Physical education must begin before kindergarten

My one-year-old daughter knows the down-dog yoga pose -- not because I taught her, but because her teachers at her child care center lead her toddler class in regular "work out" sessions. I thought it was a little more than cute and inquired with her teachers to find that it is a regular part of her day at "school."

Indeed, the alarming rate of childhood obesity points up the fact that physical education must begin early--before kindergarten and a child's eating and exercise habits have already formed. A new study by the Altrarum Institute, a nonprofit health care research firm, found that children in D.C. early care and education centers need more opportunities for physical fitness, but centers face major barriers in providing those activities -- including limited indoor and outdoor space to develop and exercise gross motor skills, insufficient fixed and portable play equipment, difficulty accessing public parks and a limited motivation among staff to promote physical activity. Click here to read the report. 

One fact in the press release jumped out at me: "Roughly one out of every four preschool children in the District of Columbia is obese or overweight before they start kindergarten." That's more than significant, it's deeply troubling. It also shows why the movement to enforce healthy eating in schools -- via the District's Healthy Schools Act, for instance, which ensures that children in public schools have access to fresh, healthy school meals -- is not only critical, but in fact should begin much earlier. 

For several months, my daughter has resisted all attempts by us to put her in her state-art-stroller (one, which I should mention, we spent way too much money considering how much use it's gotten). We finally decided not to force it. She wants to walk -- and run -- and why shouldn't she? Toddlers, by definition, don't sit still, unless we make them by strapping them into car seats or strollers for long hauls or parking them in front of the TV, which is bad for other reasons. We need to do more to encourage and channel their energy by making exercise a fun part of every day. Early care and education centers certainly do not bear the entire responsibility, but they must have the tools and resources they need to do their part.