Why isn’t physical activity a priority in preschool?

During the past two months, my better half and I have been busy searching for a preschool for our four-year-old.

More often than not, I’ve been leaving each and every school disappointed.

It has nothing to do with the teachers or their teaching methods but just one thing sticks out like a sore thumb – there’s just no thought given to physical activity.

Some kindergartens claimed they had been organising sports days pre-Covid-19 days. But that’s just one day of ‘sports’. Other operators and teachers claim they carry out ‘stretching in a circle’ once a week.

It doesn’t help that most kindergartens these days are based in residential areas where space is an issue.

During my preschool years, I went to Tadika St Ronan’s near Titiwangsa. It had a sandpit, a pool and there were also piano classes. And it didn’t cost a bomb as children from Pekeliling Flats also attended the kindie. We were not only geared up for Year One but prepared for life as seven-year-olds.

The main objectives of most kindergartens, or at least those I visited recently, are to ensure the child is ready for Year One academically. Never mind if they have never (been allowed to) run, learn how to fall or learn how to jump.

According to the Education Ministry, the concept of preschool education is a learning experience for children aged four to six before they enter primary school. There is no mention of sports or physical activity. Nothing.

For children of that age, it is all about having fun and sharpening their fine motor skills and agility. It also helps with their hand- and leg-eye coordination.

Children who are physically active develop stronger bones, have decreased stress levels, confident, have improved posture and sleep better.

I remember my conversation some time ago with newly appointed FA of Malaysia technical director Datuk Ong Kim Swee about children and football. We even spoke about my son.

And his reply, in short, was: “For kids of that (pre-school) age, let them have fun.”

There are numerous physical activities suitable for preschoolers like hopscotch, volley balloon, swimming, dancing and a simple version of bowling.

It’s ironic that these children will grow up and become parents themselves. And they will be the same people who will wonder why Malaysia isn’t a sporting nation or why the country can’t seem to produce Olympic champions or have a large pool of sporting talents.

It’s because sports has never been a priority – not at home and not even in preschool.

A quick fix is for kindergartens to offer some form of physical activity once a week, at least. On a Saturday perhaps, as this will not disrupt lesson plans while ensuring every child enjoys some playtime. The goal is to ensure kindergarten operators incorporate sports and physical activities in their daily routine. It can be done.

It is hoped that preschool operators and the stakeholders will appreciate the importance of physical activities.

While waiting for that to happen, I will continue doing what I do every weekend – take junior to the field to kick a ball or simply run on the field while getting our shoes and clothes muddy.

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