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There are “right” times to learn the fundamentals.
Although children mature and learn at different rates, almost all children learn their fundamental movement skills in the same sequence. For coaches, teachers, parents and caregivers, it is important to watch when the child is ready to learn the skills – physically, mentally and emotionally.
The child is not ready to learn the skill
As a child grows and develops (matures), nerve cells make more connections and the muscles of the body get stronger. However, until the brain is mature enough and the muscles strong enough, the child simply cannot learn the skill, and trying to teach the child does little good. The important thing is to provide children with plenty of opportunities to explore all possible movements in a rich activity environment – which means that the child’s environment needs to be both safe and challenging.
The child is ready to learn the skill
At a certain point in maturation, all of the child’s physical hardware – the muscles and nerves – have developed enough that the child has the potential to perform particular skills. The child is ready to learn. As they begin to practice different skills (e.g. throwing, kicking, catching), their learning can be enhanced through fun activities using different equipment and materials. Simple instruction with lots of practice can help them develop confidence for a lifetime. However, adults must still remember that each child’s learning will continue at its own natural pace.
The optimum time to learn the skill
For every emerging skill there is also a “best” time for the child to learn. At this time, helping the child though simple instruction and practice can improve learning and pay great dividends. While the “best” time to teach a particular skill to an individual child varies according to their level of maturation, there is great consistency in the sequence in which children learn different skills.
The time for remedial work
If a child goes too long without learning a skill, then learning the skill may become more difficult. The sooner a child starts to overcome a particular learning deficit by learning the skill, the easier it will be for them to catch up with their friends and peers, giving them the confidence to be active for life.
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