From UBC Wiki
Jump to: navigation, search
Movement Experiences for Young Children
KIN 366
Instructor: Dr. Shannon SD Bredin
Office Hours:
Class Schedule:
Important Course Pages
Lecture Notes
Course Discussion


Running is defined as quickly moving the legs more rapidly than at a walk, and in such a manner that for an instant in each step all or both feet are off the ground. Running is classified as a gross motor skill. Running is a fundamental motor skill and categorized as a locomotor skill (movements that transport an individual through space from one place to another); a motor skill is a building block to advance to other skills and lays the foundation for more complex movements (Haywood & Getchell, 2005).


Running can be classified in several ways such as the distance, speed, or level.


The distance in running can vary extremely. In competitive track events distances on the track go from 60m to 5,000m. The sport of cross country is even longer distances usually 4.5-8 km for adults and 1-5km for children. Marathon running is even further at around 42 km and 21km for a half.


Running can fluctuate from a slow jog all the way to a fast sprint. These different speeds have a major effect running form; form is much more crucial to success in sprinting. Variations in speed as well as length of time running will dictate what muscles will be used, what energy system in the body will be activated, and what will be the primary sources of energy will be. Since children progress form a walk to a run they often start at a fast pace walk (Clark and Whitehall, 1989) and (Whithall and Getchell, 1995). Speed increase as form improves.


Running can be enjoyed at a competitive level either in road races, cross country track or as a key factor in other sports such as soccer as well as at a recreational level.


Motor Milestones

Throughout the ages of 12-24 months, the toddler will attempt to run, but has difficulty stopping and usually just drops to the floor. Six to seven months following walking, children tend to start running; this means that early attempts in running are fast walks (Clark & Whitehall, 1989; Whithall & Getchell, 1995). Running generally does not require specific help/instruction. The initial age of running usually occurs at 18 months with characteristics of a wide gait but running is less clumsy. There is still no flight stage at this age. If running is not achieved then poor muscle development, delayed play skills, difficulty interacting with the environment could all be observed. At the ages of two to three, the toddler beings running and a true flight phase is observed (Gallahue, Donnelly & Gallahue, 2003). At the age of four, the child has more control over running, and is capable of starting and stopping, moves around obstacles with ease and can run in a circle. The child could be seen running smoothly at varying speeds at this age. If these skills are not achieved there could be a lack of confidence in movement-based activities and difficulties using playground equipment. When the child is around six years old, he or she enjoys vigorous running and will achieve good form in running (Fourtney, 1983). If deficiencies are still seen by this age there will be a difficulty participating in sporting activities, poor self-esteem when comparing self to peers, and a lack of confidence in movement based activities. “Children who do not fully develop their fundamental motor skills by age 12 are unlikely to reach their genetic athletic potential” (Athletics Canada, 2011).

Initial Stage

In the Initial stage of running there is a wide base of support, stiff limited leg swing with un-even strides and the child is landing flat-footed. The arms are flexed and held in a high guard position, the swing is short and is sometimes exaggerated. Children tend to swing horizontally or are helped at the side for balance. The swinging leg rotates outward from the hip, and the toes are outward. There is a wide base of support and no observable flight stage (Wilson, 2014). Reverting to less mature movement characteristics allows the child to improve balance and confidence for the new movement. There is very little knee and hip flexion which may cause the child to stumble.

Emerging Stage

In the emerging stage there is an increase in stride length, arm swing, and speed. There is a limited but observable flight stage. The support leg is more suspended and the arms are lowered and hang free, but do not with running speed. There is still a horizontal arm swing that decreases in the back swing (Wilson, 2014).

Proficient Stage

This should be reached by age seven (Gallahue, Donnelly & Gallahue, 2003). In the proficient stage of running, stride length is at maximum length and speed with a definite flight phase. When performing a mature running patter, the trunk maintains a slight forward lean throughout the stride pattern. The supporting leg is at complete extension and recovery thigh is parallel to the ground. Arms swing vertically in opposition to legs, are bent at right angles (Wilson, 2014) and with a vigorous pumping action forward. The knee is flexed so the recovery of the foot comes close to hitting the buttocks.


Running in Schools

Traditionally running has been used a warm-up tool for physical education classes or a measure for physical fitness and is not always focused on as a separate skill itself. In some cases there will be a track unit which may focus on a specific mechanics of running. Many children do not reach the proficient stage in running. This is because running, and more specifically sprinting, is a complex skill to master. From a biomechanical view many individuals are not efficient. Track is a popular sport in many schools and has high participation in elementary ages. Track is an accessible sport in schools for most children because of the low cost. The sport focuses on running mechanics and becoming more efficient to become faster. Warm-up drills called “A’s” and “B’s” focus on running mechanics by breaking down the skill itself into separate parts. Usually a child in track compared to a child not in track will have better form in running and be at a higher stage.

Long Term Athlete Development

Athletics Canada has recently recreated their long term athlete development plan (LTAD) for Canadian Track and Field. The goal of this was to increase participation, the sport for life and the improve success of Canadian athletes in the sport. The plan has specific stages for younger children to meet their developmental needs in the sport. There is nine stages in the model and the two that focus on young children are Active Start and Fundamentals 1. Active start is for ages 0-6 and the focus is to make play and physical activity fun, exciting and an essential component of daily routine throughout life. Fundamental’s 1 is from ages 6-8 for females and 6-9 for males with the focus being To begin teaching agility, balance, coordination and speed (ABC’s) and to continue to instill the importance of daily play and physical activity (Athletics Canada, 2011). Athletics Canada also made an adjustment to the distances ran by younger children in the LTAD. For example up until age twelve only the 600m is offered opposed to the traditional 800m distances that is run by adults. The reasoning behind this was that why should a child be running the same distances when their so far behind adults developmentally. It was seen to be too much of a stress on their bodies and not a positive for the body’s developing systems. This change was also put in place to prevent burnout. By shortening the distances children are able to be more successful and have more fun. This promotes a goal of the LTAD which is sport for life (Athletics Canada, 2011).


Physical Benefits

There are many physical and psychological benefits that running can provide an individual. From a physical standpoint running increases muscular strength strengthens bones, improves cardiovascular health, functional walking ability and helps control body fat (Kriesse, 2003; Lau et al., 2014). These physical benefits that running provides can in fact be prevent rate limiters for other motor skills. For example the coordination that one gains from running can aide in developing the skill of skipping. Functional walking capacity requires lower intensity and is related to daily-life activities. Running is also a great way to improve one’s health. Running has been shown to reduce the risk of certain diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. In some cases running has been shown to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes (Kriesse, 2003). Childhood obesity has become a major epidemic that can cause physical and psychological harm. Since running can be a high energy activity it can reduce or prevent the accumulation of body fat. A healthy body weight can also contribute to a child’s positive self-image. Poor self-image has been shown to stop children from engaging in physical activities this is mainly prevalent with girls (Kriesse, 2003).

Psychological Benefits

Running also has psychological benefits. It has been shown to give reduce stress, alleviate anxiety, sharpen memory, increase cognitive function, increase endorphins, help individuals tap into creativity, and can help promote motivation (Kriesse, 2003). Running can also improve self-esteem and emotional state (Reynolds). These factors can be crucial in a child’s development and success in school.

Accessibility Benefits

Running is also a great way for children to exercise because it is fairly accessible compared to other sports or activities. Equipment cost is low and children can participate at their own pace. Running is a fundamental skill that lays down the foundation for many sports such as soccer and football (Haywood & Getchell, 2005). For example the muscular endurance and strength that a child gains from running can help them be successful in soccer.

Educational Benefits

There are beneficial factors from running that relates to a child’s success in school. A relationship between perceptual skills, intelligence quotient, achievement, verbal tests, mathematics tests, and developmental level/academic readiness has been correlated with physical activity (Etnier & Sibley, 2003). Results show that children with a higher level of fitness perform better in school than children aren’t as active (Chaddock et al., 2011). Running may also briefly help a child’s executive function and influence lasting executive function (Best, 2010).

Common Problems

Different factors can hold back or hinder the ability of a young child to develop the fundamental motor skill of running; these are referred to as constraints.

Individual Constraints

These constraints refer to individual factors that hinder the emergence and progression of running. Strength is a very common constraint in young children. To run children must be able to propel themselves off of one leg to another and also when the foot strikes the ground to handle additional forces encountered. This requires a great deal of strength but also balance as well; balance is another common constraint. Obesity in children can be a problem as well limiting range of motion and affecting the onset of walking which in turn affects the onset of running (Haywood & Getchell, 2005).

Environmental Constraints

Limitations in the environment that prevent the development of running are considered constraints. An example of a poor development environment would be one that is not safe and does not promote movement. If the environment is not suitable or not safe the child may not have the opportunity to run around. A poor environment could also be one with limited space, hard floors, and nothing for the child to hold on to. Another environmental constraint is if the child does not receive enough attention or opportunity to even move around (Haywood & Getchell, 2005).

Task Constraints

Task constraints are limitations that the skill itself presents. In running for a child the changes in speed may be a constraint (Haywood & Getchell, 2005).

Running Injuries

Although there are many health benefits from running regularly, there is also a risk of injury from too much running (Jin, 2014). Injuries from running usually involve the muscles, tendons, joints and bones of the legs. Most are due to repetitive activity rather than a single traumatic event. When running is repeated too frequently, some areas of the body do not have enough time to heal (, 2015). Young athletes are at a greater risk for injury than adults because they are still growing (, 2015).

There are three common lower leg injuries amongst young athletes who run regularly.

  • Medial tibial stress syndrome also known as “shin splints” is defined as “pain along the inner edge of the shin bone (tibia)” (, 2015). Shin splints are an overuse injury that develops over time rather than an acute injury. Shin splints are caused by repeated trauma to the lower leg muscles, causing inflammation in the area where the muscles are attached to the tibia. Common symptoms of shin splints are aching pain and tenderness in the lower leg. The pain can be felt during and more serious cases, after running.
  • Exertional compartment syndrome, which causes pain while running and that stops after a few minutes of ceased activity.
  • Stress fractures of the tibia are also a common sign of pain in the lower leg. It is defined as small fractures of the bone that result from repeated “stress” on the bone (Jin, 2014). The pain occurs during and after a run stops. Young athletes with stress fractures have soreness of the lower leg with point soreness on one spot.


The most important and common treatments for running injuries are rest, or changing activities, to allow for healing (Jin, 2014). Other types of include ice, splints or orthotics, and pain relievers such as nonsteriodal anti-inflammatory drugs. Physical therapy may also help young athletes manage for more serious injuries. Surgery is rarely needed. Once the pain subsides, the young athlete may resume running. The running distance should be only increased slowly for several weeks on soft, level surfaces (Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, 2015). It is also important for the young athlete to wear well-conditioned supportive shoes while running.

Injury Prevention

A type of prevention can follow the Three E’s model of injury risk reduction. These include Education (such as physical literacy), Engineering (of physical environments, equipment and programming), and Enforcement of safe practices (such as following the rules and safety regulations). Physical literacy helps reduce injuries because it improves body mechanics and increases awareness of the activity environment. Without knowing how to run correctly they may develop incorrect movements, which leads to inefficiency that increases their risk for injury. Children with poor physical literacy are less aware of their environment to activity. This means they are more likely to be involved into dangerous situations. All of us have an important role to play in reducing risk of injury to children during activity, and physical literacy is an essential pillar (, 2015).

Practical Applications

Recommendations for Rate Limiters

Strength and balance are common constraints that affect running. To aid the emergence of running it is helpful to focus on these factors. It would be beneficial for children to partake in activities and play with toys that promote these underlying components of running. An example of this for younger children would be increasing walking time and play with toys that involve standing. Once the skill is present and is ready to be refined running drills are helpful to reach the proficient stage. Providing a safe environment for young children that provides sufficient opportunity will help the emergence of running. A safe environment might include a soft surface such as carpet that is safe for falling and will allow children not to be hurt or fearful. Providing objects in the environment to hold on to could help balance while learning. Also ensuring that children have enough time to move around to practice the skill itself will help with mastering this fundamental motor skill.

Tips for Running Promotion

Running promotion will help increases practice as well as participation. Encouraging a variety of running games and never using running as a punishment will help make distance running more pleasurable for children. Games that involve running such as tag help children become more familiar with the skill and build strength in their legs as well as cardiovascular system. It can be helpful to make running fun for children by including peers and or games to encourage participation. It is also important to stress enjoyment and rudimentary skills to create an interest in running for children. Ensuring children also get at least one hour a day of physical activity will also improve other physical skills such as strength, flexibility and balance which all contribute to running.

Why Running is Important

Running is important for the development of children. Children like to play and interact with other children who share the same level of skill. If a child is unable cannot keep the game going, they would generally be excluded. A child without fundamental movement skill like running would unlikely be willingly to take part in an activity that requires proficiency in that skill (Canadian Sport for Life). The development of running is a critical to establishing the foundation for participation in many sports for example soccer, basketball, and volleyball (Canadian Sport for Life). Being unable to perform even a single fundamental movement skill can raise barriers in the later opportunities of life. This restricts their choice in both of lifelong health-promoting activities and opportunities for sporting excellence (Canadian Sport for Life).


Athletics Canada. (2011). Athletics LTAD (Athletics Canada). Retrieved from Canada Sport for Life:

Best, J. R. (2010). Effects of physical activity on children’s executive function: Contributions of experimental research on aerobic exercise. Developmental Review. 30(4):331–351. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2010.08.049

Canadian Sport for Life: Physical Literacy. (2015, January 1). Retrieved February 14, 2015, from

Chaddock, I., Erickson, K. I., Prakash, R. S., Kim, J. S., Voss, M. A., VanPatter, M. et al.. (2010). A neuroimaging investigation of the association between aerobic fitness, hippocampal volume, and memory performance in preadolescent children. Brain Research. 1358:172–183.

Children's Healthcare of Atlanta,. (2015). Shin Splints in Young Athletes - Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. Retrieved 28 February 2015, from

Clark JE, Whitall J (1989) Changing patterns of locomotion: from walking to skipping. In: Woollacott MH, Shumway-Cook A, editors. Development of Posture and Gait Across the Lifespan . Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, pp. 128– 151.

Fortney GE (1983) Kinematics and kinetics in the running pattern of two-, fourand six-year-old children. Res Q Exercise Sport 54: 126– 135. Retrieved from

Gallahue, D., Donnelly, F., & Gallahue, D. (2003). Developmental physical education for all children (pp. 448-452). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Haywood, K., & Getchell, N. (2005). Life span motor development. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Haywood, K., Roberton, M. A., Getchell, N., & ebrary eBooks. (2012). Advanced analysis of motor development. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics Publishers. retrieved from

Jin, J. (2014). Running Injuries. JAMA, 312(2), 202. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.283011

Karla Kriese. (2003, ). The benefits of running from A to Z: Final edition. Daily Townsman, pp 7 Retrieved from

Lau, P., Wong, D., Ngo, J., Liang, Y., Kim, C., & Kim, H. (2014). Effects of high-intensity intermittent running exercise in overweight children. European Journal Of Sport Science, 15(2), 182-190. doi:10.1080/17461391.2014.933880,. (2015). Overuse Injuries in Children-OrthoInfo - AAOS. Retrieved 28 February 2015, from,. (2015). Physical literacy for reducing injury risk | CS4L Physical Literacy. Retrieved 28 February 2015, from

Sibley, B. A., & Etnier, J. L. (2003). The relationship between physical activity and cognition in children: a meta-analysis. Pediatric Exercise Science, 15(3), 243-256.

Sugden, D., Wade, M. G., & ebrary eBooks. (2013). Typical and atypical motor development. London: Mac Keith Press. Retrieved from

Whitall J, Getchell N (1995) From walking to running: using a dynamical systems approach to the development of motor skills. Child Dev 66: 1541– 1553.

Wilson,G (2014).Phases of Fundamental Movement Skill Development [Class handout]. Department of Kinesiology, University of British Columbia, Canada