I came across DesignedToMove.org from a tweet by Dai Manuel. I have no affiliation with them, but I feel it’s an important issue that I could speak to.
It wouldn’t be news to you if I told you that physical activity levels are down among today’s youth. But you’re probably thinking about the world right outside your door; what you might not realize is how global a crisis this is.
The problem exists in the USA, UK, Brazil, China and Russia, and though they don’t present the data here, I’ll bet Canada too. It’s not just about “Western” diet, or carbs or video games, or whatever. It’s not even merely a health and wellness issue; it’s on the verge of being an economic and even cultural disaster. The fix? Get ‘em while they’re young – after all, the children are the future, right?
DesignedToMove.org is targeting kids under 10 as a way to turn things around. Younger children have an innocent natural enthusiasm to try new things (I’m sure there are stubborn holdouts, but the younger, the fewer preconceptions) and generally speaking, energy to burn. Why not harness that energy for their own future benefit? The approach is a simple two-pronged approach, or a pair of “Asks”. Here’s how we implement them in our family.
Ask #1: Create Early Positive Experiences For Children
Example 1 – Swimming
Both of my boys have been in swimming lessons on and off since they were six months old. I’m proud to say that Shark Boy is now capable of swimming a few strokes independently (without flotation aids etc.) thanks to diligent work by his Grandfather. Still, when he was younger, did I expect him to learn to swim? Do I expect it of the Lightning Kid now? No, but it was about creating a positive association with the water. I knew we’d be close to the water often and either it was going to be a threat to their lives, or something they could enjoy for fun. If I had suddenly dropped them into the water at the appropriate age for actually learning to swim, who’s to say what their attitude to it would have been? Before they even knew how to say “no” the swimming pool was a place to have fun with mom and dad.
Example 2 – Winter Sports
Even without a “Polar Vortex”, Canada is a place where you’ve really got to embrace the winter if you don’t want to be miserable. Shark Boy started downhill skiing last year, and his mother taught him. Getting him on cross-country skis took another year (getting kids equipment is a little harder), but he took to skinny skis like a natural.
And when we heard that he had peers that were learning to ice-skate, we signed him up to start lessons in January… along with his father, who seriously overestimated his own ability on skates. Turns out, he’s really good at that too – I noticed how much less he falls down than any other kid in the class.
I know some has to be natural talent, but I really think there’s been synergy from learning how to stand on skis that pays dividends into his skating technique. Which is a big takeaway – if you have ideas of the kinds of activities your kids will like and/or be good at, consider other activities too. They’ll gain from the diversity. To wit…
Example 3 – Razz a Matazz
I confess I have the smallest possible streak of conservatism in me that tells me in the back of my head “Dancing is for girls”. Nevertheless, we enrolled Shark Boy in a Razza Ma Tazz class that teaches movement basics, especially those related to jazz and ballet dancing. Back when I first took him to Crossfit Kids, I thought he’d be a natural at it, until he was asked to jump on one foot… and had no idea how to do it. Even though he was great at running, jumping and climbing, he’d never had this little blind spot addressed. It’s my hope that a class like this shores up any weaknesses in his physical skills development in ways that say, soccer, can’t. And honestly, if he decides he wants to pursue ballet, I’ll support him 100%, though I’m hoping to hear a little less Nutcracker suite in the house.
Ask #2: Integrate Physical Activity Into Everyday Life
Example 1 – Dancing
One of my fatherly duties is keeping the kids out of their mother’s hair while she’s cooking and preparing dinner. Going outside to the park is always good, but if the weather is somewhat Arctic-like or the time frame is less than 15 minutes or so, a simpler solution is needed. We turn on the stereo and get our groove thang on. Sometimes I get to pick the music, but it’s usually Shark Boy’s choice of the same old Kids music CDs. The flavour of the month has been the Nutcracker Suite, which he developed a taste for in the lead-up to actually attending a performance with his Grandfather and wife, where his mother told him the story and described the action. Seeing the performance did nothing to abate his enthusiasm, and the music has been in heavy rotation in our house ever since. The name of the piece is apt, since it’s driving me Nuts and Cracked.
Example 2 – Burpees
A two year-old is a dangerous beast toward the end of the day. If dinner hasn’t been served yet, they can be hungry in addition to tired, so you need to be quick with the distractions. I honestly don’t know how I came up with the idea, but there was enough stuff on the floor to ensure a soft landing for the Lightning Kid and I guess I wanted a little exercise myself. When you worry about developmental delays for your child, a lot can be traced back to gross motor skills – you start with those and work your way up. The Lightning Kid is typical in terms of his gross motor skill development, and it’s doing stuff like this that has helped along the way.
Example 3 – Everything Else
If you look through the older posts in this blog (especially posts labeled family) you’ll see us swimming, biking, running, skiing, hiking and playing together as a family. It’s not always easy to keep up, as we either get told by others that we take on too much, or get asked by Shark Boy: “What are we doing today?” with the expectation of adventure. It can be exhausting but I have to be grateful when the boys are eager to get out and take on the world because I know how seductive more sedentary pursuits can be; the TV has been on more than usual during the daytime thanks to the extreme cold and the illnesses that seem to go with it.
Are you willing to answer the asks above?