Margaret Yen-Chuang Matthews: Getting kids to move
With distance learning and homeschooling, children are spending more time on screens and indoors than ever. Our community sport teams, pickup basketball games, swimming pools, park playgrounds, summer camps, dance studios and physical education classes are all closed to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. With these and so many other venues for children and teenagers to exercise being closed, how can we get our kids to move? Even without organized activities, parents can help get their housebound children moving and have fun doing it. As families shelter in place together, keeping active is a great way to spend family time.
Physical activity is still important for their health, and young children have lots of energy they are eager to release. Exercise has many benefits for youth, from improving concentration and sleep to reducing anxiety and depression. The CDC recommends that children between five and 17 years of age get at least 60 minutes of vigorous exercise daily. Short spurts of exercise throughout the day are just as helpful and are easier to work in between lessons or other activities.
During this time, it’s important to get creative to reimagine physical education and to keep on top of our personal exercise routines. Invite children to join in on your exercise, if appropriate. Let kids pick out a song for warm up or cool down. For young kids often just clearing space or getting them outside is enough to start them running, skipping and jumping.
Play catch with a twist, literally — have each person spin around, touch the ball to their toes and jump up high before throwing. For very young kids, have a special “workout toy box” of things only to be played with during parent workout time.
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Make an obstacle course with household items such as chairs — to climb, run around, crawl under; blankets-to pull items or people, make tunnels, non breakable cups and containers — for cones to run around, side walk chalk — to draw agility ladders, lines or arrows to follow, baseball bases or hopscotch. If you only have indoor space, use tape to mark indoor areas.
Teenagers can be engaged with some creativity and flexibility as well. Invite teenagers into competitions for jumping jacks, push ups or balance. Use a reward system to allow trading exercise time for screen time. Let them have some choice in what they want to do and have the rest of the family join with them. Co-choreograph a family dance to their favorite pop songs.
If your creativity feels tapped out, we are blessed to have trails open at our local parks for running, cycling, walking and enjoying nature. Try a collection or “I spy game” while hiking. There are also many free online exercise classes geared towards kids, as well as resources for parents available. Check out our website at http://www.fitforlifeNCPT.com/gettingkidstomove for more ideas.
Regardless of what you do, don’t worry too much about it and have fun! Make your activity specific to your child. Allow freedom for them to give ideas, make changes and listen to music you hate. Little spurts of movement throughout the day add up. The smiles and laughs you share with your children are worth more than any stress you might have about “getting the job done.”
Move better, live better!
“Mags” Yen-Chuang Matthews, PT, MPT, CAPP-OB, co-owns Fit for Life Physical Therapy with partners Ingo Zirpins, MSPT and Corey Vanderwouw, MPT, a full service rehabilitation and wellness clinic specializing in sports and orthopedics, geriatrics, neurological and pelvic health.
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