Do Preschoolers Need Fitness Programs?



I did a double take before clicking through on the link with the headline “Are Preschool Exercise Programs the Future of the Fitness Business?” Say it ain’t so! I silently pleaded. It was slightly repulsive to me that children so young might be exploited by the fitness business, or that parents would have nowhere else to turn for help for their little ones.

However, as I read the article and continued to think about it, I realized that it wasn’t the idea of fitness programs for preschoolers that was irksome to me. It was the thought that so much planning and structure would be needed to get kids moving and learning to take care of themselves. I believe, first and foremost, that as parents we should take responsibility for our children’s health. And that we can and should do it in a way that blends into a healthy lifestyle not as an add-on or an afterthought. We are the ones who should be encouraging them to eat their veggies every day, and we should be right alongside them as they take delight in running and jumping and playing and dancing.

Additionally, as a mother of two boys who have been or are in the preschool stage, as well as a sometime-teacher to small classes of 3-year-olds, I’ve found that the challenge with preschoolers is not to get them to move and run and jump and play and dance, the challenge is to get them to learn to do those things at the appropriate time meaning, the challenge is to get them to sit still for five consecutive minutes. Kids, especially preschoolers, are in a golden age of movement. They are old enough that they have a decent amount of control and coordination, but young enough that it is still a novelty hence the demands to “Watch me!” every time they discover a new spin or something new to jump off of. They are old enough, as well, that they don’t need a lot of supervision to do things safely they’re not as likely to fall down the stairs as a wobbly toddler but they’re not expected to sit still for long periods of time like a school-aged kid. Being able to move and run and jump and dance is still magic for them. And if we, as parents, play our cards right, maybe it always can be.

But if that is not possible, if preschools and other organizations do need to step in and help, I wish that instead of implementing it as a structured program, with handouts and warm-up and cool-down times, it was simply a time to run and jump and dance and play, a time to move and enjoy that movement. The structure, the formal education about muscles and food groups and stretching can wait. Preschoolers don’t need to know about push-ups and pilates just yet. Let’s let them be princesses and pirates for at least a few years.