Core Strength for School Readiness by Vanessa Buys

Moving from preschool to school requires our children to transition to a long day of sitting, standing, writing and concentrating.  One of the key factors that enables us to do this is a strong, stable core!

So, developing core strength in our pre-schoolers is one step towards a happy and successful start to school.  For most pre-schoolers, it is not necessary to have a complicated exercise program to do this.  We can use every day play and games to improve core strength and get children ready for school, and they will think they are just having fun! 

What is core strength for kids?

When we talk about core strength you are probably thinking of your abdominal muscles, or “six pack”.  However, there is a lot more to core strength than just that.  Core strength actually refers to all of the muscles surrounding the abdomen, back, hips and shoulders – all the muscles we use to stabilise our body and enable good posture and movement.

Continually strengthening these muscles is one of the underlying factors to support healthy motor skill development in children.  From newborns learning to lift their heads, progressing to simple and then more complex skills like jumping and balancing, all relies on our children’s core strength.

Why is core strength important for school readiness?

The school environment requires children to sit up straight on a chair or mat for long periods.  Without core strength it is very difficult to sit still and children will lean, slump and flop around. They will also fatigue more quickly, fidget and find it more difficult to pay attention.

At school, children are also required to hold and control pencils and scissors for longer periods of time.  They need to be able to control and coordinate their eyes, hands, arms and fingers and that’s much more difficult if they are focused on keeping their bodies upright!

Developing core strength is critical to our children getting off to a strong start at school. 

What can we do develop core strength?

The best way for children to develop core strength is through unstructured, spontaneous play and the more diverse and varied that play is, the better!

Unfortunately lockdown has had a big impact on the opportunities our pre-schoolers have had to do this over the past 18 months.  Time away from kinder, childcare and other structured activities, along with the closure of playgrounds, has meant there are less chances for children to develop gross motor skills and negotiate play with different children and unfamiliar obstacles. 

In addition, so much time at home has significantly reduced the incidental movement we all get throughout the day (like getting in and out of the car, walking around the shops and carrying bags) and has, for many of us, resulted in increased screen time.  This impacts adults as well as children!

So along with all the other consequences of lockdown, it has made it more difficult for our children to develop their core strength.

Some of the signs that indicate a child may need to strengthen their core muscles include:

  • Slouching and slumping in their chair
  • W-sitting
  • Holding their head with their non-writing hand
  • Leaning into the table for support
  • Wriggling when required to sit still
  • Avoiding tasks that require sitting for long
  • Difficulty getting dressed by themselves
  • Always needing to be pushed on the swing, or a boost in the playground
  • Avoiding rough and tumble play

If you see some of these signs in your pre-school child, it can help to encourage play that will have the bonus of developing core strength, without children even realising it! 

Below are some simple games and activities that are easy to get children engaged in and will develop core strength, especially while we are in lockdown and can’t get out to the playground:

  • Animal walks like bear walks, crab walks, jump like a frog
  • Creating an obstacle course with unstable surfaces like pillows and chairs to climb over and crawl under
  • Climbing trees
  • Balloon play like keepy uppy
  • Bouncing on the trampoline

There are many more activities on the Core Play for Kids Facebook group or @vanessa_buys on Instagram.

The most important thing is to make it fun, and as children get stronger, they will be more enthusiastic to keep playing for longer!

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