Lack of PE in schools

When my children were young, I realised that there was very little PE or games planned in the school timetable. So when they were thinking about activities to do after school, I tried to encourage them to do something that involved some sort of physical activity. Why? Because I instinctively felt that it would be good for them. So between them, they did at various times, football, short tennis, gymnastics, ballet, tap & modern dancing, swimming, athletics, going to a gym and martial arts.

Home exercise

Years later I’ve realised that this was exactly what they needed to keep healthy not just physically, but mentally too. I am a firm believer in helping children to be well-rounded. Being physically and mentally stimulated, having fun as well as working hard at times is giving them that balance. In fact, our garden still looks like a playground with the trampoline, swing and climbing frame. Many of our family videos feature the paddling pool and water slide we set up in the garden. On days when the children were argumentative and stir crazy I would get them to run up and down the garden or the stairs ten times. Funnily enough, they never questioned me when I just said ‘you have way too much energy, you need to run it off’.

Benefits of exercise

It strikes me that all children would benefit from regular exercise. It not only makes them less aggressive and argumentative it develops their muscles and coordination. It helps set up good habits for adult life and undoubtedly helps improve the health of their heart and reduces the risk of obesity. But I think the most important thing is just that it helps children feel good. Whether its organised sport or just running around the park with a ball there is something about exercising that just seems right. The children emerge energised and happy.

Habits into teenage years

Now my children are teenagers the various screens of mobile phones, TV and computers are competing for their time, but our Cornwall holiday was dominated by the newfound skill of body-boarding, and as they see their parents both exercise regularly I hope that as they grow older they will keep the exercise habit.  

Six top tips for getting your child more active

  1. If you can, plan for your child to do 60 to 90minutes exercise a day. If they are at school find out what days they will achieve this, but on the other days and at weekends, build activity into their daily life
  2. Find out what sort of exercise they want to do. Do something they find fun and stimulating. It can be with friends, with you or on their own just providing it is something they enjoy. Think about cycling, skateboarding, team sports like rugby, football or cricket or organised activities such as dancing, gymnastics or swimming.
  3. Find excuses to walk instead of driving whenever you can. Walk to school or to the shops, If you don’t have a dog, offer to walk a neighbours’ dog.
  4. Encourage the children to use the garden or park whenever you can. Games with a Frisbee, ball or skipping rope can be encouraged as well as active games of tag, hide and seek or just splashing around in a paddling pool
  5. Make physical activity part of daily life.
  6. Model good habits by exercising regularly yourself. Plan active holidays. Talk to your children about the benefits of exercise.  Think about having a rule in your family to limit the amount of time each child is allowed to spend in front of a screen, and enforce it consistently!
The author:

Elizabeth O’Shea is a parenting specialist child behaviour expert and one of the leading parenting experts in the UK.

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