Focus on the Fundamentals!
I’m a big believer in children acquiring fundamental movement skills before trying to tackle the more complex ones. After all, a person wouldn’t try diving before knowing how to swim. Similarly, a child shouldn’t be expected to run and kick a ball before he can do either of those things well on its own. She shouldn’t be expected to catch a small white ball when she still hasn’t mastered catching a large, colorful one!
The problem with many organized sports is that they inherently demand – rather than teach – greater movement skills than young kids have, and this can lead to frustration and failure for a child.
By focusing on the fundamentals first – by allowing your child to practice emerging skills through play – and by taking the time to play with him – you can help ensure that your child feels comfortable with and confident in his movement abilities. Joining your little one in play allows you to model skills that your child has yet to learn, like a gallop or a skip. But it must honestly and truly be play. No expectations, no pressure. So if you demonstrate galloping or skipping, they should only be fun activities that you’re encouraging your child to try. He doesn’t have to do it if he doesn’t want to, and if he wants to try, he doesn’t have to get it right the first – or the second or third or fourth – time!
If we liken movement to grammar, the skills themselves (running, jumping, etc.) are the verbs and the elements of movement (space, shape, force, flow, time, and rhythm) are the adverbs. For example, if your child were jumping around the backyard, you might ask her – playfully – to try jumping backward, sideward, or around in circles (the element of space), while being very big or very small (shape), as lightly or strongly as possible (force), with pauses in between (flow), slowly or quickly (time), or to the beat of your clapping hands (rhythm). Keeping the elements of movement in mind as you play ensures that your child will get to experience the full range of possibilities for each movement. This also contributes to the fun and will benefit him in all future physical activities!