In an ideal world every child would get a minimum of sixty minutes of physical activity playing daily. All children would eat three healthy meals and two nutritious snacks every day. Parents would not have to worry if their children were getting enough physical exercise and eating a healthy diet. Last I checked, we don’t live in an ideal world. The good news is there are many ways to help our children achieve the daily physical exercise our children need and several ways to expose our children to a diet our children enjoy.
Where do we start, you may ask: start with yourself, model a healthy lifestyle. Parents that choose a playful outlook on life are physically active daily and eat a well-balanced diet giving their children a great start in life. Invite your children as early as possible to play; play at home, play at the playground, and play every opportunity you get.
Visit not only your local playground as often as possible, but seek out other playgrounds in or near your community. In Takoma Park, Maryland where I reside, our play committee, now the nonprofit Let’s Play America Ltd., created a Guide to Takoma Park Playgrounds. We have fourteen playgrounds in our community. We asked Dean Paris, owner of Paris Design, to put together this Guide. You can click here [http://letsplayamerica.org/takoma-park-playgrounds/] to see the map of Takoma Park showing all the playgrounds and a description of each play space. Many parents have told me they aim to walk or bike to every playground. Grandparents tell me the map has helped them discover play spaces they never would have known about if we didn’t provide this Guide. Does your community have a guide for your playgrounds? If so, use it and visit every playground, and if you don’t have a guide, consider creating one.
Where do your children spend their day while you are working? Whether you work from home or outside the home, it doesn’t matter. This applies to parents of children at any age. If you are fortunate, your child gets built-in physical playtime on their way to school, during the day, or after school. If it is all three, you are doing your children a great service. How might you strive to fit in physically active playtime three times a day? Getting your children to school can be a tall hurdle, but if your children know they get to walk to school and if they get there early enough, they will get to play with their friends before school starts, you have a wonderful incentive to get them moving and out the door. This may or may not work for your family, but it is worth trying to make it fit into your schedule. Kids who have the opportunity to run around outside and burn off energy before they sit down for most of the day are ready to focus. I highly suggest you give this a try.
Back to where your child spends their day. If you drive them to school or they take the bus like many children do, when they arrive at school, is there time for them be physically active outside? Kudos to you and the school if this is possible.
I wish every child had recess where they have several opportunities to play and be physically active with their friends. If this is not happening in your child’s life, I recommend you gather the other parents and speak to the PTA, the administrators, and those who make the rules. The evidence shows all children need a break from sitting, need social time with their friends, and need to recharge their batteries by getting a chance to go outside and play. Most children do not equate physical play with exercise. I know I didn’t as a child, but what I did know was that I had a deep need and desire to go outside and play.
If there is a chance your children can ride their bikes to school, walk with friends, walk to the bus, or play at the playground before and after school, they are gaining some valuable physical activity time also known as good old fashion play.
Many parents these days sign their children up for all kinds of specialty classes afterschool and on weekends. Many of these opportunities are an added bonus for your children, but sometimes they are not necessary. Let me point out that these classes are almost always adult-led and they usually cost money. Ask yourself parents, is my child enjoying this class? Are the children getting physical activity? Are the children having fun? Would my child prefer to meet friends at a playground to play what they choose? This may or may not be an option. Believe me, I understand most parents work outside the home and they need their children to be cared for afterschool, and what better way than a class your children enjoy. The point I want to make is if your children have not had the opportunity to be physically active during the day, then giving them this opportunity after school is a blessing.
Children enjoy being around their friends, and if there is a time during the day the children can play outside and play what they choose, this is what we should aim to give them. Having a safe environment, equipment such as a jump rope, sidewalk chalk, balls, playground equipment, and hula-hoops, and a place to run around and play tag, this is heaven to children.
Back to the school where your children spends their day, are healthy snacks served along with a lunch that is appealing to children, but nutritious? Maybe you pack your children’s snack and lunch; if so, strive to find the balance of providing healthy options for your children, but food they will eat. For some people this is a no brainer; they eat well and they provide their children daily with a variety of healthy options. Parents, you have the biggest influence on your children. When they become teenagers, their friends start gaining on you for influence. Be the parent who invites everyone to go hiking. Offer your kids the chance to invite friends over to prepare a meal. Have fruit and vegetables on hand, humus and other healthy options, so your teens make wise choices.
Hopefully, all of you reading this article would love to fit in, play daily, and include healthy eating in your life. Start with yourself; make a goal to be active daily and to eat healthy meals for at least six days a week. Then invite your family to join you by inviting them to play a physical activity you all enjoy. Reach out to your extended family, friends, and your community. For more play options, I encourage you to visit www.letsplayamerica.org.
Playgrounds are a great place to play. Become a swinger and stop at a playground and go for a ride. Go ahead and go down the slide with your child or maybe your grandchild. Invite a neighbor to join you on the seesaw. Give yourself the gift of play and have a healthy snack afterwards like a delicious apple, fresh strawberries, or make your own smoothie. You deserve it after all that playtime.