Early motor skill development and physical activity can’t be left to chance
Head Start developed I Am Moving, I Am Learning in 2005 as a strategy for addressing obesity in Head Start children, estimated at about 15 to 20 percent. The program can now be found in all kinds of early childhood settings across the country.
I Am Moving, I Am Learning (IMIL) integrates movement and nutrition into the daily lives of children, educators and families. “This is not about physical education classes,” explains a letter from the Office of Head Start. “This is not about pulling children out of the classroom and going to a gym. This is not about team sports and it’s not about athletic competitions.”
IMIL has three goals: To increase the quantity of time spent in moderate to vigorous physical activity during daily routines; to improve the quality of structured movement experiences intentionally facilitated by adults; and to promote healthy nutrition choices every day.
Research suggests that early movement experiences help to create neural networks in the developing brain, and enhance cognitive, social and emotional skills. While the physical activity in non-directed play is very important, so, too, according to the authors of IMIL, are intentional, adult-directed opportunities for movement. Without them, they say, we’re leaving motor skill development to chance.
Participants in IMIL learn how to vary and modify motor skill development to different ability levels in young children, including those with disabilities. And they learn that physical activity for young children is not the same as it is for adults; it must be playful, simple, creative and success-oriented. IMIL also stresses the benefits of outdoor play and time in nature.
Tania Quezada administers the training sessions at Ready to Learn and facilitates many of them. A native of the Dominican Republic, Tania says the program resonated with her personally. “It really got me thinking about my own habits, especially in terms of my culture, which often views people who are chubby as healthy.” Since attending a conference on the program in 2011, she has lost 50 pounds.
“I didn’t grow up eating a lot of green vegetables,” she notes. “We ate lots of rice and hominy. But once I became committed to eating nutritiously, I realized I didn’t have to give up the food of my heritage. I just had to be more aware of portion sizes.”
In fact, young children are usually capable of self-regulation. The adults in their lives can either support or disrupt this process. In other words, IMIL says, don’t insist on the “Clean Plate Club.” Portion sizes have grown dramatically in the past 20 years, and the slice of pizza that once satisfied a young child is now twice as large.
“I just love I Am Moving,” says Tania. “On a personal level, it really had a tremendous impact on me – and my family – and I really enjoy sharing it with providers in class. They get very excited about implementing it at their settings.”