Toddlers suffer sports 'neglect'

13th October 2000 at 01:00
PE for under-fives needs to be taken more seriously to produce tomorrow's stars, says charity. Julie Henry reports

TODDLERS should be taught the skills needed for sports, and nurseries must take PE more seriously, a sports charity says.

To produce sports stars of the future, or just a fitter generation means earlier and better training, according to the Youth Sports Trust.

Physical activity in nurseries, playgroups and reception classes has often been more about letting children use up excess energy than an integral part of the learning day.

Nurseries operating out of village halls or the upper floors of buildings, and a lack of suitable equipment has made the job of improving physical play skills more difficult.

And sports advisers have admitted that they may have neglected the sporting needs of under-fives.

The Government's new "foundation" stage for three to six-year-olds and early learning goals for physical development, have highlighted the need to improve PE for toddlers.

The most obvious steps can have a major impact.

Andy Martin, development manager for the trust, said: "There are simple things that make a difference like making sure little kids are not stuggling with great big tennis rackets and are playing with soft balls that are safe and move slowly."

A scheme in Lancashire last term which encouraged fathers to spend time showing their four-year-olds how to use sports equipment found an improvement in the children's fine motor control after six weeks.

Speaking at an early-years conference organised by the trust, education minister Margaret Hodge said physical play was central to children's emotional, social and intellectual skills.

By the time they start school, children will be expected to show movement with control and co-ordination, have an awareness of space and be able to control an object by touching, pushing, patting, throwing, catching and kicking it.

Mr Martin said structured physical activity in the early years could have a significant impact later. The early years was also a time when parental involvement in PE could be harnessed, producing long-term benefits for both child and adult.

The trust, which promotes sport for young people, has sold nearly 10,000 bags of PE equipment to childminders and nurseries since 1997 as part of its "Top Tots" and "Top Start" schemes.

Youth Sports Trust 020 7388 4436

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