Encouraging Exercise in Your Kids
The ABCs of getting your kids outside and active
C Is for Choices
Like adults, children have distinct personalities, and what one thrives on
might bore another. "Some children are naturally social and energetic,"
says Muldoon. "Some are physical. Some are creative and some intellectual.
What stimulates one child may have absolutely no appeal to another."
Choice is the key. For children that flourish with free-play activities,
there's jump-rope, gardening, hop-scotch, hikes in the woods, or walks to
school. Some families go in for kickball, tag, or hide-and-seek. Fall is a
great time to build stick forts and gather autumn leaves for a collage, while
winter brings with it the fashioning of snow families and other icy fun.
For kids who like more structure, there are dance classes, sports teams, and
the YMCA/YWCA. Experts like Mark J. Occhipinti, PhD, president of American
Fitness Professionals & Associates, recommend strength training as a great
route to fitness. "Children should be strong," says Occhipinti, and
strength training "develops strong bones, confidence, balance, and
Supervised strength training (everything from climbing to medicine balls to
weights) helps kids develop into healthier, stronger adults, says Occhipinti.
Just ask the photogenic governor of California; Arnold Schwarzenegger took up
strength training when he was just 14 years old.
D is for Doctor
Before kids duck out for hide-and-seek or endeavor to become millionaire
bodybuilders, most experts agree they may need a trip to the doctor before
starting an exercise program.
If a child is overweight, has a medical condition, or symptoms of any type
(chronic shortness of breath, for example), then a physical is "a good
preventative precaution," says Occhipinti. A doctor can also check on your
child's physical development and even make recommendations for activities.
And don't forget a checkup for yourself, especially if you haven't been
active for awhile.
If, along with encouraging your kids to get active at home, you want to be
sure they enjoy the same prospects through school recess, get active. A few
tips from IPAUSA include:
- Talk with your child's classroom teacher to find out if, when, and how
often your child has recess.
- If you're less than pleased with the answer, coordinate with your school
parent association and plan a visit to the principal to discuss recess and your
- Finally, band together with other schools within your district and plan a
community play day.
Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic
Going beyond fitness, getting active, and playing with others helps kids
form relationships, negotiate social situations, solve problems, and develop
tools to teach them about the strength of their own character, says
FunPlayDates.com's Michell Muldoon. And many, including the IPAUSA, believe
play -- specifically recess -- enhances learning, meaning more academically
focused kids and better grades in reading, writing and ... well, you get the
But "the most important consideration," sums up Muldoon, "is
that we make sure our children have a chance to experience the magic of play
and the richness of a community," so that kicking a ball in the park,
scrambling across the monkey bars, and rolling downhill until dizzy continue to
remain child's play.