Young Parents Team
Such classes don’t just turn your kid from a couch potato to a jumping bean – their benefits extend from mental to social development, too. She’ll develop strength, hand-eye coordination and fundamental motor, balancing and agility skills.
Chua Wee Lee, managing director of multi-sport and exercise school Ready Steady Go Kids, says: “There are studies that show a kid’s brain is more alert after playing sports.”
He adds: “Children below three tend to be lone players, and when they join sporting activities, they learn to interact. They’ll also be exposed to many colours and shapes, a wider vocabulary, and hone their listening skills.”
Through play, kids learn to respect others, cooperate, take turns, share, resolve conflicts and develop leadership skills, says Edward Yeo, an academic staff member from the School of Sports, Health and Leisure at Republic Polytechnic.
They also cultivate problem-solving abilities, imagination and creative thinking.
“Sports and games can build resilience in a child that will equip her with the right attitude and skill to cope with challenges later in life,” he says.
Keep it simple and fun
That said, is there a right age to get kids started, then?
While Eric Lim, director of My Gym, and Zulkifly Jaffar, lead gym instructor at The Little Gym, say your little one can start basic gymnastics from as young as four months to six months old, Edward feels the right age is 18 months and later.
However, Eric and Zulkifly both stress that this is for fun gymnastics, not the competitive type.
And at that age, they are still too young to understand the concepts of the game, says Wee Lee, who teaches his preschooler pupils the fundamental movements of each sport rather than expect them to play a proper game.
Sports classes should begin later, Edward says, adding that the timing varies from child to child, depending on her stage of development and the activity.
“When a child is able to walk confidently without falling over and is able to understand basic verbal instructions, she can start to be exposed to different games or sports. This is usually around two to three years old onwards.”
Select something that focuses on developing her fundamental motor skills, and that inculcates good values and the love of sport. It shouldn’t become a chore.
For a three-year-old, look for activities that develop her motor skills, like running and jumping, balancing proficiency, and big movements like hanging and swinging on bars, Zulkifly says.
He also notes that she should also be learning about body awareness, like where her body is positioned when she’s doing a particular motion.
And when she’s four, she should learn conditioning exercises to develop her upper-body strength, like doing cartwheels.
The more the merrier
Our experts agree that it’s important to expose your preschooler to a variety of sports, so she can decide which one to pursue when she’s older.
If you limit her experiences to just one at a young age, it may cause her to miss the development window to pick up skills required in other sports later in life, Edward says.
And she might not show a talent in a particular sport when she’s only a preschooler.
Don’t harbour dreams that she’ll be the next superstar athlete, or you’ll get obsessed, Wee Lee says.
But if you’re still intent on training her to be the next, say, Annika Sorenstam, Eric suggests you first cultivate her interest in golf.
And do make it fun for her without the objective of training. If she’s very interested in the sport, it’s likely she’ll overcome hurdles on her own.
Who cares about winning?
Edward believes your kid will reap more from participating in activities emphasising collaboration and cooperation with her peers than being in a competition.
Still, it’s fine to sign her up if the organisers praise every child for taking part and everyone gets a medal after the competition, Zulkifly says.
“Children who get put down for not winning wouldn’t want to do the activity again. What’s important is that they get a positive experience. They shouldn’t be given the impression that winning is everything.”
Eric adds: “The younger you start playing competitively, the more injuries you get – and you’ll only see the damage at a later stage.”
Preschoolers are still fragile, so you should train your child competitively only when they’re in primary school.
When you start young, you burn out earlier, too. Instead, focus on general movement and play, and the development of fundamental motor skills, which are the building blocks for more complex abilities required in sports.
Choosing a programme
Consider her readiness and interest because it affects how engaged she’ll be, Edward says. Sign up for a trial class first, if it’s offered.
So, apart from the cleanliness of the school, check how safe the activities and equipment are.
And when dealing with naughty kids, are the instructors patient and calm? While a low instructor-to-participant ratio means she’ll get more personal attention, it also means she’ll get less interaction with the other kids. The programme will likely cost more as well.
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