CLIMB A TREE
Once an everyday part of a normal childhood, scaling the branches of an oak or an ash and viewing the world from a leafy perch is an experience that more and more kids are now missing out on. One third of Irish children have never climbed a tree. And a recent British survey examining emotional resilience in children perhaps sheds light on why; almost a third of mothers questioned said they don’t allow their children to climb trees because of safety fears.
Yet this kind of gentle risk-taking is known to help children develop critical life skills. For faint-hearted parents, guided tree-climbs (with safety gear) are available in Ireland. Rock Slane Farm, (rockslanefarm.ie) offers a two-hour introduction experience in which kids use ropes to scale the heights of a mature oak tree. Once at the top, kids can relax and unwind in one of the canopy hammocks. Guided tree climbs up “Monty” an 110-yearold pine which stands at over 50 metres tall are also available through Ashford Outdoors. ashfordoutdoors.com (minimum age, 4 years)
FOLLOW THE TRAIL
Turn a simple walk or cycle ride into something a bit more of an adventure of discovery by downloading one of the excellent maps from getoutfindout.ie. The award-winning website has downloadable guides to lead you through a selection of popular walks and cycle rides around Dublin designed especially with families in mind.
The maps don’t just tell you where to go, they are interactive and packed full of fun facts and information which uncover the secrets of nature and history for children.
KICK YOUR FEET
Those Riverdancers don’t sweat buckets for nothing. Even two or three minutes of fast-paced Irish dancing is a good workout.
And it’s a particularly good form of exercise for children because of the unique posture which helps develop core strength. That’s according to Nichola Higgins, who runs an Irish Dancing School that holds classes in Dublin and Tipperary. It also “builds stamina” and is a “huge confidence booster”. She’s seen “really quiet kids” transformed by the experience of learning to dance, both by the social aspect and through becoming comfortable with performance. (nicholahigginsdance.com)
GO WILD SWIMMING
Most kids love being in the water and learning to swim confidently is a vital (and sometimes lifesaving skill). But for a change of scenery, why not take swim time outdoors to one of the many picturesque swims spots that can be found on beaches, rivers and lakes all over the country? Ireland is “a swimmer’s paradise” according to the good people at outdoorswimming.ie who have collated a directory of over 200 locations across each of the 32 counties. Look out for the ones that get a special mention for being suitable for families, and always familiarise yourself with the water safety advice before you head off. More information can be found at iws.ie
BOUNCE IT OUT
It’s exhilarating and fun, but bouncing around is also an easy way to burn calories, increase the heart rate, and develop muscle strength and co-ordination. There are safety considerations, so if you want to put a spring in their step, adhere to all the safety regulations at the purpose-built trampolining parks around the country. Air-tasti has locations throughout the country and caters for all age groups. (air-tastic.com)
The skills of “self-regulation” that children learn by doing yoga will stand to them for life, says Aisling Halpenny of Oriel Yoga in Louth (orielyoga.ie) which provides courses for children of all ages. “If you can cultivate self-control, which you do when you are practicing any kind of meditation and yoga, it’s such a tool for life. It’s a learnable skill and directly correlated with all sorts of positive outcomes,” she says, such as resilience in the face of peer pressure.
“We find children love the relaxation. They love the switching off and the tuning in — they’re seeking that,” she explains. Yoga helps them to “tune into their body” and furnishes them with techniques to manage stressful situations.
According to Johnny Walsh, owner, operator and head instructor of The Living Wilderness, a bushcraft school based in Meath, (bushcraft.ie) many kids today are suffering from Nature Deficit Disorder. His organisation offers one way to address the problem working with families to take them out into the forest and teach them the basics of bushcraft. “One of the big things we do is to bring people out into the forest and to just look at it and to lose a bit of the fear of the big bad wilderness.” People are daunted by the natural world, they feel it’s dangerous, he explains, but “given a few simple skills and tools and taught how to use them, they feel okay and that they can do things there.
“When you bring children out into nature, a whole world opens up to them,” he says. “That eagerness of mind and curiousness that kids have is channelled into something productive instead of being channelled into getting lost in the internet.”
GET ON YOUR BIKE
Cycling is a brilliant cardiovascular workout, builds stamina and develops balance and co-ordination. Not only that but getting about on a bike fosters independence in kids and can be used as an opportunity to hone their road sense. It’s also an affordable hobby, once you have your bike and few essential items of safety equipment, you’re off. It’s well worth equipping children with some cycle training before hitting the roads, however. Cycling Ireland runs a programme called Sproket Rocket which is designed for the five to 11 age group and focuses on the skills of cornering, pedalling, braking and balance. (cyclingireland.ie)
LEARN HORSE SKILLS
The perfect activity for children who love animals, horse riding not only builds muscle strength, particularly around the legs and core, but it has also been found to have mental health benefits, helping tackle stress by the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system. One study carried out
CATCH A WAVE
So beneficial is surfing for mental health that in 2013, the British health service funded a pilot scheme which offered surf lessons on prescription for troubled kids between the ages of eight and 21 in a bid to boost their confidence and wellbeing. It has also been used to treat post traumatic stress disorder in the US and Britain. And for those looking for a mood-boosting hobby rather than therapy, surfing has a great deal to offer. It is not only a great all-round muscle building work-out (from paddling the board), it helps develop balance and co-ordination. The psychological benefits of surfing are hypothesised to stem from the fact that it forces participants into a state of mindfulness. In Ireland we’re lucky enough to have surfable beaches within a few hours reach of almost any point in the country. Find your nearest at irishsurfing.ie
WALK THE WIRE
Some kids are put off by the idea of competitive sports. According to Sarah Gillespie, the brains behind kids’ fitness programme Rinka. “From the age of six or seven, kids have figured out who is good and who isn’t at sports,” and crucially, the ones who believe they aren’t “pull back.”
She set up Rinka to appeal to exactly those kids, offering them “an alternative to mainstream sports”.
The emphasis at Rinka is on fun. Kids burn energy through “games, obstacle courses, basic gymnastic moves, dance moves and drama games,” she says. “There is no pressure on kids to compete or to be an athlete, and it’s focused on inclusivity.”
“We do the fundamentals of fitness; ball skills, hand-eye-coordination and balance. But the kids don’t know that what is happening — they just know that they are having fun. The result, they leave a Rinka session “feeling accomplished, as opposed to feeling that ‘maybe I’m not the best here so I’m not going to try’”. Classes are available nationwide. (rinka.ie)
It’s not just for adults. Golf is a great activity for all the family and getting kids into the game early can set them up for a lifetime of health benefits. Golfers in Ireland have been proven to be “stronger, have better balance and live longer than equivalent non-golfers”, according to the Golfing Union of Ireland. It’s also a fantastic bonding experience. Golf lessons are offered at clubs nationwide or through the GUI National Golf Academy.
Kids are natural acrobats, so why not let them take to tumbling thanks to the Galway Community Circus, which offers training programmes for children of all ages, starting from the toddler years. They’ll learn everything from juggling and tumbling to high-wire walking.
The Galway Community circus is a charitable organisation set up to promote the benefits of circus training and performance in Ireland. “Circus is known to be helpful with balance, hand-eye coordination and body awareness,” they say. “Circus can also increase concentration, as well as promote a lifelong commitment to fitness and self-discipline.” (galwaycommunitycircus.com)
RELEASE THEIR INNER NINJA
Martial arts offer an appealing alternative for kids who are put off by the intense competition that is often involved in team sports. Most martial arts provide a complete body workout, while also instilling principles of respect, mental and physical discipline, and given the emphasis on self-defence, non-violent conflict resolution. Not to mention the iron-clad confidence that follows when one has mastered self-defence.
“Karate is universally recognised as one of the most comprehensive of all martial arts and is ideally suited to combat the stresses of modern living,” say the people at the Hombu Dojo Karate Club. (karatekids.ie)
TACKLE THE FUN
We are rugby-loving nation, and even preschoolers can join in. Little Rugby (littlerugby.ie) runs courses for children ages two to seven designed to provide an introduction to the game “giving your child the thrill of competitive team sports, whilst offering the chance to develop their individual talent, character, ‘courage and pluck’”.
MAKE A WALK AFTER DINNER A FAMILY RITUAL
Sometimes the simplest things are the best. There’s still a nice long stretch to the evenings, so what better way to tackle screen time than to make a nightly tradition of a family walk between dinner time and bed? It’s not only a nice gentle workout, it also offers the perfect moment to debrief, connect and spend quality time together.
STRAP ON YOUR SKATES
Not only does rollerskating provide a thrilling adrenaline rush, it burns around 600 calories an hour, which is the same as jogging. It’s also a low-impact sport, putting less pressure on the joints (though a scraped knee or two might be rollerskating rite of passage). Best of all, it’s an all-weather activity. If it’s raining outside, you can move the skating indoors at one of the many rinks dotted around the country, such as Roller Jam in Cork and Limerick (rollerjam.ie)
BUILD A RAFT
If the closest your family gets to teamwork is coming to an agreement about what film to watch on a Saturday night, then it might be time to try out a raft -building challenge together.
Little will test your co-operation skills as much as this activity, in which groups are provided with the material to build a working, floating raft and must employ strategy, discipline and communication in order to assemble the craft. But building the raft is only half the test, because next you must work together to sail it.
There are a number of activity centres around the country which offer raft building, including eclipseireland.com