By Kristin Swick
According to a recent Duke University Study that highlights the alarming trend in obesity among our nation’s children, nearly 15% of children are now categorized as seriously overweight. Although American adults are embracing healthier lifestyles, our children are falling into an obesity trend. To reverse this trend, we must become role models for our children and make fitness part of your child’s routine.
- Being a role model does not mean that you need to sign up for the next marathon. What counts most are the daily decisions you make about your lifestyle. Challenge yourself to find ways to make fitness fun for your kids:
- Take the stairs at the mall instead of the escalator. Have your child first guess how many steps there are and then you can count them together.
- Go on a ‘treasure hunt’ walk. Give your preschoolers a bag and let them see how many unique treasures (like feathers, twigs, unique pebbles) they can find on the walk and then when you get home, tape all the adventure treasures on a plain piece of paper to make a collage.
- If you have an exercise regimen that you follow at home, include your child as much as possible. Your baby can lie on your stomach as you do crunches, or you can lie her on her back on the floor as you do pushups over top of her (and give her a peck on the cheek each time you reach down towards her). Babies love the close contact with your face and they will benefit from your counting if you do it out loud. For older kids, let them be your coach and count for you as you do repetitions of your preferred exercise.
Group fitness and sports are also a great way for children to learn to embrace fitness rather than shy away from it. In these programs, children learn to take risks without the fear of failing; they learn to trust their body movement and they acquire self-confidence that helps them learn to enjoy physical activity throughout their youth.
There are many wonderful fitness programs in the Washington Metro area, but with so many choices, it can be difficult to make an educated decision about which is best for your child. Most can be categorized into one of three types of classes:
Structured Play Classes– In these classes, your child will experience supervised play as well as organized group activities. Structured play classes are a great option if you are looking for a safe place where children can explore kid-friendly play equipment like ball pits and jungle gyms and also interact with other children of the same age. These classes are usually offered in short segments of 6-10 weeks.
Non-Competitive Programs– Non-competitive fitness programs combine the fun of play with curriculum-based skill building. Programs like karate, gymnastics and dance typically focus on core emotional, cognitive and social benefits as a base for learning the skills of the sport. These curriculum-based programs are usually longer in duration than play classes. As you gain consistency with the program, the benefits to the child increase dramatically. Session duration varies, but most suggest a commitment of 15 weeks to a full year.
Competitive Programs– Almost any sport offered in a non-competitive environment can be enjoyed competitively. The younger your child, the less likely it is they will thrive in a competitive environment. However, many competitive organizations have tapped into the infant, toddler and preschool markets by offering less-intense children’s programs to build a base of talent for their young teams.
Consider the following when choosing a children’s fitness program:
- Experience/Training. Pay attention to the instructors’ backgrounds. In addition to skill expertise, look for experience and/or training in teaching children of your child’s age.
- Curriculum. Make sure there is a lesson plan. Find out what parts of the class are consistent and which parts will change from week to week. You want things to change enough that your child will be continually stimulated, but most kids respond best to classes if the format is consistent.
- Music. Upbeat, rhythmic music is more than just fun. Moving to the rhythm of music has been shown to improve cognitive development in infants and toddlers. Directive music, that which requires children to listen for cues and follow along without being told what to do, is also a powerful way to reinforce independence and fine-tune listening skills.
- Cleanliness. Don’t be afraid to ask how often the mats are washed, the bells are disinfected or the balls in the ball pit are cleaned. Also check to make sure the “make-up” policy is liberal enough to encourage parents to stay home when their kids are under the weather.
- Try the Class First. Most places will allow, and even encourage, an introductory visit as a way to help you determine if the program is the right fit for you and your child.
- Instinct. Most importantly, go with what feels right to you. Whether you are considering a play environment or a skill-based class, have confidence in your instinct as a parent. If you are going to make a commitment, make sure that both you and your child are having fun…the other benefits will follow.
Kristin Swick a mother of two, was so impressed by the benefits of introducing fitness to children, that she left her corporate job to join The Little Gym, a non-competitive children’s motor skill development program with facilities throughout the Washington Metro area. For more information on The Little Gym, go to www.thelittlegum.com.