By: Patrick Tate, MD, Choosy Kids Contributor
The days are about as long as they’ll get, which means summer is here. Plenty of time spent at swimming pools, area parks, backyards and the great outdoors should be on the agenda for physically active families.
Unfortunately, for many children, a large amount of their time will be spent sitting even in those outdoor spaces. Technology that encourages inactivity is an enormous barrier to getting the recommended daily amount of physical activity per day in children. From tablets to phones, video game systems to good old TV, there are a lot of reasons to stay in your seat after a long day…or all day. Especially since many of these options are now mobile. “Go get some fresh air” may be taken literally – with the tablet or phone enjoying some rays alongside your child.
The current recommendation is for at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily; with a limit on screen time to 2 hours or less per day. This includes homework, summer school, TV, smartphone use, computer time and video games. Yes, there are ways to be physically active that may incorporate a screen (dancing games, exercise games), but generally, physical activity and “screen time” don’t mix. Furthermore, I believe that exploring and interacting with one’s physical environment is of incredible value to childhood development.
Perhaps it’s a simple walk outside after dinner, or a daily nature walk, making a collection of items from your neighborhood or local park. Maybe you routinely visit playgrounds and encourage well supervised free-play. No matter what outdoor activity you choose, children of all ages and stages exercise their mind and hone their motor skills when challenged to engage the world we live in. For our climate it’s especially important to “jump” on these opportunities when we can, because for many families, a portion of our year demands a focus on more indoor activities.
Equally important is for the parent to nurture a child’s inherent spirit of adventure by modeling one with an emphasis on activity outdoors. Although more organized outdoor activities such as swim lessons, scouting trips, and sports are important components of a child’s physical and social development, a family that makes a daily practice of engaging their children in outdoor free play will enjoy a more balanced and healthy lifestyle overall.
So get out there and play with your kids!