As we head into the depths of winter in most parts of the country it's easy for kids to fall into a troubling path of a sedentary and less active lifestyle due to the frigid temperatures outside. Even through the cold, kids need their daily exercise. According to the National Association of Sport and Physical Education, kids ages 5-12 should exercise for at least 60 minutes of each day, and this figure doesn't take a break just because it's cold outside. Therefore, there needs to be healthy options for kids to play inside and outside during the cold winter months.
Much of the onus falls on coaches, teachers and parents, who need to help children understand the importance of exercise to their overall health and provide them with the guidance and structure that makes indoor play activities possible. Sometimes finding indoor, fun exercise requires creativity, but the positive benefits to physical, mental and emotional health are huge.
Jill Vialet, the founder and CEO of Playworks, recently made a statement on the topic that I think is spot on and important for people to keep in mind. Vialet said, "My goal through our programs is to get kids playing outside as much as possible. The importance of fresh air and exercise is something that should never be overlooked, even when it's cold outside. However, winter does prevent kids from being outside for extended periods of time in many parts of the country. This is when we as coaches, teachers, parents and mentors need to be smart. Indoor play can take on many forms, so whether it's a basketball game, or something more unorthodox like a dance lesson or a jumping jacks competition, we need to provide kids with structured activities no matter the situation or resources available."
Playworks, a national nonprofit that improves children's health by facilitating safe, active play in low-income schools and continuously trains adult educators in schools and youth agencies on ways to incorporate structured play into recess periods, is a great example of an organization taking the lead in this area. In 23 regions around the country, Playworks has set up systems specifically to train coaches and teachers how to develop and oversee play activities at recess during the school day. This puts structure to the daily recess periods found in all schools to provide kids with proper exercise. As part of the training, the organization imparts advice and tips for getting the most out of these opportunities, particularly for indoor play when it can be so difficult during these cold months.
Adults need to take on the responsibility of setting up the opportunities for kids to get active during the winter months. In under-resourced communities, space and equipment are often defining factors in what types of activities kids are offered. Adults should consider more non-traditional games and activities that require some ingenuity to get the kids engaged and moving, from relay races to dancing, as Jill mentioned.
Adults also need to see the opportunities still available to kids outside during the winter months. We shouldn't be fearful of the outdoors and should encourage kids to dress properly and play some games outside if the weather is conducive. Kids love to play in the snow and there are plenty of winter sports kids can learn to love. Parents can modify some of the games in the winter Olympics to play in the backyards, or just have old fashioned sledding races on trays or plastic bags.
Getting each child 60 minutes of exercise on a daily basis isn't easy. We owe it to our children to create a strategic plan and coordinate efforts to make this time fun and healthy. The payoff will be huge in terms of the overall physical and mental well-being of the children.