For most of us, gym class was a staple of our childhoods. Even if we hated running around and playing games with the other kids in our classes, we knew that for forty five minutes of every school day we would be up and moving around. More importantly, our parents knew this as well and didn’t have to worry so much about making sure we didn’t spend all of our time in front of the TV set (though, to be fair, most of us probably got kicked outside to “go play” far more often than we’d have liked…is my nerdy childhood showing?).
Those days seem to be pretty much over. Recent research shows that 70% of parents report their children receiving little to no physical education in school. Gym classes seem to be a dying breed. This means that it is more important than ever for us, as parents, to make sure our kids get up and move around on a regular basis.
For some of us, this is easy. Our kids love playing outside, going skiing, and participating in after school sports, going from Little League, to Soccer, to Pee-Wee Football, to Basketball and around again every year. For the rest of us, getting our kids to put down their favorite books and screens and be active for a while is a much more stressful challenge. The tips in this article are for you.
Tip #1 – Create a Safe Space
One of the biggest reasons our kids refuse to participate in after school sports and beg to be excused from physical education is because these activities can make them feel vulnerable. Nobody wants to be the kid who can’t catch or hit the ball, since classes and sports make the learning process to sports public, kids can feel extremely discouraged. To overcome this fear, play with the kids at home. Create a family game day where you work on the skills needed for the sports that interest your children. Buy a few gloves, a couple of Easton baseball bats, set up a hoop or a goal net and play together in the privacy of your yard. As your kids grow more confident, invite other kids over to play with them.
Tip #2 – Focus on Individual Activities
Team sports aren’t the only way to get the body moving when you’re a kid. Instead of a team sport, sign your kids up for swimming classes, dance classes, yoga classes, etc. These help get your kids up and moving but the activity is autonomous. They don’t have to worry about keeping track of what other kids are doing (well, maybe sometimes in dance class). They only need to focus on themselves. And these environments tend to be more supportive than team sport environments where the focus is on competition instead of growth and positivity.
Tip #3 – Make it a Family Thing
Go for family hikes and bike rides. Get a family membership to the community pool or a gym that specializes in family-based workouts that allow everybody to have fun together. The family that plays together gets healthy together. Your kids will be more likely to get up and move if they see that you’re doing it too–especially when they are younger.
Tip #4 Incorporate the Screens
While we understand that your goal is to get the kids away from the screens they love, sometimes you have to compromise. Try allowing your kids to have an hour of XBox time every day…provided they’re using that time to play movement based games like Just Dance, etc. These games get your kids up and hopping around and while it isn’t the same as a full workout or gym class, it’s better than nothing! There are also great workout apps like Zombies Run that encourage kids to move around as part of the game and that can be utilized outside of the house.
Tip #5 Good Old Fashioned Bribery and Sneakery
Reward, don’t punish. Punishing kids for staying inside and reading when you’d rather they go outside will only make them resent exercise even more! Instead, offer rewards for activities that get them up and moving. You can add these things to their lists of chores or, if you’re feeling super sneaky, assign them chores that force them to move around, like mowing the lawn. You can also work in small amounts of exercise as you run errands like parking far away from the store, having your kids push the grocery cart, etc.
The point is this: we can no longer take for granted that our schools will encourage our kids to exercise and stay fit. Hopefully these tips will help you encourage these behaviors at home.