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Fun activities can establish positive healthy lifestyle in young children

This is an excerpt from Active Start for Healthy Kids by Stephen J. Virgilio, PhD.

Fun Family Physical Activity

Parents are the most influential force in a child’s life. Studies have found that children are more likely to be active if their parents or siblings are active, if their parents support play and physical activity, and if they have convenient access to play areas and equipment outdoors.

Teachers can help by educating parents about the benefits of physical activity and good nutrition. They can also communicate to parents that the health of their child is a critical parental responsibility and should not be taken lightly.

Parents should be mindful of the following simple guidelines as they undertake fun family fitness activities.

  1. Be a good role model. When you get up off the couch and move, your children will do the same.
  2. Plan ahead. Today’s hectic lives and busy schedules make it wise to plan specific times or days for the entire family to get together for fun activity.
  3. Provide opportunities for physical activity. Children need convenient opportunities to be active. Take frequent trips to the beach, park, playground, active amusement parks such as water rides, snow-sledding hills, and so on.
  4. Enroll children in local classes. Check with local community organizations (YMCA, Jewish Community of Centers [JCC]), colleges, and universities for programs such as yoga for kids, dance, swimming, and tumbling for tots, and visit at least two classes before you enroll. This will show your child that you place a high value on physical activity.
  5. Select noncompetitive activities. Select activities where there is no winner or loser, especially between siblings. Try to convey the message that enjoyment of the activity is more important than competition.
  6. Make activity part of special events. Play active games at parties and holiday get-togethers or incorporate a trip to the local park for exercise. Purchase birthday and holiday gifts that promote activity, such as tricycles, play balls, or hoppity hops. Select Halloween costumes that depict action, such as a basketball player or fireman.
  7. Choose activities that are fun. Use popular music and animated characters that children recognize and are motivated by to inject additional excitement into your physical activity time.

The fun physical activities described in this chapter are designed for parents to share with their children. However, many of the activities can be adapted for use in the preschool setting. For example, activities such as Backyard Bubbles, Zoo Wild, and the Bubble-Wrap Broad Jump could be performed indoors on a mat, and the Squirrels Squirreling obstacle course could be set up on a large mat or carpeted surface as well.

The Snake in the Grass, Circle Shoe Jump, and Sponge Toss activities could be done in an outdoor area as long as the weather permits and there is adequate supervision. The latter would probably require the children to wear some type of waterproof garment to keep their clothing from getting too wet and may therefore be inappropriate for a school setting.

The Exercise Easter Egg Hunt, Sidewalk Scavenger Hunt, A to Z of Mall Walking, NBA (National Baby Association) Basketball, and Get Up and Pick Up activities could be adapted for the preschool setting with little modification.

Remember, when planning indoor games and activities, always make safety a priority. Establish boundaries, and make sure the play area is clear of obstacles and hazards.


Sidewalk Scavenger Hunt . . . . Ages 2 to 3

>>> Objectives

Increase physical activity levels, walking skills, counting skills

>>> Participants

Parents, two or three children

>>> Equipment and Materials

One lightweight plastic basket

>>> Description

Plan this activity on a pleasant day. Explain to the children that you are going on a scavenger hunt throughout the neighborhood. Before you begin, review the items you will try to find and how many of each:

Two rocks

Three twigs

Three pebbles

Four blades of grass

One weed

One flower

Walk together throughout the neighborhood as a family, taking care to stay on the sidewalk. You will have to help the children find and count the items on the scavenger hunt list. When all the items have been found, head back home and help the children review the list and count the number of items found.

>>> Modifications

Go to the beach or the local park and add different items to the scavenger hunt.


Backyard Bubbles . . . . . . . . Ages 2 to 6

>>> Objectives

Body awareness, visual tracking skills, body part identification

>>> Participants

Two to four children

>>> Equipment and Materials

Backyard or open grassy area, jar of bubble solution, table fan, plastic wand or electric bubble blower, one or two bath towels

>>> Description

Start by asking the children to burst the bubbles before they reach the ground.

Next, see how many they can catch and hold for a few seconds before they burst or hit the ground.

Then ask them to burst the bubbles again, but this time without using their hands. Instead, they must use various body parts such as their nose, elbow, knee, or toes.

Finally, have a child grab one end of a bath towel while you (or another child) grab the other end, and together try to catch as many bubbles as possible.

>>> Modifications

Purchase extra-strength bubble solution and try to stack the bubbles one on top of the other using an open-hole bubble catcher, or try using a piece of paper or a Ping-Pong paddle to catch and stack the bubbles.


Snake in the Grass . . . . . . . Ages 4 to 6

>>> Objectives

Running, chasing skills

>>> Participants

Two children

>>> Equipment and Materials

One standard plastic jump rope

>>> Description

Hold one end of the rope and begin to jog around the backyard while wiggling it behind you as if it were a snake in the grass. Instruct the children to wait for the "Go" signal and then run behind you and try to catch the snake by stepping on the end of the rope. Try reversing roles, with one of the children acting as the snake in the grass while you chase from behind.

>>> Modifications

Ask two children to try this activity without parental help. One begins as the snake and the other as the chaser. Have them reverse roles so that they both get equal time acting as snake and chaser.

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