Summer is time for rest and relaxation, but it’s also important to make sure your kids get some physical activity every day. Despite the long days and warm weather, parents may find it hard to motivate their children to get moving.
“Many kids and families get off schedule and lose their routine,” says Mary Lou Gavin, a pediatrician, a medical editor for the website KidsHealth, and one of the authors of Fit Kids: A Practical Guide To Raising Healthy and Active Children—From Birth to Teens.
We’ve compiled some common-sense tips and recommendations to help you make sure your child has an active summer.
Create a routine with a regular bedtime and wake-up time, Gavin advises. Kids may be staying up later and sleeping later because it’s summer, but they still need routine.
Set expectations. Decide in advance what your kids want to accomplish over the summer. Involve them in scheduling. Incorporate fitness, education, and down time.
Get out and do fun, fit activities as a family. Hike, head to the park, and enjoy the pool. Explore state parks, biking trails, and other undiscovered gems.
Plan an active and health-conscious vacation. If you’re driving to a faraway destination, stop along the way and fit in a hike or a tour of a landmark, Gavin suggests.
Assign chores that encourage fitness, such as mowing the lawn (with a push mower), weeding the garden, or mopping the floors.
Offer older children a chance to earn money by washing the car, the patio, or the windows. Teach them to clean without wasting water. “We’re really still talking about playing,” Gavin says. “You can play while you wash the car.”
Limit time spent watching TV, using the computer, and playing video games. Some experts recommend at most two hours a week.
Be a good role model. Parents who are active have an easier time raising active kids because they teach by example.
Emphasize variety. Kids over age 2 need about an hour of moderate to vigorous exercise each day. They need aerobic activity as well as activity that promotes flexibility and builds strength.
Take your child’s interests and personality into account when brainstorming for activities. Some kids like sports but not the pressure of competition. Others love to compete, but they may not be old enough to have the motor skills for a particular sport. “The summer is a great no-pressure time,” Gavin says. Parents can work with their children in the backyard or driveway to improve baseball, soccer, or basketball skills.
Parents sometimes keep their children inside because they’re afraid their kids will get hurt. Choose the right safety equipment, find well-maintained parks, and make sure your child has adequate supervision. Use mosquito repellant and sunscreen, but don’t keep them indoors out of fear, Gavin says. “Physical activity comes naturally to kids,” she says. Parents often inadvertently discourage kids from getting exercise because it isn’t convenient or seems dangerous.
Look for ways to integrate technology into physical activity, advises Melissa Johnson, executive director of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. For example, download health information or inspirational words to your child’s iPod or play active video games such Dance Dance Revolution.
Check out neighborhood community centers, Boys & Girls Clubs, and YMCAs for child fitness and sports programs.
Encourage your child to log fitness time at www.presidentschallenge.org. Kids can earn awards for points racked up through fitness.
Make sure your child has time and a safe place for unstructured free play.
“Kids love to move around; it’s innate. The incentive is the movement itself,” Johnson says. “If it doesn’t come naturally, put in measures to limit indoor time and come up with fun, creative ideas.”