Teaching 3-year-olds to exercise? Not as hard as you'd think

Three-year-old children live in perpetual motion. Putting a 3-year-old into the structure of a fitness class is a challenge. Getting their attention is first, and then you have to get them to take their fingers out of their mouths.

Next you need to explain how to find their feet.

When you teach exercise to adults you give instructions. It won't work with a 3-year-old. To get their attention, identify the appendage you are going to work with and use visual directions - ones they can understand.

It goes something like this, "Where are your hands?"

"Good, now raise them over your head."

"Where is your head?"

"Right, now raise your hands over your head and reach for the sky."

For a real challenge, I taught them to take their pulse. I was in hysterics by the time I finished.

Pulses were being found under the arm, on the nose, even on the ankle.

When they finally found a wrist pulse, I used a felt tip water marker and marked the spot with a big X. This was how some of my directions sounded.

"You drive down your thumb to the first valley of bones and park."

Try that on your advanced aerobic group.

Surprisingly enough, you can get group exercise out of this age level. They can be robots, music box dancers, reindeer, pieces of popcorn on a hot griddle, bugs, butterflies, and just about anything your imagination can dream up.

There are, however, a few things you can't get 3-year-old to do.

Example: Hopping on one foot, clapping in time to music or doing muscle strengthening movements such as push-ups or sit-ups.

Also little bodies are not ready for long stretch moves. And of course, no surprise to you parents, they can't pay attention for longer than 30 seconds, stand still, or be quiet.

Floor work with this age level is a lot of fun.

They can sit on the floor and row a boat together with a partner. They can play spider with the knees up and elbows on the floor. They get these two moves perfect every time.

They can play "fingers and toes," and wiggle them separately and finally try to wiggle them together at the same time. Eventually they begin to call out their own instructions, such as "left, right, front, side."

This teaches concepts of space and direction.

What you really try to teach a 3-year-old is that exercise is fun, how to coordinate hands and feet and improve fine and gross motor skills.

To get 15 minutes of attention and movement from this age is quite an achievement.

They already know how to run, jump and play, using every muscle you can think of, so the objectives need to be a little different, to create a little fun along with the benefit of exercise.

• Jerry Vance is owner of The Sweat Shop/Wet Sweat. She offers classes through Carson City Recreation and Aquatics Center and is a fitness instructor for the Carson City Senior Citizens Center.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment