|Illustration by Aaron Leighton
Fundamental movement and sports skills – also called “physical literacy” – help a child learn to move with confidence and control.
There are many benefits to learning movement skills. They help children improve their strength, posture and sleep and enhance their confidence, social skills and sense of achievement.
Parents can do a lot to help foster their child’s movement skills. More than encouraging a range of physical activities, developing movement skills involves practising specific, fundamental moves to help your child improve their co-ordination, balance and speed.
Canadian Sport for Life's Developing Physical Literacy guidelines offer a number of suggestions for children of all ages.
Guidelines for toddlers to six-year-olds
At this age, fundamental movements should be linked into play to keep everything fun.
- Throwing: practise throwing a ball with your child. Start with a soft ball and have them throw with one hand, then the other. Let your child throw at targets and throw as hard as they can.
- Balance: have your child stand on one foot or balance on other body parts. They can also walk along a line on the ground, try jumping from one foot to another or making shapes while jumping in the air. Riding a tricycle or bike can also help with balance.
Other useful fundamental skills to develop include running, tumbling and catching. All activities should emphasize playfulness and discovery so that the child is not under pressure to perform.
Guidelines for six- to nine-year-olds
This is the ideal age to develop hand and foot speed. It is also the age where children learn to “read” what other players are doing and make smart decisions during games.
- Throwing: practise throwing lots of different sized balls with one hand or with both hands. Have them try throwing the ball at different speeds, sometimes for accuracy using a lot of different angles, and sometimes for how far it can go.
- Catching: help your child learn to catch with both hands together and then with one hand. They can try catching balls of different sizes and weights. They can also learn to catch the ball when standing still and when moving towards it.
- Kicking: help your child learn to kick with each foot. Other options are kicking as far as possible, kicking to a target, kicking to keep the ball on the ground or kicking the ball as high in the air as possible.
This is a great age for a child to try all sorts of sports, especially those that enhance co-ordination, flexibility, balance, agility and speed. Good examples include entry-level soccer and baseball, swimming, running, skating and tennis.
Guidelines for nine- to 12-year-olds
By this age, most children are usually on their way to mastering fundamental movement skills. If not, it is worth going back to basics – riding a bike, catching balls and water balloons or doing jumping games while swimming. Once movement skills are mastered, you help your child practise more advanced sports skills.
- Throwing: help your child learn to throw a softball using a pitching motion and try to get the ball to pass over home plate.
- Catching: have your child practise catching a baseball using a baseball glove. They can catch the baseball first when it is thrown and then when it is hit with the bat. You can also help them learn to catch the baseball at ever greater distances from where it is hit.
- Kicking: have your child learn to kick a soccer ball without touching the ball with their hands. They can then learn how hard to kick the ball to get it to another team member and how to kick the ball with the inside of the foot to increase passing accuracy.
It is also important to maintain flexibility, so remind your child of the benefits of stretching.
Children at this age can begin strength training too, but they should focus on exercises that use their own body weight instead of lifting weights. Swiss balls or medicine balls can be useful for safe strength training for growing bodies. Other useful activities include entry-level football, basketball and ice hockey.
Giving your child a strong start
By introducing your child to lots of different physical activities, keeping them fun and practising fundamental movement skills, you will give them the best chance at succeeding in sports. More importantly, you will set them on the path towards a healthy and active lifestyle later in life.
- Learning movement skills can help a child improve their strength, posture and sleep.
- You can help a baby or toddler practise tumbling, balancing, throwing and running.
- As your child grows, you can use more complicated techniques to practise throwing, catching and kicking.
- Older children can benefit from doing activities that improve co-ordination, flexibility, balance, agility and speed.