What can I expect from my child or tween?
The time in your child's life when she is best able to develop her gross motor skills is the prepubescent period. As her body size and muscle strength gradually increase, her reaction time improves. Fundamental patterns of movement such as throwing and catching, kicking, hopping and jumping, skipping, running and galloping are the easiest to learn by ages seven and eight. Give her lots of opportunities to learn and practise these basic skills. It's much easier for her to increase her speed and coordination in the period from age six to twelve than it will be in her teens or later. If she leads an active life at this stage, your child will develop the skills to play many different sports and games throughout her whole life. But more than that, the same hand-eye coordination required to catch a ball contributes to developing skills in keyboarding, in sewing, in playing the piano or other musical instruments, and in any number of life activities.
Kids learn best when they're having fun and when they feel competent. They need to find a balance between the physical challenges of games and their developing skills. Because there's about a one-year lag between bone growth and muscle development, prepubescent kids go through periods of awkwardness during growth spurts. Find ways to help your young child succeed if she has difficulty with a physical skill. If she can't yet throw a ball well, have her throw a scarf instead to slow the motion down. Then try a beach ball or beanbag. Let your kids strap on some kneepads and play kneeling basketball with a big bouncy ball and kitchen pots for nets. They'll enjoy the silliness of the game while they get practice in throwing, bouncing, and catching the ball.
What kids can do
Your child's balance and agility are increasing, although his flexibility has been decreasing since infancy. He can jump hurdles, tumble, and balance while walking along a narrow board. Many children's games, like skipping rope and hopscotch, help them improve their gross motor skills.
Kids between six and twelve need at least 60 minutes of physical exercise every day, according to the Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute (CFLRI). This hour could consist of 30 minutes of vigorous play and 30 minutes of lighter activity, or it could be broken into 10-minute spurts of action and still provide health benefits.
Lots of kids don't get enough exercise. In the 1998 report of a joint study by the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the CFLRI, researchers reported that the health of more than 60 per cent of Canadian children is threatened because they are inactive. It's vitally important for your children to be regularly involved in physical activities. Not only does activity help develop their gross motor skills, it helps forestall the development of disease as your children grow older.
All kids are different. How a child's gross motor skills develop depends on many factors, including his own interest, your encouragement, and his inherited form and ability. Some kids have initial growth spurts earlier than others, so they will kick a ball farther at age ten simply because they have more strength. The following descriptions give a general idea of what the average kid might be capable of.
At age six
Most six-year-olds are in motion almost constantly. They love climbing and rough-and-tumble play. Swinging on swings and dancing are good, too. Most six-year-olds should be able to:
• run energetically around the back yard or playground, and skip with alternating feet.
• jump or step sideways.
• bounce a ball, probably with awkward slapping movements.
• throw a ball overhand with accuracy and direction.
• ride a two-wheeled bicycle.
• learn to skate.
At ages seven and eight
Seven- and eight-year-olds are exploding with energy. Left to their own devices, they choose wild, unrestrained horseplay that includes jumping, chasing, wrestling, and tree climbing. They enjoy testing their limits and may be risk takers.
At age nine
Nine-year-olds like to play hard. They often exert themselves to the point of exhaustion. They perform the same activities repeatedly. At this age, they're often interested in improving their athletic skills, and may become obsessed with improving their record of personal bests. They may also become interested in professional sports like baseball and soccer, and get involved in local teams for youngsters.
At age 10
Active play is still a fun part of life for most ten-year-olds, who are active just for the sheer joy of movement. Their skills and stamina have improved to the point where they get real enjoyment from games and activities that put their skills to use. They may have become quite competent on their bikes, and usually prefer to play at outdoor activities, not indoors.
At age 11
By age eleven, when most children are going through one of the stages of puberty and are growing more quickly, they may become more inhibited physically. They may appear both more agile and more awkward.
At age 12
By age twelve, your children may want to concentrate only on the sports and activities that they're good at. Most parents should be careful not to emphasize team sports and "winning at any cost," because kids still benefit most from generalized physical activity and games. Parents should try to maintain their kids' involvement in a variety of activities just for the pleasures of being active -- and the lifelong benefits such physical activity brings.
No strict guidelines
Remember that all children develop their gross and fine motor skills at their own speed, so take these descriptions as rough guidelines for assessing children's increasing skills. There are several organizations that offer training programs of different levels that are not tied solely to age. The Canadian Red Cross has a new updated swimming and water safety program in 2005 called Red Cross Swim. This new program has taken the most popular and effective elements of their existing program (AquaQuest), and added in some new features. To find out more about this new program, visit the swimming and water safety section of the Canadian Red Cross website: www.redcross.ca.