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Letting Kids be Kids

By Ontario Minor Hockey Association, 01/30/15, 3:00PM EST

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We seem to live in a world where there’s a need to create high level performers every step of the way.

In today’s fast paced and hectic world children of all ages are facing challenges like never before. They’re under intense pressure from a young age to perform at high levels not only at school academically but in organized youth sports as well.  We seem to live in a world where there’s a need to create high level performers every step of the way. Children are not only being robbed of their childhood, but their health and well-being is at risk both mentally and physically. 

While parents have their child’s best interests at heart, societal pressures make it easy to get caught up in the fear of their child falling behind when they’re not meeting unrealistic expectations or artificial standards set upon them by well-meaning adults.  

In society’s quest to have kids grow up quickly children are being treated as if they are miniature adults which they definitely are not. Kids are different in every possible way than adults: physically, mentally, cognitively, emotionally, and socially. The best thing adults can for kids is allow them to be kids and to stop applying grownup values to youth activities. 

More and more kids are being enrolled in organized sports at younger ages, some as young as three, with an emphasis on developing sport specific skills, often at the expense of having fun and developing general fundamental movement and physical literacy skills. With the advent and pressures of early sport specialization and kids playing one sport year round, kids are growing up lacking the development of basic fundamental movement skills, they are suffering overuse injuries and experiencing burnout. 

The key to turning a child on to being active for life is to foster a love of movement and physical activity through unstructured free play from a young age. Through daily unstructured free play kids have the opportunity to enjoy and discover movement at a pace that suits them as individuals.

Dr. Kwame Brown, a neuroscientist who teaches psychology at Hampton University and is the creator of Move Theory Child Development states, “Play has, at its core, freedom and creativity. This is what distinguishes it from fitness and sports: the lack of rigidity, the plasticity in the activity,” He goes on to say, “Play has relative amounts of that freedom and creativity. Sometimes we have complete freedom to do exactly what I as an individual would like to do. Pure, individual, free play. We have group play in which we get to follow our whims, and have freedom to create, but that freedom and whim must be balanced with that of others. There is still flux and plasticity in this. We negotiate, we co-create.”

Providing kids with the time, space and permission to play every day is one of the greatest gifts children can receive from an adult. Whether at home or at school, providing opportunities for kids to play on a daily basis is crucial to their overall growth, development, health and well-being. 

“Children need the freedom and time to play. Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity” says Kay Redfield Jamison, a contemporary American professor of psychiatry. 

There are several steps, that you as a parent can take to help your child develop a solid foundation in movement and physical literacy that will not only enhance their level of fun and enjoyment, but improve their health and well-being as well:

  1. Set an example by being active daily. As a parent you are one of the most influential role models your child will have, especially in the early years.
  2. Get outside and play with your child either in the backyard or at a local park. Resist the urge to take on a coaching role. Allow your child to lead you in their world of play.
  3. Provide opportunities for your child to play with other children in a non-structured environment on a daily basis.
  4. Encourage your child to play a variety of sports when they’re ready, willing and able ensuring the program is age and stage appropriate with a focus on fun, engagement, learning and development.
  5. Resist the urge to over-schedule your child in the world of organize sports allowing time for your child to engage daily in active, unstructured free play. 

The most important thing to remember is that it’s not about you. Your child’s successes and failures are not your successes and failures. Listen to your child and most of all allow them to enjoy the process and have fun. Your child only gets one chance at being a child. 

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