Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Functional Strength

You can hardly be anywhere with young children without finding at least one of them engaged in an experiment with balance, usually of the full-body variety. On our recent trip to the zoo, every time I turned around there was a child walking atop a wall or carefully navigating a curb. Almost every day a child will demonstrate for me how she can stand on one foot or perform the arabesque she learned in ballet class.

Falling down and not falling down are clearly important aspects of a high quality early childhood education, but it's clearly not as simple as that, because the moment they learn to move, children engage, as long as they're given an opportunity, in increasingly challenging feats of balance. Not all of them are daredevils, of course, but all of them work on their balancing skills.

Awhile back I was talking with a new acquaintance who is a fitness trainer. He said that one of the most common phenomena in his business was adults who commit themselves to getting into shape, join a gym, adopt a regimen, work hard at if for awhile, then less hard at it, then stop altogether. "It stops being fun and just becomes work," he said. "I'm trying to get my clients to understand that they could be working out all the time if they'd just stop being embarrassed -- and it would be fun." He then proceeded to describe to me what children do all day long as they go about their days: balancing along curbs, jumping on and off of low walls, swinging from tree branches, running up and down hills. "It won't necessarily result in a chiseled physique, but it is all about developing full body functional strength."

That's what the kids are doing, of course, when they tackle these challenges, developing their full body functional strength. It's not a commitment they make, because it's one of the natural aspects of their urge to simply play and it's an urge, I fear, that becomes stunted by the addictive lure of screens and by the fear implanted by those who perpetually warn them that they're going to kills themselves. It's an urge, that as we get older, we come to find as embarrassing, as somehow not "mature," as a set-up to be accused of not acting our age by both our parents and our peers.

I forget about this all the time in my day to day life and I'm one of the lucky ones for whom it's always okay to be a bit sweaty or dirty (you know, from the falls). When I pass rockeries I usually fight back the urge to leap up on the first rock, then hop across them. When I see a grassy slope I typically just think about running to the top, then rolling back down.

Lately, I've been trying to remind myself to not fight the urge, to go ahead and jump up and try to touch that awning or stride along the sidewalk two concrete slabs at a time. So if you see a 51-year-old man with his arms flailing as he balances along the back of a park bench, it might just be me, playing, learning, and as a side benefit, working on my functional strength.

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Barbara Zaborowski said...

Of course, in order for me to read your post, I have to sit and look at a screen rather than running up the stairs or balancing along the curb. I guess it's all about balance...in all the meanings of that term.

Let the Children Play said...

Will you be wearing your cape when you do those things Tom? Now that I'd love to see.

Cave Momma said...

That's exactly why I love watching free runners. They have not yet lost that need/want and they have a ton of fun! Not to mention they do some amazing things.