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In the same way that birds fly, fish swim and animals move, toddlers are designed to toddle. The joy on their faces, from the first steps a child takes, shows that they are indulging in the potential of their freedom of movement (albeit stumbling and tumbling at first). The abilities of biomechanical self-propulsion are a vital component of the human body and a key indicator of healthy development in a child. It is the reason that parents all over the world celebrate ‘baby’s first step’ as one of the major landmarks of them growing up. The early years development stage of a child’s growth is vital to its future. With a whole lifetime ahead of them, it is important to give children the best start as soon as possible and this period of their life is key. The latest neurological research shows a very clear link between physical activity and mental capacity. The early years stage (from 2-5 years old) is particularly prone to this sort of influence because young children are developing so rapidly throughout their bodies.

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There is a good reason why it is called the ‘great’ outdoors, and it is not just because of the vastness of everything outside. It is because the countryside, the fresh air, the freeness to move, run and play, and the human connection that we instinctively feel with nature is better for us than being indoors. The outdoors is truly great! We all know this to be true, but far too many people have allowed themselves to become over-familiar and comfortable with an indoor life. And the bad habits of technology and four walls is amazingly hard to break.

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There have been a wide variety of studies and published psychologists’ opinions around the effects of early conditioning on young children – particularly when it comes to likes and dislikes, belief systems, and personality traits and characteristics. Some say the most impressionable times are 3-11 years old, others claim that 2-6 years old is the most influential period. Whatever the truth of the matter (and perhaps it is just different for each individual), the fact remains that a child’s early years will play a massive role in who they grow up to be. How we teach early-years children, and the experiences they are exposed to – good or bad – will potentially be the single biggest influence in the rest of their lives. So, paying attention to this time in their development is life-critical.

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There are lots of assumptions that it would be easy to make about exercise for young children. Most are dangerous and some could cause them irreparable damage for the rest of their lives. It would, for example, be wrong to assume that young children are full of beans anyway, so we should just let them get on with it. Like the rest of us, unless opportunities are placed in our way to encourage good behaviours we will develop bad habits that will eventually become the norm. Another ‘very wrong’ assumption is that some children are naturally ‘sporty’ and others are more ‘academically’ gifted. This simply is not true.

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According to the NHS website children under the age of five should not be inactive for long periods of time unless they are sleeping. Included in its ‘inactivity’ descriptions are watching TV, travelling in the car, being strapped in a buggy and other sedentary behaviours. Obviously, these cannot be avoided completely, but awareness is half the cure for almost any issue. The good news is that even light activity can have a significant positive impact on a child’s physical health and mental wellbeing. So you don’t need to push five-year-olds into joining the local running club, taking up mountain biking, or putting them on a ‘future Olympian’ training program to get them moving. Simply encouraging them to walk for part of the buggy ride, stopping for a movement break when on long car journeys, or having a playtime between favourite TV shows would help.

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For most teachers, the time spent planning lessons and administrating their work massively outweighs the time they get to spend actually teaching children. It is one of those ‘chicken and egg’ or ‘having your cake and eating it’ scenarios which is a very real problem in the ultra-busy, modern world in which we live. Imagine if all that a teacher ever had to do was teach!

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All children are born with an innate desire to play. Whether they are shy, outgoing, intellectual or deeply thoughtful by nature, after a few moments of play they will soon be lost in the moment. Studies show that play is an essential part of the way that most children, and even far into adulthood, learn and retain skills and information. Even if you leave a child on their own for any length of time, most will soon start to invent a game of some sort to keep themselves entertained and their brain active. Often, you might even see a lone child acting out their version of a real-life scene that they’ve witnessed their parents or older siblings portray – either with dolls or in their imagination.

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Often when you hear world class athletes talk about their inspirations and influences they will cite a youth leader, a teacher from primary school or someone who ran their local sports club. We refer to our ‘formative years’ as such because things that happen at an early age can easily determine the direction of the rest of a person’s life. Teachers matter a lot!

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