Keep your kids active this summer

Keep your kids active this summer

Author: Canadian Living


Keep your kids active this summer

How will your kids spend the 10 weeks of their holidays? Will they push their young bodies to the max in exuberant child's play? Or will they be sitting motionless in front of reruns of “The Simpsons” on the TV or the latest computer game, tuning out your exhortations to “just go and do something!”?

To help set them on the right (walking) foot, we've polled six fitness experts -- including an Olympic athlete, a Scout leader and a camp counsellor -- who all know how to get kids -- their own and others -- moving outdoors and loving it.

Here are their suggestions.

Silken Laumann
• Activity credentials:
Three-time Olympic medallist in rowing; founder of Silken's ActiveKids Movement, a foundation to encourage kids to be physically active at home, school and in their neighbourhood; and author of Child's Play: Rediscovering the Joy of Play in Our Families and Communities

• Kid experience:
Has two kids, aged 10 and seven, and many other kids in communities across the country participate in programs inspired by Silken's movement

• Strategies:
Silken and her neighbours in Victoria organize Play in the Park nights during the summer. Parents supervise the neighbourhood kids, who might organize games of tag or Capture the Flag (a running game in which one team tries to seize a flag from the other) with occasional help from an adult. “We want to create an environment where what naturally should happen can happen,” says Silken.

Parents feel safe letting their kids take part, and as the kids spend more time being active together, their parents get to know each other, too. If one parent is planning to take her kids for a bike ride or a hike on the weekend, she might send out an open invitation by e-mail inviting other kids and parents to come along.

When Silken supervises Play in the Park, she likes to organize scavenger hunts. She presents the kids with a list of things to find; for example, an acorn, a feather or a smooth stone. The kids seem to love it.

“Playing outside and climbing trees, it's what they want to do,” she says.

• Bonus tip:
Be the screen police. On weekends, Silken limits her kids to 30 minutes of computer time per day and one DVD (played once) each.

Darrell Bond
• Activity credentials:
Plans activities for a scout troop of 17 youth aged 11 to 14

• Kid experience:
Has a daughter, 10, and a son, 12. Also leads a scout troop (which includes his son) in Kanata, Ont.

• Strategies:
Darrell adds adventure, challenges, friendly competition and a few technological surprises to keep kids keen on physical activity. An evening hike along a city trail, for example, might end with Darrell firing up a portable camp stove and the kids making popcorn. On one recent evening, he brought along a laptop computer and let the kids watch a movie and enjoy a healthy snack outside under the stars before hiking back to the school where they meet. “The kids really liked that,” he says. He sometimes breaks kids into small groups and challenges them to a friendly race to see who can build a lean-to or tarp shelter the fastest.

He's learned that if his scouts like something they've done on a hike, they'll do it again and again. His own son often builds a tarp shelter in the driveway and has shown other kids how to build a lean-to fort in a wooded area in the neighbourhood.

• Bonus tip:
Always bring along healthy snacks as a treat to break up or end an activity.

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Mark Tremblay
• Activity credentials:
Chairs Active Healthy Kids Canada, a national charity that advocates for increasing kids' physical activity

• Kid experience:
Has four kids, aged eight to 16

• Strategies:
Mark gets his kids outside by his own example. He likes to do yard work at his home in Ottawa and is often in the backyard cutting grass or gardening. Ben, his 12-year-old son, usually trails out behind him with the dog. When Mark lets Ben put on a pair of heavy gardening gloves, that's the signal to the dog that roughhousing can begin. Usually the energetic commotion also draws his eight-year-old outside or attracts another child who lives in the neighbourhood.

Mark also entices his kids with fun activities and challenges. He might set up an obstacle course in the backyard or suggest a mini-Olympics. The challenges don't matter -- it could be climbing a fence or picking a leaf off a tree -- as long as the kids are moving. “Tell them you're timing them and have an awards ceremony at the end,&" he says.

Only occasionally does he have to play the heavy, turning off the TV and saying, “Everyone, out!&"
It's tougher to get teenagers moving, but he's got strategies for that, too. When his 14-year-old daughter wants to go to the mall or the movies a couple of kilometres away, that's fine with him -- as long as she walks.

And Mark and his neighbours recently made a small investment in a freestanding basketball net, which they had installed in a local park. It's a big attraction for older kids and gets their competitive juices flowing.

• Bonus tip:
Get a dog. It forces kids and parents outside for regular walks.

Jane Potter
• Activity credentials:
An assistant director of Camp Mi-A-Kon-Da, a girls' camp near Parry Sound, Ont.

• Kid experience:
Plans summer camp activities for 100 girls aged seven to 16

• Strategies:
The trick is to give kids a choice of activities, says Jane. Some kids love running games, such as Capture the Flag, while others prefer to go for a walk and look for frogs. Let like-minded kids play together. “Keep activities social so that kids forget they're being active,&" she says. Run, don't walk, to the park after supper.

• Bonus tip:
Kids love badges. Give out activity stickers generously.

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Paul Veugelers
• Activity Credentials:
Author of a major study on the value of school activity and nutrition programs

• Kid Experience:
Has two daughters, aged four and seven

• Strategies:
In his quest to make physical activity “part of normal life,&" Paul walks the talk. In the summer, he bikes to and from his job as a professor in the school of public health at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. On the way, he drops off his older daughter at day camp. She pedals behind him on a “third wheel,&" an extension to his bike. In our family, it's normal to go on our bikes, he says.

• Bonus Tip:
When you sign kids up for day camp, ask the organizers how much physical activity time they'll get daily.

Nancy Francis
• Activity Credentials:
An associate professor of physical education and kinesiology at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont.

• Kid Experience:
Raised two kids (now adults)

• Strategies:
Nancy taught her kids an attitude of appreciation -- for the family's good health, for the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors, and for the sheer joy of walking, running, jumping and swimming. Let your kids see you appreciating the joy of physical activity and they too will see its benefits, she says.

Start a family ritual of walking after dinner when the air is cooler and more comfortable. And find ways to make water play -- one of the true joys of summer -- part of kids' everyday lives at this time of year.

When the kids were young, the family had a swimming pool in the backyard, which kept the kids and their friends occupied for hours. A plastic pool or a sprinkler can do the same, she says.

• Bonus Tip:
Don't always turn your kids over to others to teach them physical skills. Teach them to throw a ball, swim or jump rope yourself and have fun together.

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How much exercise do kids need?
Kids and teens need 90 minutes of physical activity a day for optimal growth and development, according to Canada's Physical Activity Guides for Children and Youth. They can accumulate these 90 minutes in at least five- to 10-minute chunks throughout the day.

Stats on kids' activity
• More than half of Canadian children and youth aged five to 17 are not active enough for optimal growth and development, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

• Girls are less active than boys, and teens are less active than younger kids.

• Only 38 per cent of girls and 48 per cent of boys get enough physical activity for optimal growth and development. Just 30 per cent of teen girls and 40 per cent of teen boys are active enough to be healthy.

Safety tips
Follow these safety rules from Safe Kids Canada for an active but injury-free summer.

Around water
• Ensure that backyard pools are surrounded on ALL sides with four-feet fencing that has a self-latching, self-closing gate.
• Supervise children closely, keeping younger ones (those under five) within arm's reach.

At the playground
• Find playgrounds that have deep soft surfacing, such as wood chips, pea gravel or sand; it is less likely to cause injuries.
• Restrict younger kids to equipment that is five feet high or less and within arm's reach.

On a bike or other wheels
• Ensure everyone (and that includes you) wears the appropriate gear, including a properly fitted bike helmet.
• Keep kids under 10 off roads used by cars.

Around the neighbourhood
• Accompany kids under nine when crossing streets.

Great toys can get kids moving. Celebrate the beginning of summer with a fresh supply of some old standbys: balls of all kinds, skipping ropes, Frisbees, pails and shovels, or anything from Nerf, which makes a range of toys including foam balls and shooting toys with foam darts. Leigh Poirier, the executive director of the Canadian Toy Testing Council, also has these picks for inexpensive toys (most are between $10 to $30) that are sure to get your kids off the couch.

Saturnian I active toys, which have new twists on old children's games, including Fling Socks (a ball on the end of an elasticized strap) and Hip Hopscotch (a mat and throwing discs in their own carrying case)

Cranium “Giggle Gear” such as a tiara and other fairy gear, and galactic communicators to encourage imaginary active games, such as fairy flitting and spaceship takeovers. And Cranium Super Forts and Super Sportstation, a package of material to build forts, soccer nets and equipment for kids' own made-up games

Wild Planet's Spy Gear line up for playing secret agent (just another version of hide-and-seek)

Crayola Outdoor Chalk for playing hopscotch or just crawling around the sidewalk creating murals

Water Cannon Geyser Gusher, a cone that uses kid power to spray water from a pool or lake up to eight metres (by pulling the cone through the water, pressure builds up to create the spray)

Marshmallow Shooter for -- what else -- shooting mini-marshmallows at each other

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Keep your kids active this summer