Irish Independent - Health & Living - - KIDS’ HEALTH SPECIAL -



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)



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.



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)



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



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.”



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)



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



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



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)



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)



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’”.



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.



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)



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

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