Almost daily, we read about the ‘childhood obesity epidemic’ and the need for children to be active. This is the case even if your child is not overweight or obese. Official advice is that children should get at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day, and with schools no longer required to have compulsory sport, this can get harder and harder where there are time, cost and interest constraints in kids playing sport.
Don’t forget also the best thing you can do to help your child understand the importance of physical activity is to do it yourself. Regardless of what they may say from time-to-time, as a parent you will always be one of their greatest influences and they take notice of what you do. Depending on their age, they also like you doing it with them; and make sure it’s fun.
Here are some tips to help get your child moving daily (without them even realising it) from various sources but mostly from Sydney Children’s Hospital and Harvard University’s School of Public Health.
Walking the Dog
As your child gets old enough she can be responsible for taking the dog on a walk each day either before or after school – or both! This will get her to exercise and teach her responsibility. To get her excited about dog walking, see whether she wants to start a small dog-walking business and walk some of the neighbours' dogs.
If you don’t have a dog, then go for a family walk in the morning or, at daylight saving time, in the evening after dinner. It’s restful; it gets you away from sitting in front of the TV or computer; and it will help everyone sleep better.
Getting to and from School
Remember the concept of walking to school? Most of us used to do it. If you don’t feel comfortable letting your child walk to and from school alone, then try these instead of dropping them at the front gate to the school yard.
If you drive your child to school, park further away and walk with them to the school gate. You don’t have to drop them at the school gate or even in the same street. In the afternoon, do the same thing.
If they travel by bus, encourage them to get off one bus stop early and walk the rest of the way home if you feel comfortable about this and they are responsible. If not, and if your circumstances allow, walk to the bus stop yourself (it will be good for you too) and walk home with her.
A common game of tag is a way to fit exercise into your child's routine. Encourage your child to start a game with the neighbours.
Ride Bikes Together
Do you have a bike? If so, go on regular bike rides with your child. Have your child come up with a new bike route each week and let him be your guide on the route. If you don’t have a bike, there are plenty of parks where you can hire one for an hour or two so make it a special treat.
Dancing is one of the most popular forms of physical activity and it is a great way to get and keep fit. Turn on some music and have an informal dance around the house with your children to fit exercise into their day (it’s good for you too!). Find songs that are easy to dance to, and laugh and dance with your children for 20 to 30 minutes.
The Back Yard
Have kids help you out with mowing the lawn (preferably with a push mower), raking the leaves, doing some weeding or washing the car. Motivate your children to work in the back yard by giving them something in return for their work – such as a visit to their favourite place or a bonus in their pocket money.
Use a Pedometer
For a kid who is into numbers or especially competitive, give him a pedometer. The pedometer will motivate the child to walk to and from places and see how far he has gone each day. Don’t expect him to walk 10,000 steps on day 1, but track his progress and encourage him – literally – every step of the way.
There are so many things your child can do at the beach. Swim, walk, play footy, cricket or volleyball, run, learn to surf or just play around in the water. Try to fit in a visit most weekends over summer, especially while the school holidays are on.
Visit a park
Every city and town has a park (or multiple ones) with some fantastic open space and, sometimes, activities for children. At this time of year, in particular, it’s a great way of getting out on the weekend with the entire family. Sometimes, just being in the open space and being free to run and play inspires activity. You can also make it interesting by hunting for items on a list, or look for butterflies or other creatures or flowers.
Go for a ‘big’ weekend walk
What does your child find interesting? Plants, birds, rocks, shells, people? Whatever it is, take them to a walking track and let them find things such as particular types of plants, birds or rocks, different size and shape shells, what colours people are wearing. There are great city and rural walking tracks around the country ranging from short walks of 30 minutes through to longer walks. Don’t overdo it to begin with: if you take a 6 hour walk and he comes back with aching muscles for days, he won’t go again – so work and walk up to the bigger walks.
Some children love organised team sports such as soccer, basketball, Aussie Rules or netball. But it can also be an unfriendly place if kids within the team are mismatched in terms of ability or if their friends are not involved. If you enrol your child in a sporting club, ask them about their friends and grading policy. Some community clubs get the balance right between the two, but others get it horribly wrong and sport turns out to be a painful experience if your child isn’t a naturally gifted sportsperson. It’s also worth looking around for summer programs for team sports, as many clubs involved in winter sports have them.