Well, there’s a title I never saw coming! Just a couple of months ago, I wrote a post about why I love exercising as a family. With the current COVID-19 crisis and the enforced social/physical distancing, many of the activities I listed are not quite possible now. And without the school playground, PE lessons, afternoon sports activities, public playgrounds and parks, the pressure is really on us parents to keep our kids active at home. But with many of us working and home-schooling, fitting in physical activities may be quite overwhelming. Although children may initially have been excited by all the changes, they are probably starting to feel confused, bored and anxious. Now more than ever though, it’s important for us to make sure that our children are happy and healthy. And a huge component of a happy and healthy child is physical activity.
Physical activity is critically important for the healthy growth and development of children. It strengthens bones, muscles and joints, helps with good posture and balance and allows for optimal performance of the heart. Exercise is also beneficial for children’s mental health – it helps them deal with stressful situations and enables them to focus better. Okay… so we know exercise is important. But how do we achieve that when we are quite literally trapped at home?
Time To Get Creative!
SOCIAL DISTANCING: Most people across the world are social distancing but the form it’s taking varies across different countries. In Botswana, we were initially allowed outside as long as we maintained a healthy distance from others. This meant we could do the following:
*Cycling: We took the kids cycling in our neighbourhood and also in quiet areas such as the Sebele Agricultural School Grounds in the late afternoons or the CBD on Sunday mornings.
*Walking or Running: When I was doing my morning runs, I took the kids along with me for the first 1 or 2 km and then brought them back to the house so I could complete my run. This worked out so well and my daughter in particular loved it. She really gained a lot of strength and confidence and I was also surprised how much I enjoyed just taking things a bit slower.
EXTREME SOCIAL DISTANCING/ “Lockdown”: On the 2nd of April 2020, Botswana followed some other countries around the world in imposing a more extreme form of social distancing meaning people cannot leave their yards for anything other than essential needs. Under these circumstances, keeping kids fit and active needs even more thought and creativity.
*Design An Obstacle Course: This is such an exciting challenge for both parents and children. And the best part about it, is that you get to use what you already have in the garden to make the course fun and challenging. So first look at what you have, think about the age of your kids as this will determine what you use as your obstacles, and then start designing it. Good obstacle courses are those that test different aspects so try to include challenges that focus on agility (e.g. running around poles or cones), strength (e.g. lifting objects or doing push ups) and balance (walking across a mounted plank or across a ladder on the ground). Depending on the age and personalities of your children, make it more competitive by setting a timer and watch them go!
*Work On Their Bike Skills: Not being able to venture outside, doesn’t mean your kids can’t develop new bike skills. In fact, most bike skills are learnt in your driveway. Find things in your yard that will challenge your kids on their bikes. This can be a series of small rocks that they have to steer around. Get them to go up and down a couple of steps on your porch. Make a small bridge with planks so they practice going up onto the plank and then down again. My husband’s go-to bike lesson is Figure 8 drills with increasingly tighter turns which teaches great control of the bike at low speeds. For all these drills, focus on technique first and then as they grow in confidence make the obstacles tougher and use a timer for that added pressure and challenge. For more information on biking skills, I find this page is quite useful.
*Include Some Ball Drills: Ball activities are so important for kids’ development as they help to improve their motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and timing. Balls come in all shapes and sizes and can be used so differently – throwing, catching, bouncing and kicking. So be creative – if you have a bucket of tennis balls, empty it on the ground and ask your kids to put them back in one by one as fast as they can. If you have more than one child, get them to compete so they pick up the pace. If you’re into football, have fun dribbling a ball around with them. If you’re into basketball, make a hoop and get kids to aim and shoot. Whatever the game, have fun with it!
*Let Them Climb Trees! I’ll be the first to admit this is something that has always scared me and I didn’t initially encourage it! What if they fall? But I’ve also seen how much my kids love climbing trees and how much they’ve learnt. This article discusses key reasons it’s important to support tree climbing even if you’re worried about the risks. It notes that being outside reduces stress, kids get to appreciate nature and discover new things, they develop greater agility, flexibility and muscle strength and they also learn what their strengths and limitations are.
*It’s Time For An Easter Egg Hunt: My kids have always loved Easter Egg Hunts and as we will be celebrating Easter under lockdown this is another way of keeping them active before and after Easter. You don’t just have to use Easter Eggs, you can hide different objects and ask them to find them or you could organise a scavenger-type hunt where you write a list of things they must collect, e.g. a stick, 5 stones, a pink flower, just anything really that will keep them moving!
*Go Old School: Remember how much fun we had growing up without all the luxuries kids have today? Get them skipping with a jump rope, play a game of hopscotch, have them hula hoop and if you have many kids get them to play tag or ‘Stuck in the Mud’. For those in Botswana, remember Safe and Big John Tate? Well, now’s the time to teach them!
EXTREME SOCIAL DISTANCING (Indoors): If you don’t have a garden or the weather is not very friendly, here are some ideas that don’t need much space and are suitable for indoors.
*Get Them Dancing: Put some music on and get the kids dancing! Have freestyle sessions or add a ‘game’ element to it by asking them to freeze when the music stops. If you’re not much of a dancer like myself, use resources online to help! Download some kids dance choreography videos and get the kids to follow along. Whatever it is, keep them moving and have fun watching what they come up with. Or even better, join in and teach them some of your own moves!
*Juggle Some Balloons: Blow up a few balloons and ask the kids to keep them in the air for as long as they can. Start with one balloon and once they get the hang of it keeping adding more. They can use their hands, feet or any other parts of their body. This is really fun and usually leaves the kids in a fit of giggles. It doesn’t usually take much time as they are quickly exhausted.
*Have Fun Strength Training: This is something you can quite easily do together and everyone benefits. Do anything from planks, squats, pull ups, sit ups and push ups. You can even use resistance bands and hand weights. I don’t have any light enough weights for my kids but I get them to do the same motion while lifting water bottles. Keep a close eye on their form.
*Don’t Forget To Stretch: Stretching is often forgotten but critically important for us adults and especially kids. According to Harvard Health, stretching “keeps the muscles flexible, strong, and healthy, and we need that flexibility to maintain a range of motion in the joints”. If we don’t stretch, we risk straining ourselves when exercising and potentially causing a lot of damage. You’ll find that your kids are already familiar with a lot of stretches from school but again, use the internet as your resource to find what kind of stretches you can do with your child.
These are just a few ideas and I hope you find them helpful. Look at your own personal situation and pick something that’s easy for you to execute. With so much uncertainty and our routines thrown out the window, finding the time and energy to push kids to exercise may feel like another burden. But in all this madness, there is an unbelievable opportunity for us to spend more time with our kids, teach them new skills, support and guide them as they try new challenges, and just have fun in a way many of us haven’t had time to do before. So with that in mind, have fun with them, remember every little bit counts and don’t be too hard on yourself.
A special thank you to my friends Taffy and Ticha who shared some of these wonderful photos of their kids having fun in the garden. And as always a thank you to my kids who are always willing to participate in my crazy challenges and activities!
Do you have any other ideas to keep kids fit and active at home? Do your kids have any favourite activities? How have you managed to balance work, home schooling and physical activities with the kids? I’d love to hear from you! Please share in the comments 🙂
I’m also joining the Runner’s Roundup with Mile By Mile, Coach Debbie Runs, Confessions of a Mother Runner, Runs with Pugs, Running on Happy, and Faux Runner! Be sure to read their blogs and catch up with other runners on the link-up. Such great inspirational posts from around the world.