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Teach Your Child About the Muscular System

Our bodies are designed to move and to work. Muscles make it possible to do both. Teaching your child about the muscular system will give them an understanding of what muscles do for us and how they can keep their muscles strong and healthy.

There are basically two kinds of muscles- voluntary muscles, that we consciously and willfully use, and involuntary or smooth muscles that work without our conscious awareness to maintain basic body functions.

Voluntary muscles help you do what you want to do- pick up a fork, ride a bike, hug your pet. Many are attached to bone and, along with messages from your brain, help you move.

Involuntary muscles don’t need your brain to tell them when and how to function. They know what needs to be done and do their job automatically. Your heart beating, your stomach digesting, and the muscles that move waste through and out of your body are examples.

Muscles move by contracting (bunching together or shortening) and relaxing (or lengthening and thinning) and always work in pairs. They can only pull; they cannot push, which is why they must work in pairs. One contracts while the other relaxes and the brain coordinates the process so that movement can take place.

Muscles operate with the aid of electro-chemical impulses. Inside each muscle are nerves which carry messages to and from the brain, and blood vessels which bring food to the muscle and carry waste out. Muscles burn a lot of energy (glucose) while they work and give off carbon dioxide as waste. Muscles warm up when they are working because they are burning energy.

Teaching your child early how to feed and care for their muscles will help them stay healthy and strong throughout their lives.

Preschool

You don’t have to convince a preschooler to use their muscles. They are on the go- jumping and running, climbing, falling and getting up again. This is a time of fast muscle growth and one of the reasons toddlers need a diet full of high-quality energy.

One of the best ways to teach your youngster about the muscular system is to use yours by exercising regularly. By observing the movement and tone of your skeletal muscles, they will learn a lot about how healthy muscles function.

They will also watch how you feed your muscles as you model good nutrition, a key component of muscle health. Remember that we are also feeding our involuntary muscles when we eat and that they are just as susceptible to the bad effects of a junk food diet as voluntary muscles are. High quality protein, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lots of water, along with daily exercise will keep your muscles at their best. Although genetics largely determine the shape and size of a person’s muscles, you can maximize a muscle’s potential with nutrition and load-bearing work.

When your little one shows you how strong they are by “making a muscle” show them their other muscles. Tell them they have 30 muscles that help them smile and over 640 muscles altogether!

Main points to address:

  • Caring for your own body by exercising and eating right will teach your child how to care for theirs.
  • Toddlers need adequate nutrition, hydration, activity and rest to develop strong muscles.

Grades K-3rd

Young school age children may or may not learn about the muscular system in school. Some schools teach body systems in science or health. Others may in physical education classes. Kids should begin to recognize the names of major muscle groups as parts of their body. You can help with this by learning them yourself.

Children this age are just beginning to understand how things work together to perform a job. We commonly call these groups of things “systems”. Muscles are a good example of this. You can correlate this to people in a community working together for the good of all; or the parts of a car designed to work together to move and carry a load across a distance. Muscles are much the same- designed to work together to perform a job.

Children often play so hard they experience muscle fatigue and soreness due to lactic acid buildup. Soaking in a warm tub and massaging the muscles will help move waste out of the muscle fibers, thus reducing soreness. Taking in a bit more water than usual will help also. This is a good time to explain how the muscles burn food energy when they are working and create wastes that must be carried away.

A child this age is usually not aware of the differences in muscle size among their peers. Helping them to appreciate their body and take good care of it will prepare them for the coming years when they may be comparing themselves to the shapes, sizes and strength of others.

Main points to address:

  • Teach your child the proper names of the major muscle groups if they do not learn them in school.
  • Children may have muscle aches after playing hard. Soaking in the tub and massaging muscles may help.
  • Muscles need lots of water to clear waste products.
  • Help your child appreciate their body the way it is.

Grades 3-6th

Older school age child will add more sophisticated material to what they know about body systems at school.

Puberty brings greater bone growth, both in length and mass which requires a corresponding growth of muscle length and mass. They will need proper nutrition to support muscle growth. That’s one of the reasons preteens and teens eat so much!

Making sure your preteen gets enough exercise is important. Health depends on all body systems functioning at their best. Some kids tend to “veg-out” at this age. Try to keep them involved in a sport or other physical activity so that they are getting some form of daily exercise. Muscle condition affects metabolism and keeping muscles strong and busy will lessen the chances of your youngster being an overweight adult. Make family outings fun so that your child will want to join in. Biking, hiking and swimming are all excellent activities.

Children this age begin to compare themselves to others. Girls want to appear trim and stylish, while boys are beginning to be conscious of the size and shape of their muscles. As mentioned before, genetics play a large part in potential muscle distribution, size, shape and strength. Let your child know they are wonderful the way they are. As long as they are getting proper nutrition and regular exercise, their muscles will grow as they grow. Remind them that most men are not fully grown and fully muscled until age 25.

Main points to address:

  • Puberty spurs new muscle growth.
  • Make sure your child continues to get regular exercise.
  • Make family outings fun. Try biking, hiking or swimming.
  • Most men are not fully muscled until age 25.

Resources:
Resources that can help you in your venture include:

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