Kids begin actively engaging in the world around them right away. You play peek-a-boo with your baby, you give them rattles and toys to hold onto and chew on, you lay on the floor with them trying to get them to roll towards you, and when they’re learning to crawl, you back farther away each time encouraging them to crawl forward. When your child masters the ability to walk, then run, you can begin introducing active play and physical fitness as a way of life. Every parent wants their child to be happy, and living a healthy lifestyle can help that happen.
The most important thing you can do is make sure your kids have both unstructured and structured active play, with and without friends. When it comes to unstructured play, a child must learn how to entertain themselves when playing alone or collaborate with other children when in a group. It teaches children to resolve their own conflicts, learn how to share, and come up with their own rules for their free play. Don’t intrude on a child’s unstructured play unless their safety is compromised. This helps with brain development and creates a well-functioning adult in the future—science says so! Structured play comprises of events that are set up and directed by adults. It is a specific learning activity and includes things like sports or classes (swim, dance, art, theater, etc.). This helps build a child’s basic motor development with explicit intent.
Parks are the perfect place to begin a child’s journey to physical fitness. Whether they’re swinging on the swings, climbing the jungle gym, or sliding down slides, the park is a child’s dreamland. The playground not only builds a sense of fun into physical activity, but it’s an interactive learning tool that helps build the mind as well. Allow kids to find their own way around the jungle gyms and they’ll have to use both mind and body to get up and down. This is a great way to create unstructured play within a safe setting.
As both structured and unstructured play, nature hikes are a great next step for your little explorer. Plan a trip to a state park and teach your kids how to read a trail map. Most state parks have trail maps online; you can print them out beforehand, highlight the path you’re going to take, then use the map to explore the park. Find a good open area in the park, like a large green space, where your kids can run around and be free to explore the world around them without guidance. Letting kids get involved in the process teaches them how to read a map when it comes to direction, trail length, gradation, park attractions, ranger stations and so much more. Marking the path they want to take, then learning to follow the trails without getting lost is a great learning experience for kids. Remember, even the most experienced hikers get lost occasionally, and knowing how to read a map could be a lifesaver!
Whether it be swimming, baseball, soccer, horseback riding or gymnastics, sports are a great way to teach kids how to be active listeners and participators while engaged in physical activity. They don’t have to be super coordinated to enjoy playing with their friends. Besides, win or lose, your kids can learn a lot of life skills by being part of a team. If sports aren’t their thing, no worries, there are a variety of things your kid can do to stay active. They could play instructional games like Simon Says or Red Light, Green Light, take a music class, help you build a doghouse, or you could even turn household chores or yard work into a game. With this type of structured play, your child has to be able to listen to instructions, comprehend what is being asked of them, and then follow through on a specific task.
Remember, children learn what they live; so if they see you engaging in physical activity, they will most likely be active as well. Set your kids up for a healthy future by encouraging and inspiring active play.