Get Moving! (Tips for getting exercise…even in bad weather!)

This just in:  It is COLD on the East coast!  I’ve been checking in with my favorite girls (dutifully leaving out the part that it was 74 degrees in El Segundo today), and they are ready to make a run for it.  I know I grew up there, but I’m really not sure how we survived.  I remember being bundled up and sent outside to build snow forts and snowmen (and I remember it being fun), but now just the thought of it makes me shiver.  I’ve said it before but I will say it again:  We are spoiled in Los Angeles.  I took my kids to Connecticut for a week in early December.  Liam didn’t leave the house for the week because he refused to wear a coat (“too puffy”).  Riley was always ready to venture out in her puffy coat only to declare, “I’m cold” a few minutes into each outing.  My kids don’t understand cold, that’s for sure.  I feel for my mommy friends who are cold, cooped up, and ready to hop on the next plane to anywhere.  That said, kids need exercise.  I’ve been on a mission to get my kids moving again after a rather sedentary period that included three weeks of rain and back-to-back episodes of the stomach flu.  It’s amazing how quickly kids can adapt to a sedentary lifestyle.  Liam, a bit of a homebody anyway, often pipes in with “I want to stay home with Mommy” before the plan is even on the table.  Riley would run out the door only to announce, “I’m too tired to walk” before we even hit the sidewalk.  I had to lock the stroller away for a week and just get them moving, even if it meant carrying one or both of them on the return trip.  We needed extreme measures to break a bad habit.  While many pediatricians will probably agree that most toddlers and preschoolers can meet their daily exercise needs just by being themselves, I have seen firsthand how a few illnesses have caused my normally energetic duo to adapt to sticking close to home and playing in a less active manner.  The result?  Cranky, tired kiddos prone to temper tantrums.  The benefits of getting your kids moving are numerous:  Better sleep, fewer tantrums, increased energy, hungrier for healthy foods at mealtimes, possibly fewer colds, and generally happier demeanors.  The question is, how do you get your kids moving for 30-60 minutes daily when you are covered in snow in single digit temperatures or trapped inside due to non-stop rain?  Below are some tips to help you get your kids moving, despite the weather:

1.   Get active with them: The best way to get kids moving is to move along with them.  Don’t just press play on the iPod; start dancing with them.  Play hide and seek.  Use the Mommy and Me yoga DVD that’s been sitting in the TV cabinet all year. When mommy and daddy join in, it’s always more fun.

2.   Educate your kids: Sometimes the best way to get a preschooler to avoid doing something is to tell them that they have to do it because you said so.  That’s not really a reason (not to them anyway).  Preschoolers love to learn.  Prepare a little lesson on the benefits of exercise.  What is exercise?  For a preschooler, exercise includes:  Running, jumping, climbing, riding, spinning, swinging, rolling, etc. Have a little race with them and then ask them to think about how their bodies feel.  Teach them a silly dance number and then ask them to think about how they are feeling when they laugh.  Let them figure out the benefits of moving their bodies.  When it’s time to get moving, give them a simple choice (“do you want to ride your trike or go for a walk?”).  Give them a little control.

3.   Capture their imagination: Pirate Adventure: Build a “pirate ship” out of toys and go on a “pirate adventure” (rowing required).  Fill an old shoebox with stickers and other small treats and “bury” it in the house.  Draw out a treasure map (X marks the spot!) and send them running.  Add an arts and crafts element by having them paint flags for the pirate ship.  And don’t forget bandanas for dress up!  Treasure Hunt: Hide a small treat for each player somewhere in the house.  Using different colored sticky notes for each kid, number them one through six.  On the back of each note write, “find clue #2 (or whatever # comes next) on ______ (insert location here)”.  This was very popular in my house during the rain.  The kids were zooming around finding each clue and screaming with delight as they found each one!  Obviously, clue number 6 has the treat hidden beneath it.  Ice Skating: Tape paper plates to their feet and send them “skating” around the room!  Adult supervision is a must!  Royal Ball: Break out those princess dresses, make some “fancy” snacks, send “invitations” to each family member, and put on the music.  Dancing required!

4.   Other indoor activities: Santa brought Riley a great Hopscotch Mat from Lakeshore Learning.  It is a non-slip hopscotch carpet that comes with two beanbags.  Great for throwing, jumping, and counting!  Hula-hoops can be used in the traditional manner (lots of spinning fun) or lined up along the floor for jumping on “lily pads” or in “puddles”.  Musical chairs is easy and fun for playgroups.  You’ll be surprised how quickly they start moving when the chairs disappear!  Follow the leader is always a winner.  Model ways to make it fun by leading first and including lots of jumps, spins, and rolls.  Just make sure to switch up the leader every few minutes to keep it interesting.  Obstacle course might destroy your house, but also provide lots of fun.  Time to get down those couch cushions, set up roadblocks, hang sheets to run through (or under), and watch them work their way through the course while using different muscles to tackle each task.  More importantly, enjoy the squeals and smiles that go along with it!  Limbo is always a crowd pleaser around here.  Google the lyrics, break out the broom, and have a limbo party!  Skip the rules, it’s more fun to watch them find creative ways to get under that stick!  Scavenger Hunt: Hide small items around the house (it’s as easy as spoons, stuffed animals, shoes, etc.) and give them a picture list (if you plan ahead, clip art has pictures of everything) and a paper bag and send them off to collect the goods!  Award everyone with a sticker.  Who needs a meltdown when you can’t leave the house?!

5.   Outdoor activities: Trikes, bikes, plasma cars, jump ropes, hula-hoops, scooters, swings, running, jumping, walking, etc. all provide much needed movement for little ones.  And in the words of my four year old daughter, “this fresh air feels so good in my lungs!”  (Ok, maybe I took the education part a little too far!)  Incidentally, playgrounds are like ready made obstacle courses.  Chart the course and send them running!

6.   Classes: Organized classes can be expensive, but they are also a great way for little ones to work on social skills while getting some exercise in.  Check out your local YMCA or Department of Recreation to see what’s available.  I can’t say enough good things about Gymboree Play & Music.  Both have my kids have been enrolled on and off. Liam really enjoyed the baby gym classes, while Riley has taken everything from baby gym to sports, art, and even their preschool alternative program (which really helped prepare her for preschool).  Of all of the programs we’ve tried, Gymboree has consistently been the best.  My Gym also has great gym programs for little ones.  And swimming is always a winner around here.  Try to gauge what kids of activities your child seems to gravitate toward and take it from there.  One class is plenty.  There is no need to load your child up with everything at once.

7.   Model good habits: Whether you’re factoring in a brisk walk or jog, gym time, or some much needed time on the elliptical (or machine of choice, naturally) show your kids that exercise is important to you too.  Much like modeling healthy eating habits, modeling the importance of a little exercise helps your kids see that you are not just talking the talk.  And more importantly, that you are committed to your own health as well.

8.   Limit the TV: I know, in a blizzard it’s nearly impossible.  But the American Academy of Pediatrics would want me to tell you that 1-2 hours of “quality” programming a day is plenty for kids ages 2 and up.  Try to stick to the “educational” shows to make it count.  But don’t beat yourself up when they’re horribly sick and you let them watch more…some days are better than others!

Exercise:  It’s good for the body and it’s good for the psyche.  So find your fun activity of choice and get moving…it will break the winter blues for you too!

What creative strategies have you devised to get your family moving?  Please comment and share your tips!

To read more about the role exercise plays in keeping kids happy, please check out my Mommy Moment article from last week, “Exercise Your Soul”  http://www.mommymoment.ca/2011/01/exercise-your-soul.html

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About Katie

Katie Hurley is a Child, Adolescent, and Family Psychotherapist and Parenting Expert in Los Angeles, CA. She works in private practice in the South Bay area of Los Angeles, writes for PBS Parents, Washington Post Parents, and the Huffington Post. She is the author of "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World" (Tarcher/Penguin, 2015) and the forthcoming "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" (Penguin Random House, 2018)