A study in Ireland has found that kids are losing the agility and basic physical skills we used to take for granted. Skills like...jumping. Running. Being able to catch a ball.
In an Irish Times article titled "Why are So Many 12-Year-Olds Unable to Run, Jump or Catch?" reporter Michelle McBride first states the stats. A study at Dublin City University found:
Skill proficiency among 12- and 13- year-olds
13 per cent could master the vertical jump.
11 per cent could master skipping.
29 per cent could master the horizontal jump.
45 per cent could master the overhand throw.
48 per cent could strike a ball.
McBride adds that "skills that were generally mastered by six-year-olds are now out of reach for many children by the time they reach 13. These findings all point to one thing: we are sliding towards a crisis in public health and fitness."
Kids who don't start out physically fit are unlikely to suddenly start playing hopscotch at 35. So the key is to start playing young. And the key word here is "playing."
While the researchers conclude that "a major challenge will involve re-educating a new generation of young people about skills once considered routine" and that we must "build the teaching of these skills into preschools and primary schools," I'd say that what we really need to build into preschools and primary schools is not more adult-led instruction, but FREE TIME for FREE PLAY.
Kids do not need to be painstakingly taught how to skip and hop by adults. They learn when they are running around with their friends. In fact, when something becomes a class, kids -- being human -- are LESS likely to do it, because now it has been defined as work. For instance, I loved jumping rope but hated all the calisthenics we were taught in P.E. One was a joy, the other, a chore.
Giving kids back time to play is a Let Grow priority. And since it is hard for them to just run outside and find other kids to play with in these structured, supervised days, we are recommending schools stay open from 3 to 6 for After School Free Play.
With the gym or playground open and an adult somewhere on the premises -- available for emergencies, but not organizing the play -- kids have a critical mass of other kids to play with in a place their parents trust. They have time to let their play unfold, and friends of different ages to learn from and teach.
They'll learn hopping and jumping. They'll also learn creativity, focus, social skills.
Consider Free Play an after-school enrichment class that just happens to train the body as well as the mind.
This is not just a "good idea." It is one that can transform your kids and your school. Feel free to drop me a line to discuss how to start it: Lenore@LetGrow.org. And here is Peter Gray's TED Talk on why free play is the key to successful, well-adjusted kids. - L