Everyone knows how important exercise is to kids' well being. But it's not always easy in these cold winter months. Joy Brewster admits she needs to get her family out more.
Too Cold, Too Wet, Too Much Effort
"Can we go outside and play?" my kids asked one recent Sunday.
"No, not now," I mumbled, my face buried in my computer, stressing about my next work deadline.
"But we've been inside ALL DAY," my 7-year-old daughter Olivia complained.
"And we need exercise," my 4-year-old son Vann chimed in.
Did he really just say that? I thought. I lifted my head to peek out the window. Puddles covered the yard where the last snowfall was still melting in a muddy mess. I could hear my husband Steve working on dinner, and knew I had to take this one. Then I saw neighbors walk by with their kids. And another family passed by on bikes. How bad could it be out there? I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I'd like to say I smiled cheerfully, shut my laptop, and said, "Sure, let's go!" And we all popped off to the park.
But it did not happen like that. I think I actually said something along the lines of, "Why don't you run around the house?" Clearly, this did not rank as one of my proudest parenting moments.
Like most parents, we know how important exercise is for kids (and for us!). We're aware of all the benefits -- physically, emotionally, and socially. And, frankly, we know what our kids are like when they've been cooped up all day. So, like lots of families, we do what we can to make physical activity a part of our daily life. Most of the year, this isn't hard to do. We're often outdoors on the weekend, whether we're raking leaves or hiking in the woods. But sometimes... especially in the winter... when we have to contend with the cold and the coats and the hats and the mittens (and just the general malaise of winter time)...
Well, that's when it can be the most challenging to get out of the house. But it's also when my family probably needs to be outdoors most.
So, I've been trying to be better about keeping us all active this season. Obviously, I have a lot of work to do this in this area. One goal is to make exercise part of our daily routine. If you're looking for ways to get your family moving, check out Sesame Workshop's brand new Exercise page.
Mixing It Up
When the weather is nice and the days are longer, it's much easier to head outside on a whim and play -- whether it's a quick trip to the park, a game of tag, or double-dutch with the neighbors. In the winter, however, it takes more planning and incentive to get out. I've found that signing up the kids for activities gives us the push we need. This is also a fun way to encourage them to try something new. One year, we tried swim lessons. Last year, the kids enjoyed a gymnastics class. This year, Vann's playing basketball for the first time. Like any 3- and 4-year-old league, it's very low key. He's learning basic skills, but mostly, he's having fun. And he gets to run his heart out twice a week.
For some friends, the cold weather means trying out indoor activities like roller-skating, bowling, and even a hip-hop dance class. (I'm inspired, but I know Steve would need some convincing.)
Let's face it, sometimes you're just stuck indoors. You know those afternoons -- it's cold and rainy, and you just don't have the time or energy or money for a big outing. On those days, Vann will inevitably pull out his inside baseball and bat, and before long we have a family game going. Pretty much any hit is a home run and means at least one lap around the house. And if there's an extra balloon around, we might start a game of balloon volleyball. Olivia and Vann invented this game after a recent birthday party, lining up the dining room chairs as a net. It's even more fun with two balloons (or three, or four). We've also adapted this very physical, but non-destructive game to balloon tennis.
Another favorite inside game is a picture scavenger hunt. We take a bunch of close-up photos of objects around the house -- a stuffed animal, a knob on the stove, a faucet, a few piano keys -- and put them in red envelopes. We hide the envelopes around the house, so that each clue leads to another room, where the kids have to find another red envelope, and so on. If we hide the clues in the right order, the kids are sprinting up and down stairs, to the front porch and back porch, and all over the house. There's a lot of laughing, cheering, and, best of all, exercise!
Sometimes Olivia and Vann set up impromptu obstacle courses with jump ropes, hula hoops, empty boxes -- whatever they can climb over, around, or through.
In calmer moments, they like to share the yoga poses they've learned in school. Usually, this starts when they see me stretching and want to join in. Not a yoga person myself, I've been amazed at how it encourages them to focus on their bodies and breathing. Check out Yoga for Kids and try a few stretches with your kids.
As a kid, I always wanted to be outside -- shooting baskets, skateboarding, or hitting the tennis ball against the garage. I wasn't thinking about exercise -- I was just having fun. Isn't this how we want our kids to feel? We want them to always stay active because it's what they want to do, not something they have to do. For some ideas for making it fun to stay healthy, take a peek at Let's Get Healthy.
Of course, I'm trying to keep this in mind when it comes to staying active myself. When I go out for a run, I do have fun -- and I definitely feel better.
The other day I was grudgingly tying my running shoes, when Steve and the kids called out, "Have fun, Mommy!" They had just returned from the park and had settled in to do a puzzle. I really, really wanted to join them -- but I knew I needed to get out myself. At moments like this, I remember another reason I exercise. It's not just for me, but for my kids as well. So I pulled on my jacket and yelled back, "I will!" And I did.