Wednesday, 22 April 2015

A physiotherapist's view on the benefits of the Ready Steady Go Kids programme

This article has been taken with permission from Ready Steady Go Kids Head Office in Australia - it first appeared on their website on 10th December 2014. Photos have been added to enhance the delivery of the message.

Ready Steady Go Kids is a multi-sport program for children 2.5 – 6 years of age and at the very least teaches children the fundamentals of 10 different sports. Further to this, the program certainly enhances other important school readiness skills such as group participation, turn taking, listening to instructions, letter, colour and number recognition. However, from the perspective of a paediatric physiotherapist, acutely aware of the complex nature of gross motor development and the sequence of skills our children progress through in the preschool years, this program has the potential to offer so much in the development, refinement and enhancement of gross motor skills in both typically developing children as well as those children who have delays or disorders of their movement.  

As a physiotherapist, much of my work involved the management of children with DCD (Developmental Co-ordination Disorder), Developmental Delay, Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy and Autism. This program can offer benefits to many of these children. There is so much to be gained from introducing them to the program and allowing them the opportunity to attempt and master important skills that will be crucial when they transition to school at 5 or 6 years of age. First and foremost, for them to be able to participate in a mainstream program is a huge milestone for many of them. Further to this, the information to follow aims to highlight the aspects of our program that are of huge benefit when considering the deficits in gross motor function that these children often present with. Remember though, that this program is just as fulfilling for the typically developing child. All the activities serve to benefit them and provide opportunities for them to refine and extend their skills in a fun and safe environment.

Hand-eye co-ordination

Hand-eye co-ordination is such an important part of a child’s development and is so much more than just being able to catch and throw a ball. This part of development involves the child’s ability to effectively co-ordinate eye movement with hand (or foot) movement. As with many areas of development, hand-eye co-ordination starts very early on in development and we can start to see it in action when our little baby at 3 or 4 months of age starts to reach out and swipe for toys - eventually being able to grasp them with more and more precision as this skill becomes more refined.

Proficiency in this area is certainly vital in the development of sporting skills and a necessity when considering participation on any sporting team. Interestingly, hand-eye co-ordination is also necessary for other tasks such as hand-writing, reading and tying shoe laces. This is why such an emphasis is placed on developing hand-eye co-ordination in the early years.   

When looking at our program, we provide children with opportunities to develop their hand/foot eye co-ordination in every single class.  Importantly, we progress skills quite purposefully so that the children can build on their skills session by session, term by term and year by year.  

In soccer we start very simply with a standing kick, then progress to a running kick, dribbling a ball and then trapping a moving ball.  As the child progresses, we can make tasks more difficult according to the skills.  We ask them to trap a faster moving ball, dribble whilst weaving through cones or kick a moving ball rather than kicking a stationary ball. 

Similarly in football, we progress from kicking a stationary ball to trying a drop kick in the older classes. We encourage more complicated skills in sports such as tennis where the kids attempt to throw and catch their tennis ball, then they start to volley the ball.  We start with simple tasks to ensure they can achieve these before extending them to more difficult tasks like the forehand shot.  

Children are constantly encouraged to watch the ball in golf and tennis, to look down at their puck when playing hockey. Throwing and catching skills in basketball are practiced in a fun a stimulating fashion and the children are encouraged to extend their skills appropriately. Some children stay with a drop and catch where others move on to dribbling the ball. The fielding activities in cricket and T-ball where the children have to track the ball coming toward them are equally effective. As they get older we roll the ball faster, roll it slightly out of their reach and encourage them to move toward the ball.  

A great way to start a session of golf, cricket, tennis or T-ball is to give each child their bucket and then roll the balls to them one at a time so they fill their bucket with their 5 balls, ready to start their class.  This is a good way of introducing the task of tracking the ball with their eyes at the start of the session. 

For those children with delays in their skills, hand-eye co-ordination is often affected, and quite often it is their lack of attention to a task that impedes the development of this skill.  Creating fun and varied activities will keep them interested and help to develop this important skill for these children. 

Balance and postural control

Postural Control may be defined as the act of maintaining, achieving or restoring a state of balance during posture or activity (Pollock et al. 2000).  You will find the terms balance and postural control often used interchangeably. 
Balance is a fundamental skill crucial to the effective development of gross and fine motor skills in our children. Learning to balance starts very early and we can see it in a little baby as he or she learns to roll, play on their tummy, sit up, crawl, pull to stand and ultimately to walk independently. And it obviously doesn't stop there, we can keep working on and improving our balance well into adulthood.  

There are many advantages to good balance skills.  Importantly, a child who can learn to balance effectively will spend less energy keeping themselves stable, and more energy learning any new skill they are trying to achieve.  For example, when learning to kick a ball, the child who has good balance skills will have more available energy to focus on developing a good technique and the necessary foot-eye co-ordination to kick the ball effectively.  The child who struggles to maintain their balance will consume much more energy just trying to maintain a stable body position in order to kick the ball and will therefore have less energy left to learn the skill.  The same can be said for hitting a cricket or tennis ball, throwing and catching a basketball or jumping over the hurdles. This is why creating opportunities to improve balance through every session is so important.
Many of the activities that are included in the manual are great for helping to develop the children’s balance or postural control.  Simple freeze games in some of the motor activities where they have to stop and balance in a certain position are great for improving balance.  The dice game provides loads of opportunity to encourage single limb balance or other tricky positions such as a bridge, or a bridge using only one arm, or a bridge using only one leg. etc… The balance beams can be used in a variety of ways – going forwards or sideways – or just maintaining balance whilst standing on the beam for a few seconds during the circuit before jumping or stepping down.  There are so many ways we can challenge their balance – and the better their balance becomes then the better their sport specific skills will become. 

It is well documented that children presenting with developmental disorders including DCD; Down Syndrome; CP; Autism and developmental delay will have impaired postural control or balance to varying degrees and therefore will certainly benefit from the many balance activities that the manual presents.  

Ensure each class provides opportunity to adjust postures and focus on maintaining stable body positions.  You will find that many children just like to keep moving and often this is because it is far easier for them to be moving rather than having to maintain a stable position against gravity.  So, even though we like to focus on lots of high-energy games and activities, be sure to include some important stationary activities where the children are encourage to hold certain body positions.

Motor Planning

This is a complex part of development and for a child with typical development it is something that comes very naturally.  Very broadly, motor planning may be defined as the ability to order, plan, sequence and execute a series of intentional motor actions.
Some children who participate in our program will pick up certain skills very quickly.  They will only need to be shown a few times how to hold the bat, after that they do it the right way every single time.  Others struggle with this.  It takes a long time for them to learn the correct grip and they need to be shown multiple times before they are comfortable with it.  

Similarly, tasks such as weaving in and out of cones, jumping the hurdles or bear walking may look awkward and clumsy in some children.  These may be the children with motor planning difficulties.  These children struggle the most with new activities and will respond very well to repetition, short, simple, repetitious commands and strong visual cues.   Our program caters brilliantly for these children.  When coaches are effective in using very short, direct instructions that are kept the same each week as much as possible, the children will respond well.  The catch cry of  “Ready Steady Go” prior to each skill is an essential cue and provides a little extra time to process, plan and execute a movement correctly.  

Additionally, for these children, visual cues are essential to assist them, as often the verbal cue and visual demonstration aren’t quite enough to enable them to succeed.  Therefore, the use of spots to stand on, foot prints to help orientate the body correctly (particularly for cricket, golf, T-ball, tennis and hockey) and the sharply contrasting colours on the equipment all provide really important extra visual cues in order that they can execute the skills more effectively.  

Wherever possible, the use of tape or stickers to guide more accurate hand placement will also be a huge help to these children and enhance their participation in the activities. In the circuit, use foot prints to guide their path around cones, try to break down the hurdle movement and give them very repetitious verbal cues for each hurdle eg. Step, step, over, step step, over. These are often the children I take by the hand and give them the feel of the activity several times and then gradually allow them to progress to doing it more independently. 

Encouraging Physical Activity
We mustn’t forget that one of our biggest goals is to promote physical activity in the preschool years to promote a lifelong love of sport. We all know this is essential for our children as it will lay down such important foundations in terms of their attitude and their ability to perform in sporting activities.

A paper written by Skouteris et al in 2012 focused on Physical activity guidelines for pre-schoolers.  They completed an extensive review of current literature to determine the current physical activity guidelines for preschool aged children around the world.   They found significant gaps in the literature and definite inconsistencies in the amount of physical activity deemed sufficient for this age group.  Whilst the paper provided a detailed summary of global recommendations, it acknowledged that further study needs to be done in this area in older that public health policies may be created and implemented by government agencies. 
Importantly for us however, the paper cites several articles which highlight the importance of creating healthy eating and activity behaviour in the early years and that preventative strategies should be introduced as early as possible in life to ensure that children are given the best possible opportunity to develop healthy lifestyle behaviours which they will carry into childhood, adolescence and adulthood.  Ready Steady Go Kids provides a fantastic, comprehensive program, which engages children in physical activity during their early years thus helping to build their skills in order that they are ready and able to participate in sports as they enter school and beyond. 

This is equally important for our children with developmental delays or disorders of their movement.  There is growing concern that these children are at risk of reduced physical activity, often because they don’t have the opportunities in the preschool years to develop skills important for participation in sports.  RSGK gives them opportunities to discover and develop skills they may never have realised they had which may well lead them to engaging in school or community sports or even becoming involved in sports for people with a disability.  How incredible to be a part of that journey for these children.   

Contributed by Anne Kelly, physiotherapist and franchise owner in Narellan Region Australia.

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