---- — Remember when we were kids how the change to warmer weather meant hours of outside frolic? Then, why does it seem that our own children do not share the same outdoors enthusiasm?
What I am often asked by many of my mom clients is how they can get their kids to explore the great outdoors, to stop the incessant “there is nothing to do outside” whine. Let’s explore different ways we can reboot our kids’ pleasure in movement and help them discover the joy in the wild.
Turn off the television
Unfortunately, with all of the indoor temptations of TVs, computers and text messaging, kids today have less motivation to go out and play. You know how tempting it is for you to write one more email or to watch the last few minutes of “The Biggest Loser” instead of finishing the dishes or doing your own workout. Kids have the time draw to all our technological devices, which has led to an epidemic of inactivity and obesity in our children.
According to the American Medical Association, kids who are “plugged in” to more than 10 hours of TV a week are more surely to be overweight. And recent studies have found that overweight kids lead to overweight adults, with all the risks that obesity carries, including high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. Sure, the kids balk when the screen goes to black and the door closes behind them. But I bet you will be pleasantly surprised to see what activity they come up with.
Start them young
Kids who have made outdoor physical activity part of their life at a young age are more likely to be active adults. Don’t keep children fastened in their car seats and strollers. Take your kids to parks and zoos. Even a walk around the block can be thrilling to a child. Let them explore their surroundings freely, and watch their awe at the way the grass grows or watch their excitement as they leap over the cracks in the sidewalk.
Keep them going
Often, kids become less active in the 10-14 age range. Even though your child may feign disinterest, they are not missing a beat. If you taking part in your own outdoor physical activity, your kids will certainly take notice. I often encourage my clients to bring their children in with them when they train with me. This is a wonderful bonding time, and it also sends a powerful message that you care about your own physical health and want them to be a part of this experience.
Take out the chore list
You may be surprised to find that your children actually enjoy activities that we have grown to dread as adults, like mowing the lawn, raking leaves, watering the garden or washing the car. How about having them offer to do an outside chore for a neighbor in need? This is a great way for your child to feel a sense of accomplishment in being a part of the greater good.
Pick exercises they enjoy
Talk to your kids about things they would like to try, and make a list and post it on the refrigerator as a reminder. Remember that the ticket is to find activities that celebrate your kids’ joy of movement, in whatever form. When my boys were small, I would order loam for the yard and they would spend hours digging and helping me spread the dirt in my ever-growing garden. This turned out to be an annual event. Make a list, and watch your child’s eyes light up with excitement and anticipation!
Reserve time for play
In our activity-filled schedule, leave some down time for the kids. As great as it is for the children to participate in soccer, baseball, gymnastics, etc., it is equally important to allow them to self-direct their own play. In this day and age, we have programmed our kids to look to an adult for guidance and structure. At first, don’t be surprised if your kids are looking to you for their next plan. As in, “Where are we going now?” Clear the calendar, and watch your child’s imagination soar.
Make it a family affair
Go hiking, biking or swimming together. Or how about a sunset walk through your neighborhood as a family? Emphasize to your children that physical excursions can be a fun adventure. Instead of asking them if they want to go for a walk, rephrase your question with a sense of adventure, like, “Do you want to go on an ‘spy’ mission?” Talk to them about making healthy choices, and share your interests, whether it is birding or bug collecting. Reclaim your own sense of wonder through the eyes of your child. Families who exercise together enjoy better health and share quality time together. Exercising as a family is a wonderful bonding experience.
Make fitness a way of life
If you are constantly telling your kids to go outside, while you are watching TV or on the computer, chances are your kids will want to do the same thing! By taking your own health and well-being seriously and rediscovering your wonder of the great outdoors, you are showing your kids that being fit matters. Lead by example by taking your health and wellness seriously. With our full schedules, our needs often fall to the bottom of the list.
As I tell all of my clients from 8 to 80 — it’s never too late to be in the best shape of your life. Live your life by example. By reawakening your own wonder with the great outdoors, you can foster your child’s physical activity, leading to healthy choices for the whole family.
Now go out and play!
Kate McKay, an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer and business consultant, resides in Newburyport. For more fitness tips, visit her website at www.kate-mckay.com. Please feel free to submit any fitness and health questions to Kate at email@example.com.