Sports and Sports Safety
Getting your preschooler involved in physical activities, including sports, can be fun and rewarding for her. Encouraging regular exercise at an early age may help to establish good health habits and keep your child fit for life. Exercise gives kids a chance to burn off some of their boundless energy and often helps them eat and sleep better, too. Here are a few tips about various kinds of activities your child might enjoy.
Some parents like to take their kids to organized gym classes (such as Gymboree). Are these classes necessary for physical development? No, your child will learn to throw a ball and shoot a basket without any formal classes. But if you're interested in taking your child to one of these classes, there's no harm and they can be fun for both parents and kids. They expose kids to developmentally appropriate toys and equipment that they might not have at home. Moreover, they can help children learn how to interact and play with their peers in a fair manner.
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Every preschooler is different; some 3 year olds might be ready to join a soccer team (even if all they do is chase each other around the field!), while others might shy away from so much interaction with other children. If you feel like your child might enjoy being part of a team, look around for an appropriate program. Make sure the focus is on having fun rather than competition. Many programs for younger children do not even keep score during games. Stay away from any program that puts pressure on your child to win or to compete against the other kids. Participating in a sport should be about having fun and trying your best, not about winning. Limit your child's participation to a reasonable amount of time most preschoolers have trouble focusing on any one activity beyond 30 to 45 minutes.
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Many parents think that exposing their children to the water as infants or toddlers makes them better swimmers as older children. In fact, studies have shown that kids who learn to swim later do just as well as those who started in the water as babies. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children wait to start formal swimming lessons until after their fourth birthday, when they have typically developed the necessary physical skills to more easily learn to swim. However, some children develop more quickly and may be ready for lessons at an earlier age.
Exposing infants and toddlers to water, even in formal programs designed for young children, has not been shown to put them at any lower risk of drowning. Moreover, younger babies tend to swallow lots of water just being in the pool with a parent. Be sure to use caution at all times around all bodies of water, including small wading pools, bathtubs and buckets. If your toddler or preschooler is in the water, make sure that you are always within arm's length of him. Child flotation devices are not a substitute for close supervision. Never leave your child alone in the water, even for a second.
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Now is a great time to teach your child that anytime he rides on a toy with wheels, he must wear a helmet! Fit your child with a helmet, and make sure he wears it whenever he rides his scooter or tricycle. For additional information, see Bicycle Safety.
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Chances are that your child has been enjoying the playgrounds in your neighborhood. However, as children get older, they often take more risks. Toddlers have no fear and can take a dive off the equipment faster than you can blink an eye! Do a quick safety check make sure that the surface under the playground equipment is soft, with either a shock-absorbing rubber mat or 9 to 12 inches of sand, sawdust or wood chips. Look for age-appropriate structures, and avoid playgrounds with old, rusted equipment. For more information, see Playground Safety.
Last updated May 29, 2011