Most children are naturally active in their early years but as they grow, they may need an extra push towards physical exercise. Without active role models, sports and opportunities for play, getting enough physical activity in a day can be challenging.
Keeping active helps to ensure that children’s bodies develop to their full potential. Getting regular exercise, means children will have:
- Stronger muscles and bones;
- Better sleep;
- A good dose of vitamin D from the sun. Be sure they wear sunscreen though, of course!
- A healthier outlook on life;
- Greater social skills (through team sports);
- Decreased risk of type 2 diabetes;
- Weight control;
- Academic motivation;
- Greater self-esteem.
Aim to incorporate physical activity into your kids’ daily routine. As a guide, toddlers and pre-schoolers should play actively several times a day. Children 6-17 years old should remain active throughout the day, and aim to accumulate 60 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity each day.
A parent’s reaction to their child’s physical activity will help to encourage the child to persist. When you praise a child for their active play, or even get involved in the activity, your child will be more inclined to do it. Whether it’s swimming, riding a bike, playing soccer or walking a long distance, your constant encouragement will offer them a feeling of accomplishment. If it’s an activity you can share, the bonding experience you’ll gain will be an added bonus.
Finding the right activities
Ensuring your child is having fun is the key to keeping them interested and staying active. Activities that target particular physical skills will help your child develop while improving their coordination, agility and balance.
Pre-schoolers need play and exercise to help them develop important motor skills. Activities for pre-schoolers can include throwing, kicking and catching a ball, following a leader, running an obstacle course, hopping on one foot, or riding a bike. This is the time to work on fundamental skills with simple, repeated movements, which will prepare your children for more organised team sports when they’re a bit older.
- School-aged kids
School-aged children are equipped with the skills and attention span to handle more complex rules, and now is a good time to introduce organised sports. Children will develop their skills at differing rates, and not every child will be naturally good at sports. As kids get older, differences in ability and personality become more apparent, and these should be nurtured and considered when choosing physical activities. Free play is also crucial to physical and social development in children of this age.
Teenagers often need the biggest push when it comes to staying active, and it’s important to encourage and praise their talents during this time. Teenagers, while generally more independent, still need structure and might need help with time management, so make sure you play an active role in ensuring they get an adequate amount of exercise each day. Their fitness personality should certainly be considered, and a parent’s positive attitude to activity might help a young person who is reluctant to exercise.
Five tips for encouraging social activities
- Be a role model
If your children see you being active regularly, they’ll be far more inclined to be that way themselves. Get active with your kids by running alongside them on their bikes, or let them see you enjoying exercise (even if you don’t really!).
- Explain the importance of both mind and body exercise
While exercising the brain is important throughout childhood, exercising the body is equally valuable. Help your child understand that the two go hand-in-hand. This is particularly important during your children’s teenage years, when they may be focussed on study. Exercise will release endorphins leaving them feeling energised and refreshed, which will improve their concentration and cognitive function.
- Encourage outdoor play when friends come over
Make it a rule that when your child’s friends come over, they must first have active play before computer time or watching a movie.
- Give active chores to older kids
Encourage kids to help with household maintenance by asking them to weed, mow the lawn, or plant and water vegetables. This will help to keep them naturally active on a day-to-basis by providing incidental exercise (as well as help to keep your house neat!).
- Limit ‘screen time’
If your child is constantly playing on the computer or tablet, talk to them about limiting the time they can spend on devices each day. You could try incorporating a system where a child plays outside for an hour before they’re allowed any screen time.
25 easy activities for kids
- Make walks more fun with a scavenger hunt
Before taking the dog for a walk or enjoying a stroll after dinner, get your kids to make a list of things to find along the way. Include on your list things like: a cat, a fruit tree, a red car, a water feature, a swing etc., and get the kids to mark off things as they go.
- Acquire a pedometer
Getting the recommended 10,000 steps per day is easy with a pedometer, as it encourages you to be conscious of your activity and to be on your feet each day. If you can’t afford one for every person in the house, try giving it to a different family member each day and making note of who walked the most steps. It’s amazing how much competition can spur on a less-active child. Why not try completing a goal of 80,000 steps in a week that each family member contributes to?
- Embrace the beat
Children, especially teenagers, love to listen to music. When you play something with an upbeat tempo, it can motivate even the most lazy to get moving. Try setting aside “Tidy Dance” times, when everyone in the house helps to tidy while rocking out to some great tunes.
- Play follow the leader
Follow the leader is a game that many young children love to play, and it not only keeps kids active but can help build important motor skills. Take it in turns to follow each other around the house and yard, being sure to include things like jumps, stretches, lunges and skipping.
- Borrow a pet
If you don’t have a dog of your own, ask around the neighbourhood and see if there is someone who needs help walking theirs. Kids love both dogs and responsibility, and older kids might even be able to turn it into a little extra pocket money.
- Take a frisbee on your picnic
If you’re heading to the park for a picnic, pack items that will encourage play once you’re there. A frisbee can be great fun, as can a bat and ball, or soccer ball.
- Meet friends at the park rather than a cafe
If meeting friends for a coffee, purchase a takeaway and then hit the local park. You can still have a chat, and the kids are free to play on the equipment, run around and explore.
- Learn something new together
When choosing an activity for your kids to learn, why not choose something that’s new to you too. Learn to hula hoop, play hacky sack, juggle, or practice your handstands.
- Go for a bushwalk
Bushwalking can be a great experience, and it gets kids outdoors and enjoying and appreciating their natural environment. Keep it interesting by finding out what birds to look for and ticking them off a list when you see them, or by collecting interesting leaves or stones.
- Go to an indoor playground
If it’s too cold to hit the park, look for an indoor playground that offers lots of opportunity to get active. Some indoor centres not only offer slides and jumping castles, but rock climbing walls and trampolines too.
- Organise a walking school bus
If you live within walking distance of your child’s school, arrange with neighbouring parents to take turns leading a ‘walking school bus’. The kids will be active right from the start of the day, you’ll be helping the environment and alleviating traffic congestion too!
- Increase your ‘incidental exercise’
Park further away from your destination and walk the remaining distance to get your steps up. You could even encourage your children to hop, jump or skip all the way from the car, or even race them to the place you are going!
- Build a fort
Building a fort is a great way to exercise the body as well as the mind, and the excitement once it’s built will lead to hours of imaginative play.
- Get actively involved in sport
Instead of just dropping the kids off to their organised sport, get involved as a coach or manager, help to wash the uniforms, or cut up oranges. Your involvement will encourage your children to participate, and you’ll be sharing a fun activity and bonding at the same time.
- Look active, feel active
If the budget permits, why not invest in a new pair of runners or some stylish sports clothes for your child? These can spark a child’s interest in getting active. For the little-ones, why not invest in a superhero costume? Your child will get in the superhero zone, and will be running around, jumping and climbing on things all day long!
- Fundraise or train for a charity walk
Fundraising for a good cause, or training for a charity walk or fun run, will give your child a goal, and give them a sense of achievement when they accomplish it. This can also help to improve your child’s social awareness, and teach them to persevere and work hard for the things that they want.
- Play challenges during commercials
During commercial breaks, compete to see who can perform the most push ups, sit ups or star jumps, or see who can hold a plank position for the longest. This way your kids will still have their TV time, but they’ll be active at the same time.
- Make it a rule
Make it a rule that for every 30 minutes of TV watched, 10 minutes of exercise must be performed. This can be general play or added to a family walk, and it’s a rule that everyone in the house must follow, including you!
- Have active computer games and toys
Computer games come in all kinds of active forms these days, and many games encourage jumping, lunging, swinging and running. Buy a dance program or Wii Sports game to encourage activity during computer time. These are great fun, and improve coordination and rhythm. When a birthday rolls around, instead of purchasing computer games and other stationary games, try to include at least one active present, such as a skipping rope, ball, scooter or pogo stick.