Get Their Motors Running
By Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell
Early motor skill development forms the foundation for sport, exercises, dance...a lifetime of physical activity. Help develop them with age-appropriate activities.

RUNNING
Important for almost every sport, this fundamental motor skill is an excellent fitness activity and still a child favorite.

Age Range
Ages 18 months-2 years: Children will begin a form of waddling, uneven run.
Ages 3-6: Running becomes smoother, steadier and stronger.

Activities to Help
Try rhythmic running: Ask your child to run to a tempo that you keep by clapping your hands, banging on a drum or even playing their favorite CD. Help them learn about pace: Slow down the beat or pick it up from time to time, and have your child vary their speed accordingly. As they get more surefooted, ask them to go forward, backward... in a circle, or the shape of the letter "Z".

CATCHING
Playing a simple game of catch can enhance hand-eye coordination skills and build a lasting bond between you and your child.

Age Range
Ages 2-3: Children at this age try to catch with their arms wide open, not with their hands (so it's best to use oversized balls in any activity).
Ages 4-6: Improved fine-motor control enables children in this age range to start using their hands to catch.

Activities to Help
Ages 2-3: Stand about 10-12 feet away and roll a medium-sized ball towards your child. Have them bend their knees, get low with palms down, then scoop it up with both hands.
Ages 4-6: From about 5-8 feet away, throw a medium-sized ball and have your child catch it on the fly.

KICKING
Learning to manipulate a ball with the foot develops balance, leg strength and is a critical skill in that most popular of children's sports, soccer.

Age Range
Ages 2-3: Kids this age tend to just swing their legs back and strike in a single movement.
Ages 4-6: At this age, children begin to learn the entire kicking sequence: Take a step, plant the foot, swing the leg, kick, follow through.

Activities to Help
Ages 2-3: Line up a row of different sized balls. Have them kick each as hard as they can.
Ages 4-6: Roll a variety of balls towards your child and have them try to kick each one in succession. Try having them kick with different parts of their feet and as they become more skillful, in different directions.

STRIKING
Baseball, hockey, volleyball, golf...so many sports involve the ability to strike a moving object.

Age Range
Ages 2-3: At this age, swinging is an upper body movement only-a simple rotation of the upper torso.
Ages 4-6: Here, striking becomes more of a full body movement, using the trunk and legs to help power the swing.

Activities to Help
Ages 2-3: Batter up! Place a large, soft ball on a tee, and have your child swing away with a plastic bat.
Ages 4-6: Toss the soft ball to your child and have him or her try and strike it with the bat. Next: Set up two cones about 8 feet apart and 10 feet away from your child. From there, roll a soft ball towards your child and see if she can whack it with her paddle through the cones (You be the goalie!)

Article by John Hanc, fitness writer for Newsday in New York and author of five books on fitness-related topics, with Dr. Stephen J. Virgilio, youth fitness expert and professor at Adelphi University in Garden Ctiy, New York.