As a teacher I see many kids that don’t get enough of exercise. I teach in an ‘ordinary’ area – neither rich nor disadvantaged – but so many children don’t have some basic motor and coordination skills because there are insufficient community facilities and/or they’re not involved in sporting activity.
The little bit they do is at school, and I can’t help but notice that when we do physical activity, the children are much more alert, concentrate better and are well-behaved throughout the rest of the day. This is not any type of ‘scientific’ evidence - although there is plenty around to support this anyway - just anecdotal over a number of years.
Ideally, children should get a combination of aerobic and strengthening activity. Aerobic activities are good for their heart and general fitness. Strengthening helps build muscles and bones.
Aerobic activity might include walking, skateboarding, cycling. Of course, there’s also vigorous aerobic activity such as soccer, other football, netball, basketball, running. Climbing and swinging on playground equipment is good for building strength, as are running, walking and skipping.
In case you’re interested, here are six ways to get children active at no cost. Not everyone has the time or money to be involved in organised sporting activity, or another healthy physical activity such as dancing. Obviously if parents do have the time and money, activities such as dancing, Little Kickers, Little Rugby or the modified versions of games such as soccer, rugby league, netball and Aussie Rules are all terrific.
1. Getting to and from school
This seems an obvious one and everyone talks about it, but who does it? Many parents insist on dropping and picking up their children right outside the school gate but I think it’s important to balance risk with factors such as giving children responsibility, freedom and the opportunity to get some exercise. If you really don’t want them to go by themselves, or they’re too young, then get a group of friends together or walk, skateboard, cycle or scooter with them. This is moderate aerobic activity.
At the school where I teach, and with the agreement of the parents’ association, we have a ‘walk/cycle to school’ one day each week.
2. Walk the dog
An oldie, but a goodie. Put it in terms of it’s good for your beloved family pet. Your pet needs exercise too, so you're actually doing them a favour by taking him or her out twice each day. Your child may look at it more positively in those terms. This is another moderate aerobic activity.
It’s not always something kids want to do but very often once they start, many love it for a lifetime. Let them be responsible for a part of the garden and select, plant and look after something. They love watching it grow. They can see what progress they’ve made and they’re making a contribution to the household. Tasks such as raking, mowing (if old enough), planting or re-potting or weeding are all good ones. These are all strength-building activities.
4. Go to the local park
If you have a park nearby, even if your child is not at school yet, take them there and just let them play. If it’s a proper playground, there is some fantastic equipment now for kids to explore, climb, stretch, swing and run around. Let them do the lot. It’s great for strength-building.
Whether you have a boy or girl, get your child dancing at home! It doesn't matter if they don't know how or don't have the right steps. Just stick on their favourite music - or yours - and 'groove' to the music. Make up your own steps and just have fun. It will be good for you too!
6. Have a ball
Children love a round ball, which is why soccer is so popular with little ones. It’s predictable, a good size and something everyone can learn to kick, throw or catch. They should be able to do all these basic things by the time they turn up at school at 5, and just get higher, faster and stronger from there. This is good for strength-building.