When my children were young, we lived at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where a quick drive would bring us to the Appalachian Trail and some of the best hiking in the country. Our bucolic surroundings made us determined to convey the importance of respecting and enjoying the outdoors and nurturing a lifestyle of physical activity for our children. We regularly visited Skyline Drive to hike to weekend nature lectures and mid-week hiking jaunts to watch the setting sun, hiking back in the dark by flashlight. Armed with our park guidebook, we began checking off every under two-mile hike, expanding to five miles as the kids grew older and their endurance and interest expanded. My now adult children talk about these adventures as wonderful, vivid memories that were landmark events in their young lives.
May 1-7 marks National Physical Education and Sport Week, a time to showcase the quality sport and physical education programs in your child’s school and community. The true value of what youth learn in physical education is how they transfer those skills once they walk out the door into their real lives, and that’s where parents come in. My daughters have chosen physical activity as a lifestyle-biking across Florida, kickboxing, becoming a personal trainer. Their interest is rooted in those long-ago hiking adventures along with the endless list of activities they tried. Our role as parents is to guide children toward becoming physically active for a lifetime and leading by example.
Many parents wonder where to start, and I always suggest the following:
- Look in your community for activities that are readily available. Hopefully, instruction in these activities is being provided in school, but if not, dust off your skates, bike or skis and teach your children. Look at local independent newspapers and parent magazines for a listing of what is happening. When I moved to my community, I learned about local golf and mini-golf venues, climbing wall gyms, a skate park and a skating rink.
- Plan physical activity gifts for your children. Ditch the video games for something that requires physical activity: balls, hula hoops, bikes, skates-anything that runs on kid power. Keep the equipment in good repair and readily available.
- What about a physical activity birthday celebration? Include old-fashioned lawn games and other fun outdoor activities. For directions on how to play many of your childhood favorites, go to: Kids Games and Xtra Games. Your kids will love these games as much as you did!
- Find out where your local nature trails are and explore them regularly. Engage your kids in planning the excursions, and discuss the importance of preparing in advance. A good night’s sleep, healthy snacks and lunch are essential to maintain the energy to enjoy these trips. Do research about what you will see to pique their interest, and make a list of things to look for along the way. Plan ahead with songs or poems you can recite as you hike and trivia questions about plants and animals you may see during the trip-your own family I Spy game!
- Take lots of pictures. Having a record of the fun will fuel interest for the next activity you explore together. You never know how your physical activity adventures will inspire your children in the future, but you can be sure that they will never forget and forever value family fun!