We plan nutrition, academics and enrichment activities for our children. What about physical fitness?
Given ample opportunities to explore in a safe environment, toddlers naturally have plenty of exercise. As they transition to the preschool years, however, physical activity can tend to take a back seat. With other activities packed in, a thirty-minute romp or ball game in the park on the weekend might be all kids are left with. But is that so bad?
An alarming trend
The dangerous reality according to statistics is that as children age, those with a sedentary lifestyle have a greater risk for obesity. These children are more likely to have serious health issues – diseases and conditions like hypertension, heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and more.
These findings correlate with a recent report on childhood obesity by UNICEF and another by the Economist Intelligence Unit, listing Malaysia with the highest obesity prevalence in South East Asia. Nutrition Society of Malaysia’s president Dr. Tee E. Siong has highlighted the emphasis on academic excellence as the cause of decline of physical activities among children.
As parents, what values and activities do we promote at the expense of others? Are we unintentionally encouraging sedentary activities, daily? Relentless study or movement games? Playing computer games or running? Watching TV or bouncing a ball?
Carefully crafted, flexible fun
Appreciating the importance of physical activity helps us value our role as parents in developing our child’s fitness. By deliberately scheduling physical activity into each day, we achieve consistency and better outcomes. When we’re intentional, we start thinking about varying games, setting challenges and being creative with what’s available, like using different structures in a playground for different muscle development.
Ensuring adequate physical activity as a regular part of our children’s lives and helping them become fit really isn’t all that difficult. If you can’t always get to a park, badminton court or pool, do simple activities. Played mindfully, games like “Simon Says” encourage movement. Hopscotch promotes coordination – all you need is chalk and a flat pebble.
Here are some enjoyable games that can be played with 2 players or more, indoors or outdoors. You’ll be glad you set down that electronic device in favour of play instead!
#1. Follow the Leader (aerobic) – Equipment: None.
Get your child to follow you (the leader), and imitate whatever you do. Include physical activity such as hopping on one foot, jumping and landing on both feet, sprinting, jumping jacks. Be creative! Switch roles.
#2. Tiger Tails (aerobic) – Equipment: Socks.
Tuck one end of a sock in your waistband, one in your child’s, leaving the rest to hang out like a “tail”. Try to snatch the other person’s tail while protecting your own.
#3. All the Ways to Move (movement) – Equipment: None.
Take turns with your child, moving from one end of the room to the other. Once a type of moment has been used (crawling, walking, skipping, hopping, sliding), that movement can’t be used again. Play until either person can’t think of new ways to move.
#4. Balloon Volleyball (hand-eye coordination) – Equipment: String, chairs, balloon.
Stretch a string between two chairs, set across from each other. Bat a balloon over the string. Count how many times the balloon can be passed back and forth in the air before touching the floor. Variation: Use a ruler to strike the balloon back and forth over the string. This improves striking skills used in sports like tennis and badminton.
#5. Mini-Basketball (shooting) – Equipment: Bucket, socks or beanbags, paper strip.
Place a bucket against a wall. Place a strip of coloured paper a few feet away (a free-throw line). Take turns shooting rolled-up socks or beanbags into the bucket from the line. Count who shoots the most baskets. Variation: Throw with the right hand, switch to left hand in the next round.
#6. Mini-Volleyball (catching, throwing) – Equipment: String, chairs, ball.
Stretch a rope between two chairs, set across from each other. Play “volleyball”, but instead of spiking, throw the ball across the rope. Young children benefit from letting the ball bounce once before catching it and throwing it back over the “net”.
#7. Mini-Bowling (throwing, rolling) – Equipment: Ball, target.
Roll or throw a ball toward a target, as in bowling. The ball nearest the target wins.
#8. Dunk Ball (striking) – Equipment: 1 stiff cardboard per player, shuttlecock, two buckets.
Set a bucket at opposite ends of the room. Play “basketball”, using cardboard to bounce the shuttlecock in the air and hit it into the bucket. Hands can’t touch the shuttlecock.
Kids who are physically fit tend to have more energy, a normal body weight, are less likely to become sick, and sleep better. An active family lifestyle also fosters unity, especially when there’s a game everyone enjoys. Make the time for intentional and responsive play with your children today.
By Jin Ai
Jin Ai traded refugee work for diapers, dishes and homeschooling (preschool). She’s writing a book (coming out this year end), runs phonics workshops for parents, and blogs about parenting, home education and life as a mum to four kids at Mama Hear Me Roar. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.