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Brother and sister running outdoors smiling

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? 

Makeshift-Tennis on our front driveway is simple enough, develops understanding of the bounce, hand-eye coordination, striking skills, and cooperation between players.
Makeshift-tennis on our front driveway is simple enough, develops understanding of the bounce, hand-eye coordination, striking skills, and cooperation between players.

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.

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Read also: How I Started Homeschooling My Child,  Why I Homeschool My Toddler, and How I Approach It, and How to Keep Your Toddler Busy While You Homeschool.

In our first formal year of homeschooling, I had a three-year-old, a one-year-old and a list of all we’d accomplish. There were wonderful days when everything flowed seamlessly and we did more than I hoped. Then there were hard days when so little seemed to go according to plan, when mundane tasks such as cooking and toilet training seemed to overtake our ‘learning time’.

The lessons I learnt that first year didn’t come in a flash of awareness. Most of the time I was busy trying to adapt to my new teaching role while fumbling around as a domestic goddess, walking milk bar and human baby-carrier. I also got pregnant again, and that affected my energy levels.

It took some months to eventually discern the kind of mindset I needed to get through. Although this did not eliminate the challenges, I was able to settle into a comfortable pace of life and learning.

This is what I learnt:

You are a gift to your child

You are a pivotal figure in your child’s life. There will always be choices to make for your home. But right now? You’re already who your child needs. You’re doing your best. Never think you’re not enough.

 

Keep your heart open

You do not know it all. That’s okay. Read all you can, get wisdom from people you trust, but remember – whatever knowledge you gain isn’t an app for success. Observe your child. Listen. Watch your own responses. Adjust. Homeschooling gives you a bigger chunk of time to grow in self-awareness as a parent and in your understanding of your child as he grows. Use your intuition and run with it.

 

Don’t be a perfectionist

You do not need to do it all. Neither does your child. The cruelest thing you can do is to force yourself and your child to accomplish every task. Rudolf Steiner said, “You will not be good teachers if you focus only on what you do and not upon who you are.” Have a list of goals for the year. Set a few important ones for each day. Give yourself the freedom to laugh and enjoy the process, to cry and make mistakes.

 

Follow the natural rhythm of your home

Structuring your life around an academic programme will make you and your child miserable. Plan your three R’s, but also consider the rituals that make your home function – naps, meals, clean ups, sanity savers. On some days, home care and self care require greater emphasis than language study or art appreciation. You might need to shop to replenish supplies, or sit back with hot tea to catch your breath while your child plays. Don’t feel guilty about indulging in some midday shut-eye with your child either. You’ll regain your best for later.

 

Embrace every moment as a learning experience

Education is not the the sum of hours spent doing lessons at a table. It is, as Charlotte Mason says, “an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.” Be aware of any artificial distinctions you might unconsciously draw between what is learned formally and what is learned informally. Preparing meals or folding laundry with your child offers a meeting point for conversation and an opportunity to grow in practical life skills. Tidying up after play teaches respect for spaces and caring for things. It is in the ordinary moments of a day that powerful lessons are caught, sometimes taught. These lead to fact-accumulation, language acquisition and build learning foundations. Equally important, they shape a home, a worldview, a personal identity, a way of being and relating to others.

 

Be kind to yourself and your child

Flexibility is a precious gift in the homeschooling life – you can be free not only with what your child learns, but also how and when. Your child isn’t interested in a lesson you’ve planned? Offer alternatives such as construction activities or letter recognition games and try again another time. Literacy, math and music lessons often require individual, focused attention. If your child wants your help with writing but baby needs a diaper change, invite her to help pass you wet wipes and say you’ll sit with her once baby is settled or napping.

 

Play outside regularly

Go outdoors every day. Do not underestimate the power of fresh air for body, soul and spirit. Wander and play about in nature as much as possible. Go for a brisk walk or jog while pushing the stroller. Learn all the ways you can use a ball in the park. Allow your child to help you rediscover a sense of play. Be attentive to the landscape, weather, plants and wild creatures. Talk about colours, shapes, textures and smells. Be free as far as safety permits. Mud can be washed off!

 

Be present

Don’t be consumed by checklists or worry if you will succeed. Live your best in the moment and you will be prepared for what is to come. Embrace togetherness. Grow in patience, joy and empathy. Your faith, enthusiasm for learning, and connectedness with your child is laying a foundation for who he will become. Education is the process of growing into a life that leaves a positive impact on others. We never outgrow it.

 

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.

 

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Read also: How I Started Homeschooling My Child,  Why I Homeschool My Toddler, and How I Approach It, and How to Keep Your Toddler Busy While You Homeschool.

Until Puppy was three, I had never given homeschooling a thought. I didn’t know anyone who had taken this route and it seemed that school was a normal and necessary step for a child her age. It was what everyone was asking me – when is Puppy going to school?

I shortlisted and visited three places, and still the idea of placing our closely-attached, home-loving child in a classroom felt discomfiting. Puppy had been plainly disinterested at play groups. It was always a relief whenever we left, and when we got home she’d snuggle happily next to me for a read-aloud or beg for a round of puzzles.

We began considering homeschooling as an option. As my husband pointed out, I was home, taking care of our second child who was a year old. Puppy and I already had a comfortable rhythm to our days, so the idea of extending our interactions didn’t appear far-fetched. We had been enjoying several suggestions on play from a faded volume of Montessori Play and Learn while I had come to cherish my hands-on involvement in her development. Puppy was enthusiastic. She absorbed everything I read and did with her with a voraciousness, and constantly surprised me with her quirky responses. It was lovely to see her enjoy the freedom of home life, the flexibility of growing at her own pace.

Our first steps towards homeschooling

Still, homeschooling didn’t seem like something I’d actually leap into. Could I really do this? What about socialising? How would Puppy adjust to formal school later?

I was torn between my heart’s desire and my fears, until the principal of the Montessori school I visited (who also happened to be a relative) assured me of the many benefits of home-centred education. She said, “You can homeschool – if you can be disciplined and committed enough.”

Somehow that nailed it. With that bit of affirmation and my husband’s encouragement, I took the plunge.

Getting our space ready

homeschooling

I was mindful of the importance of a prepared environment, so I started de-cluttering and ordering our physical space. It was slow with a nursing toddler pottering about, but it finally got done! I set up a mini library, music corner, had books, materials and supplies within reach from our activity table, organised play items in drawers and boxes and labelled them.

Getting myself ready

homeschooling

Having so much to learn, I read all I could. I read about classical education, Charlotte Mason, eclectic homeschooling, John Holt’s perspective on unschooling. The diverse concepts were fascinating. I was hooked by the possibilities presented by organic, natural learning but at the same time felt the need for an established curriculum to give me some direction, at least for some part of the day. So I settled on a wonderful resource of “living books” from Sonlight Curriculum that we would use for language, history, science.

I would blend that with my own Bible lessons, artwork, reading and writing skills using Jolly Phonics. I also relied on resources like Singapore Math, Malay story books, music (having a piano teaching diploma helps), and lots of physical activity outdoors each day. My mother would help with Chinese.

What really happened

homeschooling

It was tremendous fun putting it all together, but it was also pull-my-eyelashes-out crazy.

Because for all the planning, organising and scheduling I did, the demands of caring for two very young children and the needs of the household quickly proved that it was impossible to accomplish everything on a given day.

The reality was that meals, snacks, laundry, and naps had to be factored in. The stuff that I laboured to arrange neatly the night before “school” would move about (read: transition to chaos) pretty quickly as the day wore on. The weight of learning how to co-exist with and manage the invariable mess that came with two small kids began to bear on me. Then there were sibling interactions, toilet training, the time it takes to shift from one activity to another. And what about clean up?

Coming up…

The early years are so demanding, especially when both children are still nursing! In my next post, I share the things I wish a more experienced mother would have told me to make my homeschooling journey a lot easier.

 

By Jin Ai

 Jin Ai traded refugee work for diapers, dishes and homeschooling. She blogs about parenting, home education and life as a mum to four kids at Mama Hear Me Roar.

 

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Read also: Why I Homeschool My Toddler, and How I Approach It, and How to Keep Your Toddler Busy While You Homeschool