School’s out for summer. So, now what? Keep your kids on their feet and active for a happy, healthy summer break!
Let’s face it: The intense Tennessee summer heat and humidity makes most of us want to stay in the sweet cool of the AC-cooled indoors. Kids are no different.
And for kids, the allure of video games and the cool, dark house can be even more tempting during the summer months. But while a little bit of screen time isn’t a bad thing, it’s important for parents to make sure their kids are staying active while school’s out.
That’s important every year, but it’s especially important after two full years of the COVID-19 pandemic, which had a significant effect on kids’ health.
During the last couple years, many children became less physically active and gained weight, with the rate of obesity increasing by 9 percent among children ages 5 to 11. There was also a similar increase in the number of children experiencing mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety.
“We saw some troubling trends in children during the pandemic,” says Kimberly Burch, MD, pediatrician and primary care provider with West Tennessee Medical Group Hillview. “While this increase in health issues was caused by many factors, parents can take steps to keep their children’s’ health by keeping them active and engaged.”
This summer is a good time to begin! But how can you get your kids more active this summer, both physically and cognitively? We’re sharing a few ideas.
Why Activity Is Important for Kids’ Health
Before we dive into some suggestions for getting your kids up and off the couch this summer, let’s first talk about why activity is so important.
When we’re talking about “activity” in this blog, we’re not talking solely about physical activity. While it’s important for your kids to get at least 60 minutes of exercise a day, it’s equally important for them to be engaged in activities that are mentally and cognitively stimulating.
Getting your kids up and moving this summer is important from a physical perspective for the same reason that regular exercise is important for adults. Being physically active benefits kids in many ways, helping to build muscles and bone strength, reduce the risk of many health conditions, boost heart health, improve sleep, and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Getting 60 minutes of physical activity each day is also important for kids in other ways, too. Moving the body helps children develop coordination and motor skills, builds confidence and self-worth, and can even increase their ability to concentrate and focus.
Cognitive and mental stimulation are also essential for kids during the summer. When school is out for the summer, it can be easy for children to withdraw into their houses, isolated from peers and spending a lot of time being inactive.
This withdrawal can have a similar effect to the time spent away from friends and family during the early stages of the pandemic. Because of this, it’s important for parents to plan time for their children to be stimulated both cognitively, through reading and similar activities, and socially, through camps or other outings with people their age.
These activities can help kids stay engaged in their everyday lives—avoiding the “I’m bored” routine—but also help prepare them for resuming school in the fall.
Screen-free Ideas to Keep Kids Active
How can you get your kids to be more active? It takes a little out-of-the-box thinking. Try some of these ideas:
- Create (and conquer) an obstacle course in the backyard. If it’s rainy, take it indoors!
- Play active games, like Twister, or change the rules of your favorite board games to make them active.
- Take a walk or bike ride around the neighborhood (or even a hike at a local trail) and play I Spy along the way.
- Set up a net and play balloon volleyball in the backyard or in the pool.
- Have the kids write a play and then act it out, filming it to watch later as a family.
- Plant a garden and take care of it throughout the summer. Bonus points if fresh veggies are involved!
- Draw elaborate scenes outside on the driveway with sidewalk chalk.
- Set up a tent in the living room and have an indoor campout.
- Use old pillowcases for a sack race.
- Play freeze tag during the day—or flashlight tag at night.
- Gift each child a journal to write in each day throughout the summer.
- Create a slip-and-slide or simply set up the garden hose/sprinkler for some watery fun.
- Choose a 5K or other race and train together as a family to run in it.
- Visit the local zoo or river park, together with friends if possible.
- Take a trip to the local farmers market to buy fresh fruits and veggies for your next meal.
- Visit local historical sites for a good dose of history and a good dose of walking.
- Go pick your own fruits or berries at a local farm.
- Sign up for the reading program at your local library and see how fast your kids can reach the goal.
- Attend a summer camp or similar event at a local school, library, church, or other venue.
- Have your kids read books on video for you to post online, if they’d like to show off their skills.
This list is by no means exhaustive! The point is simply to get your kids up and moving—and engaging with others outside the home—whenever possible. It’ll do their bodies and minds good.