On your mark, get set, GO!
It is easy for children and teens to be active when participating in organized camps and school-based programs. The challenge arises when those activities conclude or kids go on a holiday break. Additionally, as winter weather sets in, easy opportunities for physical activity dwindle. That said, with some creativity and planning, keeping children active is feasible and can be fun.
For those parents who are unfamiliar with activity recommendations in children over the age of 6 years, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 60 minutes of total physical activity daily. The activity should be moderate to vigorous, with vigorous meaning enough to cause someone to sweat and make it difficult to talk with someone else during it. For younger children starting at age 2 years, 30 minutes of active play/physical activity should be the goal.
The benefits of daily exercise are numerous:
- building healthy bones and lean muscles
- improved sleep
- motor skill development and coordination
- improved emotional well-being (less feelings of anxiety and depression)
- reduced body fat
- motivation and focus at school
It is important to have a sound approach to fostering physical activity in the daily routine (source, AAP healthychildren.org):
- Let the child be in charge: discuss different options and let them choose what they would like to try
- Keep it fun: kids are more likely to fully engage when they are also enjoying the activity
- Play together: make the activity a time for bonding and family fun, this will help the whole family stay fit and spend quality time together
- Make it developmentally/age appropriate: for example, a preschooler would enjoy a crab-walk race across or dance party in their living room while a 10 year-old would prefer a family bike ride
- Plan ahead: ensure that you have proper equipment or clothing necessary for the selected activity and also that your schedule has sufficient time to play
- Limit screen time: ideally, children should spend less than 2 hours a day in front of a TV, computer, tablet, or phone screen. Limiting this time provides more opportunity for active play
Despite the colder weather, there are numerous ways to stay active indoors aside from organized sport-teams or private exercise classes. However, braving the cold should not be feared. In fact, with the proper attire, outdoor play may be an ideal strategy for many families to stay active together.
Some indoor ideas:
- For gifts, give active gifts like jump ropes and hula hoops.
- Have a scavenger hunt through the house.
- Have a dance party and see who can dance the longest time.
- Go to an indoor playground, aquarium, basketball court, or pool. Often local community centers offer guest passes if you do not have a membership.
Some outdoor ideas:
- Going for a family walk with the dog, even if it is just around the block.
- Sledding, playing in the snow, making snow angels, building a snowman.
- Family snow shoveling. Work can easily be made into a game or fun with songs or a contest.
- Learning as a family or teaching other family members to downhill or cross country snow ski.
For educators and camp counselors alike, Nemours Tools for Healthy Schools provides excellent grade-based resources for encouraging physical activity that can be shared with parents. There are free downloadable PDFs with classroom-based games as well as pre-formatted newsletters for parents with home-based ideas for age-appropriate exercise. The Childcare, Preschool, and After Care Program in particular utilizes a Sesame Street themed set of activities to engage younger children in being active. Check it out!
Resources for additional information:
- 17 Ways to Stay Active During the Holidays (Children’s Hospital Colorado)
- 11 Ways to Encourage Your Child to Be Physically Active (American Academy of Pediatrics)
- Motivating Kids to Get Fit (PBS Parents)
- Keeping Kids Active (Kids Health from Nemours)