We know that there are a range of fundamental movement skills that children need to acquire in the early childhood years.
Sound fundamental movement skills provide the basis on which children can build more specialist skills or simply continue to participate in and enjoy active pursuits as they grow older.
Often children who have not acquired good fundamental movement skills in their early years tend to be less active as adults, with consequent health and wellbeing concerns.
Locomotive skills are one area of fundamental movement. Babies learn to crawl, then pull to stand and eventually walk and run. Correct walking and running involve a smooth transfer of weight from one leg to the other, thus children can experiment with different balancing activities in order to develop more control over their walk and run. Hopping games help with this as do standing balances.
Running involves high knees lifts, arms driving back and forwards in opposition to legs and steps landing on the ball of the foot.
Good control in running enables children to dodge - to quickly transfer weight from one side of the body to the other in order to swerve and to dodge with the upper body without falling over or loosing step in the run. Other locomotive skills include skipping and galloping.
Both of these provide opportunities to practice moving the upper and lower body and limbs in different ways whilst still maintaining balance and forward momentum.
Jumping also provides opportunities to strengthen leg control and the co-ordination of arms, legs and trunk.
Along with locomotive skills are movement skills involving more of the upper body and eye hand co- ordination such as throwing and catching.
A sound throw requires a side on posture, a transfer of weight to the back foot as the throwing arm moves back, then a rotation of the body and throwing arm forward as weight transfers to the front foot.
Catching requires eyes to focus on the ball with the feet moving the body in line. A good catch uses the hands and elbows to absorb the force of the ball.
Specialist fundamental movement skills include kicking the ball. This requires a focus on the ball with the support leg planted to the side of the ball. The kicking leg is bent at 90 degrees whilst weight is transferred forward as the foot swings, making contact with the top of the foot.
Another specialist skill is hitting a ball with a club or bat such as in golf, cricket or hockey. Again, this requires a focus on the ball, a side on stance with feet and shoulders aligned and a weight transfer onto the front foot as the bat or club swings forward.
The pandemic has made us all think more about how we can create online learning opportunities for our children.
Many of us think the online environment might suit academic learning but are more doubtful about how we can support children's physical development, and in particular motor skill development.
However, a study published this month in the European Early Childhood Research Journal demonstrates that a digital exercise programme for young children made a significant difference to the children's fundamental movement skills.
The children in this experiment watched a video and performed the movements for 15 minutes a day, 3 days a week for 8 weeks. The videos showed running, galloping, jumping on one foot, running through obstacles, jumping over obstacles, long jumping and sliding.
The idea was to present each movement skill in the video, breaking the skill down into its components and modelling the correct performance of each element. The children were able to imitate the model in their practice sessions. They showed a much greater improvement in fundamental movement skills compared to other children who simply participated in their normal physical activities in their early childhood centres and schools.