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Is Your Child As Coordinated As You Were at His Age?

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Health, Wellness, & Safety

A preschool teacher in New Zealand asks a question that’s worth stopping to think about. Can your child do the sorts of things you could do when you were her age? He thinks the answer is “no.” He’s noticed that children these days are able to do less.

So think back to your own childhood. When you were six or seven, what did you like to do? Did you

  • Climb trees
  • Swing without being pushed
  • Know how to swim
  • Clamber over rocks and hills
  • Splash in puddles
  • Jump rope by yourself
  • Jump a rope swung by two friends
  • Play backyard hockey, kickball, or softball
  • Play hide-and-seek
  • Play games of tag
  • Shoot baskets
  • Throw a Frisbee
  • Ride a bike, ride a scooter, or roller skate

Now answer this: how many of these activities do your children do easily and often? As easily and often as you did at their age?

Kids these days don’t have as much outdoor time that’s unscheduled. They spend less time just playing with other children, and spend more time in organized sports or in settings carefully supervised by adults. Because children’s playtime these days involves grownups, it happens on grownups’ timetables. It’s limited. It’s scheduled. It’s not planned by the children themselves.

This means that children’s play is less casual. Nothing is “pick-up” anymore. The rules are not negotiated anymore but are refereed by adults. Things seem more competitive. Even the places where play happens is less natural and more “civilized.”

If children seem less interested in outdoor play this could be the reason why.  And if children seem less physically fit, softer, and chubbier than they used to be, these could be contributing factors.

So, what can you do?

  1. Stock play equipment kids can use. Lots of equipment like scooters and bikes can be got second hand or shared with nearby families. Certainly balls of several sizes and Frisbees should be part of every family’s front closet.
  2. Let kids play. Don’t worry about the rules or technique. This is about having fun and being active, not making the team. If you like and are invited, do join in with the play, but play along; don’t make everyone do as you say.
  3. Keep out. Try not to hover or supervise compulsively. Certainly keep an eye out and be ready to redirect kids if things seem headed for danger. But children will find their own level of challenge if you let them. Try to let them.
  4. Be sensible. At the same time that you’re keeping out, don’t allow ropes on trees or climbing structures, bicycles on busy streets, and so on. Teach safety and remember that kids – especially children without a lot of experience with outdoor play – can’t see the dangers you can. Don’t hover but do guide.

You might find your kids don’t even know how to have fun outdoors anymore. You might have to show them. But if the fun has gone out of childhood in your neighborhood, now is the time to put it back.

Let your children have as much fun, be just as active, and be as agile now as you were back then.


© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.

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Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.