School's out - why aren't your kids out playing (Tralee Pearce)
From Monday's Globe and Mail
Published Sunday, Jul. 3, 2011 (Updated Monday, Jul. 4, 2011)
It took Allison Wong a few tries before her love affair with sport took hold. The 10-year-old tried basketball, soccer, baseball and golf. Badminton clicked in Grade 2; she’s been playing ever since.
“I don’t call it badminton, I call it good-minton,” Allison says cheerfully over the phone from Vancouver. “Because I learned how to control how hard I hit the birdie. It’s so fun!”
Amid the barrage of bad news about rising childhood obesity across North America – about one in 11 Canadian children is obese – it’s worth pausing to ask: How can we get more kids moving like Allison?
Now that school’s out, kids have a perfect chance to renew and recalibrate, whether it’s hours at the park with friends and a soccer ball or enrolling in a sport camp. Experts suggest we prioritize summer activity the same way we prioritize eating summer produce.
“Summers are long days,” says Vinh Truong, general manager of the Langara Family YMCA in Vancouver. “It keeps [kids] away from the TV. They get to experiment.”
A report in June from the Canadian Institute for Health Information found that by the time we reach adulthood, physical inactivity has the strongest association with obesity. With North American kids spending six or seven hours a day in front of (non-school) screens, how to get them moving is a question that researchers, fitness advocacy groups such as the renewed ParticipACTION, and parents are scrambling to answer.
Encouraging kids to try a variety of activities is one good idea: It wards off boredom and kids develop a range of physical skills. Starting young also appears to “set” a penchant for exercise. And parents are the ultimate role models, especially when they focus on fun, not rivalry.
A recent Active Healthy Kids Canada report found a shocking 9 per cent of boys and 4 per cent of girls spend only one hour a day on the “moderate-to-vigorous” physical activity benchmark set by the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (examples include walking quickly, skating, bike riding and skateboarding).
“It was pretty discouraging to see that we scored an ‘F’ in that report,” Mr. Truong says. His Y’s new Action Kids after-school program addressed the issue with a range of sports and games aimed at getting kids their daily hour. And his summer camps include daily exertion.
Still, it’s hard to assess how much dodgeball or tennis is enough. By other measures, including much of the research by Statistics Canada, children are considered active if they do a sport or exercise one or more times a week, says Leanne Findlay, who studies children’s activity at StatsCan.
But some patterns emerge from the numbers: If a child is very likely to participate in “unorganized physical activities” at 4, they are very likely to still be participating at 17. Having active parents appears to cement that habit.
“I’m a father of three boys and it’s monkey see, monkey do. If I’m on the couch, they’re on the couch,” says Mr. Truong. “I know you work all day and you’re tired, but you’ve got to get out there.”
Allison’s mother, Theresa Wong, says she and her husband are sporty and try to inspire their two daughters. Allison played on her school’s badminton team and at Vancouver Y Action Kids. She’s also been playing baseball. As the summer unfolds, she’ll be volleying birdies with her sister on their lawn any chance she gets.
“It’s a lifestyle. It’s not a choice,” Ms. Wong says. “In the summer, it changes from more organized sports to camping and free play.”
Like Allison, six-year-old Maia Svenneby started young and has active parents. The Toronto girl enjoys biking, gymnastics and tree-climbing. And she’s already been for a swim in Lake Ontario. “It was cold, but I still liked it,” says Maia. “I can jump over the waves and go for walks in it.”
While her love of trees hones strength, balance and coordination, it may also have more cerebral benefits, such as resistance to the “nature-deficit disorder” coined by nature advocate Richard Louv.
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