Sedentary lifestyles robbing kids of motor skills

Free time … Lizzie Roche, 6, and her brother Tommy, 9, play at Blaxland Riverside Park in Silverwater with ...
Free time … Lizzie Roche, 6, and her brother Tommy, 9, play at Blaxland Riverside Park in Silverwater with brothers Alex, 9, Max, 5, and Ethan Nalewabau, 11. Photo: Tamara Dean

Most children are unskilled at basic movements such as throwing, running and jumping, according to a landmark study linking NSW children's lack of fundamental movement skills with their sedentary lifestyles.

Less than half of all NSW primary school children do the recommended 60 minutes of exercise daily and this could be linked to the decline in basic movement skills.

Parents mistakenly believe that children naturally learn those fundamental movement skills. But children need to be taught them.

The study leader, Louise Hardy, said without basic movement skills children were less likely to participate in sports or play with their friends, had lower fitness levels and were more prone to being overweight or obese.

<em>Illustration: Cathy Wilcox</em>
Illustration: Cathy Wilcox 

And the number of children that do have these skills is on the decline, according to her study, published this week in the international journal Pediatrics.

''We keep emphasising the amount of time per day children spend on physical activity, but if kids don't have the capacity to engage in those physical activities it might suggest that we should be measuring other parameters, such as their ability to run, jump and throw, first,'' Dr Hardy, from the university's school of public health, said.

''Parents mistakenly believe that children naturally learn those fundamental movement skills. But children need to be taught them.''

A report into physical activity in government primary schools released last month by the Audit Office of NSW estimated 30 per cent of primary schools did not deliver two hours of planned sport each week and that students' physical activity had declined ''significantly''.

But Dr Hardy said parents are also to blame for not playing with their children.

''They should be giving their kids a ball, not a DVD.''

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The study of nearly 7000 students in NSW assessed skills from year 2 through to high school. Though children should have mastered a basic sprint run, vertical jump, side gallop and leap by year 2, only 10 per cent had all four skills.

Half the students had still not mastered a sprint run by high school, while high school-aged girls also showed low competency in the object-control skills of throwing, kicking and catching.

Physiological differences did not explain why boys outperformed girls in some areas because researchers assessed movement and control, not speed and strength.

''It could be that girls are not getting the opportunity to participate, and certainly if you look at school ovals it is mostly boys out playing,'' Dr Hardy said. ''Perhaps we need girl-only areas of ovals and gear set aside.''

Judy Palmer, a grandmother of three, agreed children were playing less. Her grandson, nine-year-old Alex, said he liked, ''playing inside with the Xbox''.

But Mrs Palmer, from Cherrybrook, said parents had to make time to play with their children.

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