As the coronavirus pandemic continues to develop and change, this year “back to school” could mean your kids will return to a traditional classroom, your family’s kitchen table, online instruction or a combination of learning formats. One thing, however, is certain: Wherever “school” takes place, your children will benefit from afterschool activities that encourage physical movement.
“Physical activity is not only good for the physical body, but it has a positive impact on emotional well-being,” says Mercy Chong, MD, a pediatrician with Kettering Physician Network.
However, Dr. Chong says that on average, children aren’t getting enough.
How much physical activity do my children need?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all children take the time for physical activity each day. “Kids under age 6 need about three hours [of movement] a day,” Dr. Chong advises. “An easier way to think about it is 15 minutes for every hour they are awake.”
Older children need less time but more exertion. Dr. Chong says that kids age 6 and older need about 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity each day. “Vigorous activity would be an activity that makes you breathe hard and sweat,” she explains, adding that the 60 minutes does not need to be done all at once. “For example, you can add 20 minutes walking to and from school, 10 minutes jumping rope, and 30 minutes playing outside. If your child is not used to being very active, start with 5 to 10 minutes a day and build up from there.”
Even the littlest learners need physical activity on a daily basis. “Infants need about 30 minutes of interactive play that is spread throughout the day,” says Dr. Chong, adding that this can include “tummy time.”
My child is in a physical education class or on a sports team at school. Surely that’s enough?
Unfortunately, it probably isn’t. “Less than 50 percent of the time spent in PE class, playground time, and team sports actually involves enough movement to be considered ‘moderate to vigorous’ activity,” says Dr. Chong. That’s why it’s important to make sure your children engage in healthy activities outside of school hours.
Making fitness fun
Fortunately, many activities children already enjoy are physical in nature: brisk walks, bike riding, dancing, hiking, skateboarding, jumping rope, swimming, tennis, tug-of-war, using resistance bands and rope/tree climbing, to name just a few. “Younger kids might enjoy hopscotch,” she says, adding that it’s “bonus art for the driveway or sidewalk.”
You can also invite your children to participate in activities you enjoy, or to help with “grown-up” tasks. “Even gardening can be an active activity,” she says. “When the weather is not cooperative, do yoga together inside. Start a friendly competition with your kids and compare your step count at the end of the day. Older kids can help wash/wax the car and the windows of the house; in fact, this is a great way to help an elderly neighbor.”
Dr. Chong emphasizes that one of the most effective ways to encourage physical activity in your children is to set a good example. “Be a role model,” she says. “Children who see their parents enjoying sports and physical activity are more likely to do it and enjoy it themselves.”
Resources for Parents
For the most current information about keeping your children healthy and engaged during the COVID-19 outbreak, visit these sites: