Children must be active - experts

ISOBEL EWING
Last updated 05:00 24/01/2013
Active Therapy Boost Camp
ANDY JACKSON/Fairfax NZ

ACTIVE FUN: Joseph, 7, races on a trolley to collect coloured bean bags at the Active Therapy Boost Camp holiday programme.

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A less adventurous lifestyle is leaving kids struggling in the classroom, specialists say.

Two occupational therapists and a teacher in New Plymouth say children who are not active at an early age are at risk of suffering developmental delays and lagging behind their classmates.

Occupational therapist Tara Morrison said 5-8 year-old children who did not explore, climb trees or use their motor skills were at risk of developing learning difficulties.

Ms Morrison and fellow occupational therapist Nicola Harvey-Karen started their business Activate Therapy Services a year ago when they noticed a lack of services for children who were not reaching national standards in primary school.

"We saw a need for kids who struggled at school, who were not particularly diagnosed as such, but needed managing," she said.

There was Government funding available for children with severe learning disabilities, but not for those who were falling slightly behind.

"They just fall through the cracks."

Developmental delay could lead to anxiety, low self esteem and behavioural problems in children, she said.

The pair have just run their first Activate Therapy Boost Camp, a four-day holiday programme that involved activities focusing on motor and visual perceptual skills.

Ms Morrison said an activity as simple as exploring their environment had an effect on a child's ability to perform basic skills.

"It's about how senses integrate. Going up, over, through an environment and knowing where you are in space.

"If you don't know this, how on earth can you do things like handwriting?"

Frankley School relief teacher Kaye Dunlop said kids were generally not as active as they used to be which could lead to developmental delays.

"I think they are sitting more and more in front of computers and certainly not exercising as children did in the past."

She said activities that used both right and left sides of the brain, such as swinging on monkey bars, could help children develop crucial skills.

"Hand-eye co-ordination, throwing of balls, swinging, spinning. climbing up rocks, anything, just getting out there and moving their bodies," she said.

Mrs Dunlop implemented the Perceptual Motor Programme at Frankley School 10 years ago when she realised there were tangible ways to help with developmental delays.

The programme extends across the school curriculum and includes exercises like balancing on beams, throwing a ball at a target, memory cards and eye coordination.

She said children who sat in walkers or car seats too often, did not crawl. These children could end up "a little bit behind" at school, Mrs Dunlop said.

Statistics provided by Sport Taranaki show 13,736 children participated over 11 different sports in 2012, with the most popular being netball with 3460 and rugby with 2952.

The least involvement of the 11 sports listed was lawn bowls with only eight participants.

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- Taranaki Daily News

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