Getting Kids Active

In a world where screens seem to dominate, statistics for Australian kids around activity levels are not looking too good.

According to ABC Online:

The inaugural Active Healthy Kids Australia Report Card, compiled by researchers from Australian universities and endorsed by The Heart Foundation, found 80 per cent of children between the ages of five and 17 were not getting daily exercise.

Apparently, the report has found that only one in five children aged five to 17 are getting the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity a day, while 80 per cent are having more than the maximum two hours of screen time.

The parenting landscape has changed with the tsunami of technology and the availability of indoor entertainment. This, combined with the parental ‘fear’ stoked by media saturation of horrible events that happen rarely and the insane speed of modern life, means getting physically active has slipped out of the radar. Common sense plus early childhood research agree that human movement is great for all of us. Passivity is quite simply not good for us and traditionally kids were told to get outside and it was easy to do because indoor entertainment was pretty limited, life was less complicated and it was considered normal – plus life outside the door was so much more interesting.

So how do we get our kids more active for that minimum of 1 hour a day, other than through organised sport?

It might simply be to explore ways to make being outside more interesting.

  1. Maybe during school week have a couple of days when there are no screen options – no TV, no iPads, tablets or smart phones until after dark.
  2. If you have a back yard, maybe help kids to build a cubby, get some recycled canvas or curtains and construct a kid-only zone!
  3. Once a week arrange to meet like-minded families at a park, creek, bush, a grassy hill or beach and have someone bring the take-away coffee.
  4. Bring back kids’ picnics or have an early dinner at a park that has a barbie – and this can happen in winter. Remember in Scotland they ensure kids have at least an hour a day outside while at school regardless of weather, just more clothes!
  5. Go to a second hand store and find stuff that kids choose to create a new play theme – tea sets, plastic bowls, dress up clothes for outside area.
  6. On wet days maybe consider leaving the car out of the carport or garage for the kids to play in.
  7. Arrange a treasure hunt, then have the kids plan one and have friends over.
  8. Buy cheap balls, all different sizes, and have them outside and watch what happens!
  9. Make time to walk the dog – and if you don’t have one imagine you do! Buy a lead and pretend and see what fun you can have.
  10. Family bike outings are fun – aim to do this a couple of times a month and find somewhere to ride to like coffee shop, playground or Nanna’s place.
  11. If you know someone who works with boats, see if you can find an old thick length of rope for your back yard.
  12. Use balls to create a running track and have races.
  13. Get skipping ropes and see what happens.
  14. Get a trampoline, preferably without sides (I’ve heard ED nurses say they think they are seeing more injuries from those with protective sides because kids think the sides will unfailingly protect them so they take extra risks).
  15. Walk the block/paddock for some quality one-on-one time.
  16. Make a day a week when you walk/ride/scooter with your kids to school – arrange to take other kids with you – take turns!
  17. Get a basketball backboard and join your kids shooting best of five from different places around the hoop.
  18. Find some trees to climb and visit once a week.
  19. Gather the neighbourhood kids to come and play alternately on different afternoons.
  20. Get your street involved in the Playing Out movement where a street gets council permission to have a morning or afternoon where the street is closed to all traffic and just open for kids and families.
  21. Get some hula hoops or create a dance festival in your back yard.
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I think getting kids more active is a bit like a new year’s resolution to lose weight! If we try to make HUGE changes we won’t succeed but if we make small changes, and gradually add more as we find success, them we can create sustained change.

Keep in mind that heightened physical activity is the best preventative behaviour to keep our hearts strong and to avoid having cardio vascular problems later in life. It is also a great way to improve self-regulation and can improve mood. It definitely improves learning – cognitive and social – so it’s a winner in all areas of life.

Finally children learn best by what is modelled to them so aim to keep yourself active so it is seen as normal. Explain to your kids what the experts are saying and maybe ask them to work out ways to get that one hour a day of being active every day. I know there are parents out there who have high energy roosters who NEVER stop and wonder what all the fuss is about!