By sixth grade, children have begun to establish many of the personal habits that will help determine their future health and well-being. Gross motor skills, which involve whole-body movement, are just about fully developed by this age, although they will continue to be refined as children grow and gain strength. The same applies to fine motor skills, which involve the coordination of small muscle movements. Children in sixth grade are usually 11 or 12 years old, and the physical activity guidelines below cover children in the typical age group. However, the age at which children reach milestones for physical growth varies considerably. If you are concerned about your child’s physical development, you should consult your pediatrician.
Engaging in regular physical activity and exercise is important for adolescents. It promotes growth, helps them build strength and develop healthy bodies, and can even enhance academic performance. Regular physical activity helps reduce the risk of obesity and chronic diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancers. Many children become less physically active with the onset of puberty, just as their risk of developing conditions such as diabetes and obesity increases. Regular physical activity and exercise can help adolescents feel in control of their bodies and can be a helpful way of dealing with the stress and emotional changes that also occur during puberty.
The benefits to your child of physical activity can include:
- Increased self-sufficiency and confidence
- Improvements in learning
- Better sleep
- Weight management
- Stress management
- Improved social skills
- Decreased time spent watching TV or playing with computers
- Decreased risk for chronic diseases later in life
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that children and adolescents participate in at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day. This does not need to be 60 minutes of sustained activity at a time, but can include different episodes of activity that, together, total 60 minutes or more. Children should be engaged in a variety of activities that require different degrees of exertion. These should include vigorous activities, such as running, and more moderate activities, such as brisk walking.
The guidelines recommend that children and adolescents engage in vigorous physical activity at least three times a week.
Building muscle strength
Building muscle strength is especially important for children and adolescents, and exercise is key to achieving this goal. Muscle-strengthening activities are those that force the muscles to do more than the normal workload and should include all the major muscle groups of the body. Examples of muscle-strengthening activities include climbing, sit-ups, and push-ups. The guidelines recommend that children and adolescents engage in muscle-strengthening activities at least three times a week.Building muscle strength is especially important for children and adolescents, and exercise is key to achieving this goal. Muscle-strengthening activities are those that force the muscles to do more than the normal workload and should include all the major muscle groups of the body. Examples of muscle-strengthening activities include climbing, sit-ups, and push-ups. The guidelines recommend that children and adolescents engage in muscle-strengthening activities at least three times a week.
Building bone strength
Building bone strength is also important for growing children and adolescents. Bone-strengthening exercises build strength through the force that is exerted on the bones. Exercises that achieve this important goal include running, skipping rope, and playing hopscotch. The guidelines recommend that children engage in bone-strengthening activities at least three times a week.
Children in sixth grade do not necessarily need a structured exercise regimen if physical activity is a part of their everyday activities. Many children this age are active in organized sports, which can be an excellent way for them to get the recommended amounts of physical activity and establish regular exercise habits that can become the basis of lifelong fitness.
Sleep is fundamental to the development of a healthy child. As your child ages, their schedule will fill up with more homework and extracurricular activities, like sports. To ensure that they are set up for success at school, it is important to continue to prioritize a good night of sleep. Well-rested children perform better academically, are less susceptible to viral infections and have lower rates of obesity. Experts say the biggest detractor from a healthy night of sleep for children is technology. The artificial light emitted from computers and mobile-electronic screens can disrupt your child’s sleep cycle and cause them to wake up feeling sluggish. A well-rested child will wake up spontaneously in the morning and will have energy for the entire day. If you notice that they are yawning at inappropriate times, or get reports from school about their hyperactivity and misbehavior, your child is most likely not getting enough sleep. Consult with your child’s health care provider about additional steps you can take to ensure your child gets a more restful night of sleep.
Nightly sleep needs
Sixth grade students need 10 hours of sleep every evening. Students who need to be up at 6 a.m. to get ready for school should go to bed around 8 p.m. Though an 8 p.m. bedtime may seem unattainable to some, experts recommend making sleep a priority by encouraging your child to get as much sleep as possible. The closer they are to getting the recommended amount of sleep, the better.
Learn more about supporting your child with our sixth grade physical health tips page.
Parent Toolkit resources were developed by NBC News Learn with the help of subject-matter experts, including Dr. Natasha Burgert, Pediatrician, Pediatric Associates and Dr. Jayne Greenberg, District Director, Miami-Dade County Public Schools.