The Daily Telegraph
Fun ways to keep your children active this autumn
With a wet half-term on the horizon, Joel Snape says a bit of rain needn’t stop play…
How much physical activity are your children getting? There’s a chance that your gut feeling is “loads”. However, the real answer is probably “not enough”, and if you spent the rain-drenched weekend hunkered down on the sofa together for endless snacks and screentime, you may have noticed your offspring bouncing off the walls by mid-afternoon.
You’re in good company on that last point. The Duke of Cambridge discussed his family’s love of nature in last night’s ITV documentary Prince William: A Planet for Us All, and described Prince George as “like a caged animal” if he doesn’t spend time outdoors.
Schools are doing their best to keep children outdoors and active, but juggling the demands of social distancing and staff shortages means they’re often falling short. According to teachers surveyed by the Youth Sports Trust, half of schools were providing fewer than 30 minutes of daily activity time for children, including 12 per cent who said that there were no active minutes at all.
Just three per cent of secondary schools said that they would be offering more PE this term, despite teachers having identified “low physical fitness” and “mental wellbeing, including anxiety and fear” as an issue in returning pupils.
This isn’t a trivial problem. Apart from setting good patterns for later life, physical activity is a key factor in children’s mental wellbeing, and there are serious concerns that the pandemic is exacerbating differences between disadvantaged children and their peers. Meanwhile, the Government’s “online fitness platform” turns out to be... a Youtube channel featuring 13 very short videos, most of them prioritising “inspiration” over advice.
So how do you help your kids get exercise and stay happy and healthy now parks are muddy and living rooms double as offices? es? Here are some ideas…
Rough and tumble e
If you’re already constantly tantly trying to separate warring ring children, encouraging g them to be more physical might seem like insanity, but there are clear benefits to rambunctious play.
Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce, the authors of Wild Justice, e, suggest that, like dance, ce, roughhousing might increase balance and cognitive performance, e, due to its unpredictability. To try it out in a controlled way, Darryl Edwards – founder of the “Primal Play” method – suggests startin starting with the oldfashioned “shoulder “sh barge”. Start in a solid stance, then let your yo youngster try to uproot you from a standing start. I If the weight disp disparity’s too much, try what fitness types c call a “distracted p plank” – one person assumes the position while the other tries to n nudge them
(g ( gently!) out of it. Feeling ene energetic? Get some mitt mitts and do some boxin boxing practice – thoug though it’ll probably tire yo you out more than your d darling child.
Rethink rainy days
It’s tempting to write off wet days as a time to snuggle under a blanket, but when they’re the rule rather than the exception that means a lot of inactive days. Instead, give rainy walks a rebrand, as suggested by Helene Mark, founder of Outdoor Owls forest nursery in Richmond-upon-thames.
“Instead of selling a walk outside try to call it a puddle hunt, or a parachute walk if it is windy,” she says, adding that you can make the most of puddle splashing by using a stick to measure the height of each splash, or take paper to create “splash art”.
Another favourite with kids of all ages, she says, is the outdoor obstacle course. “They’re excellent for developing motor skills. Use planks and tyres, or make a simple version by lining up sticks in rows and jumping from one to the other.”
The side benefit of your rainy day rebrand: by changing your child’s focus to the things they can control, rather than the things they can’t, you’ll be setting them up for success in other areas. Remember: there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.
Dive deeper into Youtube
Joe Wicks might be on sabbatical, but there’s enough content on Youtube to tackle a fresh workout every day without repeating yourself. The key is to find stuff that sits in the sweet spot of being challenging but not too tricky – and preferably stuff that doesn’t feel like exercise.
For some children, yoga might be calming – Cosmic Kids is the toddler-friendly alternative to the all-conquering Yoga With Adriene – while Gonoodle has a more Wicksian vibe for the energetic.
For slightly older children, dancing might be a more inspiring activity – Matt Steffanina offers a series of 10-minute tutorials that’ll teach you to throw shapes to a host of popular songs (some come with a language warning).
Take sluggishness to task by giving your kids jobs to do inside and out the house. Ask them to help you deliver shopping to neighbours, take parcels to the post office or sweep up fallen leaves.
Gemma Bray, author of The Organised Mum Method, has some ideas on how to incentivise them. “You can ask them to help you declutter then allow them to keep the money from any items that can be sold online or at a car boot sale. I also advise that parents tell their children that if they help them with housework, they’ll have more time to do fun things together.
“Lastly, make it fun! Stick on a playlist and get cleaning. Spending quality time with you – even if it’s cleaning – means the world to them.”
You could also invest a few pounds in some litter pickers and bin liners, and take your brood out for a rubbish hunt, making your area more scenic in the process.
Nature and nurture
While your children, unlike the royal offspring, may not have a 20,000acre estate on their doorstep, you can give them a nature hit in any neighbourhood. Katie Taylor, author of the blog Little one with nature, suggests making your family walks more exciting by heading out with a pair of binoculars and a wishlist. “This way, you feel a sense of achievement when you spy a heron, moorhen, or fieldfare,” she says.
“Squirrels are busy now hiding nuts everywhere. If you’re lucky enough to get to see them, red deer are magnificent during the autumn rut; stags’ antlers are at their hugest and most impressive now.”
Have a ‘no-couch’ rule
Be honest: it’s far too easy to slump into the couch and stay there for the rest of the evening, whether you’re an adult watching Ozark or a kid playing Fall Guys. One fix: institute a rule where screen time has to be taken on the floor: with no upholstery to sink into, kids are more
Rather than taking them for a rainy stroll, call it a ‘puddle hunt’ or a ‘parachute walk’
likely to fidget, stretch, or cut their screentime short. Of course, this works a lot better if you stick with the most important rule…
Lead by example
If you’re encouraging your kids to be more physically active, the path to victory is doing it yourself. That doesn’t have to mean disappearing for a four-hour bike ride.
It could mean going for a power walk, playing chase around the playground, or just carving out 10 minutes for a burst of HIIT. And a bracing round of burpees might actually help you all cope a bit better now winter is coming.