For most kids, summer is a time to relax and recoup in preparation for the next upcoming school year. Classes, homework and formal schedules disappear, and figuring out what they will do with all the free time becomes your primary concern. While lounging around on the couch or playing video games provide an easy crutch, studies show that students can experience learning loss and summer weight gain when they do not engage in physical and educational activities during the summer months.
Getting your kids to stay active mentally and physically may be a challenge, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying. If you gave up that easily, how could you expect them to show any perseverance? Here are a few ideas to help you encourage your kids to get moving this summer and be ready to come back to school a step ahead of their classmates.
While you don’t want take away all of a child’s freedom to choose their own activities over summer break, planning some activities ahead of time will decrease their temptation to sit around the house all day. This can be as simple as enrolling them in a few summer camps or just setting a time each day for outdoor physical activity. Often, the most difficult part of being active is getting started. Once they have a regular routine for healthy activities in place, it becomes much easier to stay committed. For children over the age of 6, doctors recommend at least 60 minutes of vigorous physical activity per day. Check out a few examples of activities that meet the federal government’s Physical Activity Guidelines:
- Roller sports
- Jump rope/Hopscotch
- Martial Arts
- Other sports (basketball, baseball, etc.)
It’s important to make these activities fun for your kids. When you ask your kids why they are active or what they like about it, you want it to be because it’s fun. Use physical activity as an incentive if possible. For instance, tell your child, “You’re not allowed to go outside and play until you’ve finished (activity or chore).”
Limit Screen Time
Spending too much time behind a screen – be it a computer, television, or phone screen – can be hard to avoid for all of us, let alone our kids (if you’re shaking your head ‘no’ right now, consider where it is you’re reading this). However, limiting screen time may be easier than you think. This doesn’t mean getting rid of screen time altogether. Some computer games and television shows can actually be engaging and educational, as long as kids are not spending the majority of their time behind a screen. We recommend limiting your children to two or less hours of screen time per day. The easiest way to do this is declaring certain hours of the day as “screen-free” times. During these hours, make sure the kids find something else to do – preferably something that involves a lot of movement.
Set an Example
If you want your kids to be active, it’s important for you to set a good example by being active yourself. The old, “Do as I say, not as I do” defense isn’t going to work in this case. Teach them good habits and methods of staying healthy and active by finding an activity you enjoy and following through to do it. And yes, this also means limiting your own screen time as well.
Keep Equipment Handy
While this may be obvious, we figured we may as well remind you. Long story short, it’s going to be hard for your kids to stay active if they don’t have the right equipment. Let’s face it, you can’t shoot baskets without a basketball and it’s really difficult to go riding without a bicycle. Keep a stash, either inside or somewhere in the yard, of balls, racquets, jumps ropes, hula hoops and such to guarantee your kids will always be able to find something to do.
Get Others Involved
When kids are responsible for doing physical activities on their own, they are less likely to have a regular exercise routine (let’s be honest, it’s not just kids). Maybe try inviting some of the neighborhood kids over and watch how quickly they can come up with stuff to do. Play dates are great for moms and parents who are just looking to take a break. Team up with a neighborhood parent and switch off supervising the kids so that you can relax while they’re gone. While having equipment is preferable, you’ll be surprised to see what kind of games their creative, young minds can think up!
This could also mean making exercise a family affair. If most of your family time involves watching the new season of American Idol together, then this message is for you. Set a new routine into place. Plan long bike rides or walks after dinner. Not only will it make your family healthier, but you will be more actively engaged in the activity, which makes for much more bonding experiences building strong family relationships.
Keep Them Mentally Engaged
Keeping your children’s minds active this summer is just as important as keeping their bodies moving. If students do not engage in educational activities, they can lose the equivalent of two months of math and reading skills in the summer months. As parents, it is your job to work to change that. Now, when we say keep their minds engaged, we do not mean smother them with writing assignments and math homework. Doing something as simple as setting aside a time each day for reading can do wonders. Many older children will have summer reading lists to keep them busy. If your child does not, take a trip to the library with them and pick out a couple books. Remember what we said about leading by example?
As you can see, there are many things you can do to help your kids stay active this summer. Don’t be afraid to get creative and think outside the box. There are a ton of resources at your disposal to give you ideas, but isn’t it about time you got out from behind that screen and just went for it? After all, if your kids are outside having all the fun this summer, what’s the harm in joining them?