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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Ways to Keep Kids Active During the Winter Months

Kids need exercise.  Even in the winter.  All of the media coverage of The Obesity Epidemic in our country could tell you that.  But in case you've missed it, our nation's kids are overweight.  They are spending too much time in front of the TV, the computer, and playing video games.  They are eating entirely too much junk food, and not nearly enough fruits and vegetables.  Yet, we are the adults. We purchase the junk food.  We purchase the video games.  We allow too much TV.   In a sense, then, it is our own fault that our children are overweight. 

With that being said, what are we to do, as parents, to keep your little ones healthy or reverse any bad habits we have already begun?  Well, the first thing we need to do is to encourage our families to eat healthy.  We need to stop stocking up on junk food and start filling our refrigerators with natural foods...try to think: plants.  There are, of course, the old standbys:  Apples, oranges, grapes, bananas, pears, raisins, etc.  But why not try something different, as well:  kiwi, pomegranate, mango. 

We are in control of what our children eat at home by virtue of the fact that we purchase the items in our cabinets.  If we don't want our children eating too many chips, or too much candy, we simply need to...Stop Buying It.  We also need to be good role models to our kids.  If we want them to choose healthy snacks, we need to eat healthy snacks.  We can't tell our children to eat a banana for a snack, for instance, while we are eating a candy bar.

In addition to healthy eating habits, our children need more exercise.  In the spring, summer, and fall, this is much easier to do.  But when the temperatures drop, how can we get our kids to be more active? 

In my family, we are not dealing with overweight children, but rather a case of Too Much Energy.  My daughter is 5 and has ALWAYS had a ton of energy.  The winter months are always the most difficult time of the year for us.  She has too much stored energy, which can lead to behavior and sleeping issues if we don't get her the exercise her body needs. Over the years, we have had to come up with many different ways to ensure she gets that exercise.  Of course, it was much easier to do when there was just her.  Now that we have the twins, as well, it is harder to fit in some of the different types of activities that we used to.  But, it is also more important that we burn up that extra energy so that 1. she is not driving us crazy while we are taking care of the boys, 2.  she doesn't wake the boys when they are napping, and 3.  so that she knows we still love and care for her very much and want her to get the things that she needs from us, too...not just the boys. 

With all of this in mind, I am going to outline several things you can do at home with your children to encourage them to move their bodies and get exercise in the winter, whether it is to keep them healthy or get out some energy.

Inside The House
  • Have a dance party.  In my house, we call it a Dance Party USA.  And it works like this:  I turn on the music and my daughter and I dance to it. It's simple.  And the best part is that nobody else can see my hideous dance moves, so I am free to be myself.  This is also an easy activity for my daughter to do by herself if I am busy cleaning or tending to my babies.  She loves to dance and she can literally do it for hours.  She throws in some "break-dancing" moves every now and then (which are quite challenging to replicate, by the way).  The only rule:  don't break anything.
  • Play hide-and-go-seek.  This traditional outdoor game takes on a new twist when you bring it inside.  Better yet, turn out the lights and give each family member a flashlight.  This is a great family game, but it works well when my daughter has a play date or her cousins are over, as well.  The kids love it and they are far less likely to argue...as long as there is adult supervision.  The kids are up, moving around the house, instead of glued to the tube.
  • Two words:  Hula Hoop.  This is a great indoor activity.  If you do not have a hula hoop yet.  Go.Get.One.  They are very inexpensive...under $5, I believe.  And they are fun!  You can try one, too!  We have a small one for our daughter, but I have used the larger one and it is a challenge, but it works your abdominal muscles for sure!
  • Jump Rope...yes, that's correct.  I did say "jump rope".  Find a spot somewhere in the house where you are okay with your child(ren) jump roping and let them have at it.  We have a basement, where I allow our daughter to jump until her heart is content (or at least pumping hard!).  And if you don't have a jump rope (or even if you do), you could just have a jumping contest.  See how long your child can jump without stopping...then have them beat their own last length of time.
  • You could also find a place in the house where you can put down a hopscotch board...using tape.  Simply make the boxes out of masking tape right on your floor.  Again, I use our basement floor for this, but you could put it in a hallway, on the kitchen floor, in your garage, etc.
  • Have your child do some yoga moves.  My daughter loves to roll out my yoga mat and do yoga.  She learned some of the moves in preschool and continues to practice them every now and then.
  • Do you have a treadmill/elliptical/stationary bike?  Adjust the settings and let your child get some use out of the equipment, too!  I have a treadmill in my basement and I allow my daughter to use it on a very slow (walking) pace.  But the rule is that I have to be there with her.  She is pretty good about following this rule.  I also attach the safety strap to her so that if something were to happen, the machine cuts off immediately.  When she wants to speed it up a little bit, I get on the treadmill with her and walk behind her.  She has walked at least a mile on the treadmill with me. 
  • I also have some free weights that she likes to use, too.  Now, don't get me wrong...she is not pumping serious iron here.  She really only lifts my 2.5 lb or 5 lb weights a couple of times...but it helps burn some of that energy she has.
  • I am not a big proponent of video games.  As I mentioned before, children are sitting in front of the TV, playing them for way too long.  However, I do have the Xbox Kinect.  And let me tell you, it can burn up some serious energy.  If you have the Kinect, or have the means to purchase one for your Xbox, it really can help get kids (and yourself) moving!  The only trouble with it is that we have had difficulties with the sensor recognizing our daughter.  But when it works well, she has a blast and moves her body like there's no tomorrow!
  • If you have stairs in your house, you can have your child walk up and down them as many times as they can before they get tired.  Make it fun...turn it into a game!
Outside

  • Just putting on all the outdoor gear can be tiring for some children!  So have them get dressed and get them out there!
  • All of the old standbys that we used to do outside in the snow when we were kids are still just as fun!  Think:  make a snowman, make snow angels, snowball fights, make a snow fort, shovel!  I cannot believe how much my daughter likes to shovel!  Bonus for me, right?!
  • Make tracks in the snow.  See the differences between the tracks you make while walking, running, or marching. 
  • Go on a hunt for animal tracks.
  • Try snow shoeing.
  • Go cross-country skiing.  I purchased cheaper, little skis for my daughter when she was 3.  She loves putting them on and sliding around on the snow.  I got them at a Play It Again new/used sporting goods store.  Hers were new, but they did have used equipment, as well...including snow shoes.
  • Go ice skating (obviously think safety first if you are skating on a pond).  Find a rink that rents ice skates if you do not have them. 
  • Kick around a ball in the snow.  It's a lot harder to get it to move!
  • Play tag/chase your child(ren). 
  • When there's no snow, but it is still cold outside, bundle up and get out there for a walk anyway! 
  • Walk around the neighborhood.
  • Take your child(ren) for a run around the neighborhood...just make sure they are bundled up and all of their needs have been met before heading out (i.e. potty, hunger, thirst, etc.).
  • Go on a nature hike. 
  • Prepare a scavenger hunt and look for all of those items on your list.
  • Make food for the animals and bring it outside.  We covered pine cones with peanut butter and birdseed, then walked around outside until we found the perfect tree to hang them from.  Bonus:  go back to the tree each day to see how much of the food has been eaten.
  • Go to a park. 
  • Have running/skipping/hopping contests outside with all of the gear on.
  • Jump rope with all of the gear on.
  • Find a big hill and go sledding...walking back up the hill burns a TON of energy! 
    • No sled?  No problem!  Walk up the hill and run or roll down it!
Getting your kids the exercise they need in the winter months can be challenging, but it can be done.  Give some of my ideas a try!  And if you have some other suggestions, feel free to leave a comment and I can add them to the list!  I will also continue to update this post as I think of more activities, so check back!

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