early childhood age will be able to start fighting against increasing obesity. According to the opinion of some experts in the sphere of dietology, obesity has its roots in early childhood, and cannot appear spontaneously in adults. It is known that the number of overweight children in the United States has been constantly increasing since the 1960-1970’s. According to the statistical data, by 2000, the number of overweight American children and adolescents has been increased to about 15.4%. Today this critical number is about 25%. (Butler, 2000, p.28)
Moreover, early childhood physical education as an important part of childhood development can help young children to expend some part of their huge energy so that they will be able to focus their attention to other learning activities such as reading, counting, drawing which require quiet and undisturbed atmosphere during the seated lesson.
Taking into consideration the above mentioned facts, it is necessary to pay special attention to early childhood physical education. This issue is referred to both the parents who should take care of the future health of their young children, and teachers of pre-school educational institutions who should realize the importance of implementation of special physical education programs for children from infancy to kindergarten. (Butler, 2000, p.32)
My goal in this paper is to discuss the importance of quality physical education in early childhood settings and to prove the fact that early childhood physical education activities can provide a great deal of benefits to young children.
DEFINITION OF THE TERM PHYSICAL EDUCATION AND SOME FACTS FROM ITS HISTORY
The term physical education denotes some well-organized educational process or instruction which is focused on motor activities and which assists in the proper physical growth, good health condition, and balanced body image of the individual.
It is known that the historical roots of physical education go back to Ancient China of c.2500 B.C., where people created an effective and well-developed system of exercise and physical training. Besides, in ancient Greece the Athenians were engaged in both physical and mental development. They developed gymnastics and other kinds of sports and assigned them an important educational value. In Roman Empire, physical education was awarded the status of military training. During the period of Renaissance, there was a special interest in physical education as a vital part of the general individual’s development. However, in 19-th century, the systems of gymnastics were rapidly developed in countries of Europe, including the USA, Germany, Sweden, and England. Later, a new system of education led to compulsory physical training in American public schools and to establish the course of physical education in all American colleges and universities.
Today, physical education is obligatory in all educational institutions, including nursery schools and kindergartens. (Butler, 2000, p.52)
BENEFITS OF EARLY PHYSICAL EDUCATION
Nowadays a great number of studies have already been conducted by the researchers in order to prove the fact that early physical education provides a lot of benefits to children of an early age. Some of them are the following ones.
- Early physical education provides balanced physical activity. It is known that young children are active by nature because they enjoy such physical activities as running and playing, climbing and dancing. When they go to pre-school, they have to spend some part of their time in sedentary learning activities which include reading, counting, drawing and so on. In order to facilitate this situation, different physical education activities are specially designed and implemented in all the pre-school institutions, from nursery to kindergarten. (Fisher et al., 2011, para.3)
- Early physical education helps to develop fine motor skills. These skills can serve children later in their future life when they will be engaged in typing, writing, cooking, playing piano, driving or tying their shoes. According to the medical data, the development of fine motor skills is related to the period of early childhood and up to the age of 8 years. These skills are of great importance in other areas of life.
- Early physical development provides support to children with diagnosis of autism disorders. These children have an opportunity to enjoy physical education activities where they can participate in different high-intensity activities at one time. Such activities as ball tossing, bike riding, mat rolling can help children with these health disorders to develop not only their gross motor skills, but also social skills.
- Early physical education helps to prevent obesity in children. It is known that early physical education programs for children of an early age can help to prevent childhood obesity and overweight. Many American experts state that child obesity can lead to serious diseases later in life, including heart diseases, diabetes, psychological disorders, and others. Moreover, it can lead to adulthood obesity and social discrimination.
- Early physical education provides opportunities for achievement of good academic results. It is clear that when preschoolers feel sick, they cannot focus their attention on other classroom tasks. Early Physical education promotes healthy lifestyle and motivation for learning. Those young children who actively participate in different physical activities can have normal blood pressure, strong bones and muscles, good mental health. The above mentioned physical health benefits make healthy children who are ready to learn more and to understand new material better and easily because they feel well.(Cook, 2011, para.4)
MAIN STAGES OF EARLY CHILDHOOD
Physical education should be implemented in all stages of early childhood development which include the following ones:
- Newborn, aged from birth to 28 days;
- Infant, aged from 1 to 12 months;
- Toddler, aged from 1 to 3 years;
- Preschooler, aged from 3 to 5 years.
It is interesting to notice that physical activity of the newborn babies and infants include grasping, dancing and cuddling. As a newborn has no muscle control, most of their body movements are based on reflexes. The toddlers’ age requires another type of physical activity that provides development of muscle movement, balance and motor skills. Toddlers can jump, dance, run, swim and walk. Preschooler age needs such physical activities as running, throwing, dancing, crawling, biking, catching, swimming, playing team games. These physical activities allow developing of motor skills, coordination of movements and so on. (Fisher et al., 2011, p.4)
THE ROLE OF PHYSICAL EDUCATION IN COGNITIVE AND PHYSICAL DEVELOPMENT OF YOUNG CHILDREN
Physical education plays an important role in cognitive development of young children. Many studies conducted by the researchers over the past 20 years have proved the fact that early physical activity provides a powerful stimulus to the child’s brain. It is not a secret that brain cells need a constant flow of blood to provide efficient functioning and health development, especially in young children. Physical education is not just a good time, it is a necessity, and it must be included into the curriculum of pre-school institutions. Moreover, as the relation between regular physical activity and intellectual development of children is rather close, most pre-school jurisdictions have made physical education obligatory for all young children.
One of the studies conducted by the American researchers in 2010 proves the fact that early physical education and language integration can influence oral and written speech of pre-school children. The relationship between physical education and language gives an opportunity to understand the main language problems of young children. It is found that numerous problems in speech are closely connected with motor difficulties of children, and vice-versa. For this reason, most experts consider that it is important to use some intervention programs that are focused on both cognitive and motor subject areas. Besides, it is found that the combination of different language strategies with effective movement programs can not only promote and enhance appropriate linguistic concepts, but also address the movement needs of young children in pre-school institutions. (Vassiliki, 2010, para.5)
The above mentioned study gives possible explanation for the relationship between physical education and language. Both movement and language are considered to be natural and high powered ways of expression and communication which are developed in young children in a similar way. For example, young children in pre-school institutions learn to distinguish the letters of the alphabet and to arrange them into simple words in order to create some meaningful simple sentences. It is related to language. The same kind of thing is related to physical education. The young children first learn different movements in order to develop movement skills which they will use in more complex physical activities such as sports dance and gymnastics. (Vassiliki, 2010, para.7)
It is clear that all movement activities which are used in pre-school institutions not only motivate children and capture their attention, but also develop their critical thinking and problem solving skills. Most young children have the opportunity to discuss and explain in simple words the rules of the games and activities, as well as to combine written expression of the rule with movement activities. This training helps to develop skills both in language and physical education. For example, most young children can shape different letters of the alphabet and built simple and complex words with their bodies and then write these words down. The study demonstrated that it is a great pleasure for young children to copy words or rules for physical activities in kindergartens. (Vassiliki, 2010, para.10)
SOME CHILDHOOD DISORDERS THAT CAN APPER DUE TO POOR PHYSICAL ACTIVITY OF CHILDREN AT AN EARLY AGE
According to the statistical data, most schools in Europe and in the USA devote only 1 – 3 hours per week to physical education. The health care specialists state that it is necessary to increase the number of hours. Statistics clearly shows that those societies in which early physical education gets less academic hours and attention in the pre-school curriculum suffer from more spinal defects and flat foot. Such children are usually less healthy and more disease prone. Besides, poor physical activity at an early age can lead to coronary heart diseases, diabetes, colon cancer, breast cancer, hip fractures, high blood pressure, obesity and overweight, osteoporosis, depression and even mental disorders. (Cook, 2011, para.3)
TYPES OF PHYSICAL ACTIVITIES FOR YOUNG CHILDREN IN PRE-SCHOOL INSTITUTIONS
One more study focused on the physical activities for young children which was conducted by the American researchers not long ago demonstrates the following results. It is found that different types of physical activities in kindergarten produce different results. The following types of physical activities for young children were mentioned in the report:
- Outside activities which include playground activities, swinging play, jumping on a trampoline, monkey-bar activities, basketball and others. These physical activities develop balance and arm muscle strength of young children aged from 3 to 5 years.
- Motor development activities which include yoga and others. These physical activities help to develop self-control, coordination and body awareness.
Besides the above mentioned physical activities, there are some other types which include cardio and aerobic activities. Running, jumping, biking, walking, swimming and others are included in this category. Aerobic activities can benefit heart and lungs. (Obeng, 2010, para.7)
Today, most preschool teachers develop their own early physical education programs which include all the necessary movements, different types of physical activity, outdoor and indoor games. It gives them an opportunity to make their children healthy and happy.
In conclusion, it is necessary to say that physical education in early childhood settings is of great importance for young children. Quality physical education not only prevents a great number of different diseases including obesity, but also it improves self-confidence and sense of well-being in young children. Besides, quality physical education provides both psychological and mental benefits for pre-school children. That is why it is very important to pay special attention to the development of effective physical activity programs in early childhood settings. They will help to organize regular physical activities for young children and reduce the risk of development of a great variety of diseases. In addition, effective early physical education will help to maintain healthy weight, healthy bones, muscles and joints, to reduce depressing condition and the feeling of anxiety, and to promote positive psychological development of children at an early age.
Butler, J. T. (2000) Principles of Health Education and Health Promotion (Wadsworth’s Physical Education Series). Brooks Cole; 3-rd Edition.
Cook, J. (2011) The Benefits of Physical Development from Early Childhood Education. Ehow.com. Retrieved September 21, 2011 from:<http://www.ehow.com/list_5980743_benefits-development-early-childhood-education.html>
Fisher, A., Boyle, J., Paton, J., Tomporowski, P., Watson, C., McCol, J., Reilly, J. (2011) Effects of a physical education intervention on cognitive function in young children: randomized controlled pilot study. BMC Pediatrics, 2011. Retrieved from:< http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2431/11/97>
Obeng, C. (2010) Physical activity lessons in preschools. Journal of Research in Childhood Education. January 1, 2010. Retrieved from:<http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Physical+activity+lessons+in+preschools.-a0223823303>
Vassiliki, D., Kourtessis, T., Goti-Douma, E., Kyrgiridis, P. (2010) Physical education and language integration: effects on oral and written speech of pre-school children. Physical Educator. December 22, 2010. Retrieved from:<http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Physical+education+and+language+integration%3a+effects+on+oral+and…-a0247035391>