Keep It Simple

Here are some easy ways to make exercise and education part of your child's routine.

By Michael Rhattigan
Keep It Simple

Children's lives are hectic. Sometimes when I talk to my friends and family I get the impression they are full-time chauffeurs, shuttling kids to soccer, karate, language classes, dance, music, and art lessons. Oh, and there's also school. One of the greatest barriers for parents who want to make wellness a priority is thinking they simply don't have enough time.

by ecospc on Flickr

These practical roadblocks are not impassable. We spend a lot of time on our blog recommending simple activity ideas, precisely to help parents who are often pressed for time. When you have such a busy schedule, it can seem overwhelming to then start worrying about things like physical activity, diet, and supplemental education. The key is to remember that incorporating healthy activities doesn't have to be complicated. Here are some easy ways to reinforce education and physical activity in your child's daily routine that can be implemented right away.

1. Look Up!

by alykat on Flickr

Learning opportunities are everywhere, all the time. As parents we have to learn to capitalize on these "teachable moments." Whenever you are out with your child, make a point of looking up -- yes, away from the smartphone -- and observing what's around you. Point out signs and ask your child if they can read them to reinforce reading skills. Pick out some of the objects you see around you, both common and obscure, and ask your child what they are. If they don't know, let them guess before just giving away the answer! This type of verbal recall exercise helps kids acquire vocabulary, learn object recognition, improve memory retention, and strengthen creativity.

2. Turn Downtime Into Active Time.
As mentioned above, many parents don't incorporate daily physical activity into their kids' routines for a multitude of reasons, as we discussed in a blog post on urban challenges. Many of these parents are just viewing what qualifies as "physical activity" the wrong way. It doesn't have to be a scheduled, complex event. There are all sorts of ways to easily insert some physical exertion in kids' days.

For kids in urban areas, make it a rule: stairs-only (no elevators!). For kids that are old enough, encourage active transport to school where safe. Walking, jogging, biking, rollerblading, and skateboarding are all good ideas. Finally, encourage 30-45 minutes of playtime right after school. Many kids come home and immediately eat a snack and watch TV before starting their homework. We need to cut that out! Instead, have your child play, and save the (healthy) snack for later. Play has been shown to be a crucial component in education, as it allows children to apply the skills they learn in new configurations and environments and in a low-stakes situation. Giving your child that time after school -- even requiring it -- will benefit their overall performance: mentally, behaviorally, and socially.

And if the weather is poor or you don't have time to be playtime supervisor, use fun fitness videos like ours. Or just throw on some music and have a dance party in the living room!

3. Make Mornings Productive.
Lots of kids sit around in the morning before school with not much to do. Hopefully most parents serve a healthy breakfast (and if not, more and more schools now offer healthy breakfasts). Besides that, kids often spend the time waiting for Mom to get ready in front of the TV or video games. That's no way to wake a brain up and get it ready for the day!

Instead, use morning downtime to encourage some productive activity. First, limit passive TV -- watching, tablets, and smartphones before school. Then, make it easy for your child to pass the time in a fun and productive way while you get ready. Keep a bucket on or near the kitchen table (or wherever you eat breakfast) and write "the morning bucket" on it. Fill it with supplies such as coloring pages and crayons, word games, Sudoku or other number games, and puzzles.

by tjstaab on Flickr

Newspaper comic strips are a great item to include, too -- they get kids acquainted with newspapers and also promote reading skills in a fun way. You can also include some of our adventures in the bucket, for when the temptation of the screen is just too much. Then, the next time you find your kids dawdling around on a school morning, just tell them to go find something to do in the morning bucket -- no exceptions!
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