By Pam Wolf, Founder & CEO, NY Kids Club
We live in an age of digital dominance, where children abandon their bikes and tree houses for the comfort of indoor entertainment. Media’s rapid advance is accompanied by urban growth and the associated precautions, leaving behind the carefree days when parents allowed children to roam their neighborhoods and playgrounds unaccompanied. According to the University of Michigan’s Institute of Social Research, in the last two decades, childhood has moved indoors as 43% of adults believe a child should not play outdoors unsupervised. Given this, the average American boy or girl now spends fewer than 30 minutes a day engaging in outdoor activity, leaving nearly 11 hours for electronic engagement.
While safety is of utmost concern, childhood independence and outdoor exploration are key in promoting a sense of well-being and raising active children. This shift toward indoor activity profoundly impacts a child’s emotional and physical health. It is scientifically proven that physical fitness boosts confidence, social interaction, and academic motivation while reducing stress levels. Physical movement also leads to a healthy and fit body, which promotes sound sleep, lower anxiety levels, and greater feelings of happiness. Encouraging outdoor activity from an early age will help your children build a foundation for healthy habits moving forward.
Despite the complexities of modern parenting, there is still opportunity to re-introduce your children to the joy of fitness and outdoor play. Doing so effectively requires understanding a few things:
Encourage curiosity. Young children have a knack for finding the extraordinary in the ordinary. To them, everything is new. They are naturally inquisitive and instinctively seek out physical activity; if you ask them questions about the world around them, they will likely respond by developing questions of their own. When my children were toddlers, I would ask them questions like, “How many of these steps can you climb?” or, “How far can you throw this ball?” Encouraging them in this way made them unafraid to explore, imagine, and play.
Find age-appropriate activities they enjoy. Choosing activities that coincide with a child’s age keeps him or her interested and focused. While adult-led, structured activities are important for young children, unstructured playtime is proven to increase creativity and boost the brain’s imaginative properties.
Unstructured playtime time allows toddlers and preschoolers to develop the fine and gross motor skills they need and lays a foundation for more advanced skill sets. Activities such as examining nature; playing tag or follow the leader; throwing and kicking a ball; jumping and running; riding a tricycle; blowing and chasing bubbles; singing and dancing; and engaging in simple obstacle courses; are ideal age-appropriate learning scenarios. Although unstructured, older children enjoy these activities too and can use the experience to further develop their skill sets to include more traditional sports such as tennis and basketball, as well as specialized activities like yoga, skateboarding, and hiking.
Remember, your child does not have to be an intense competitor to enjoy physical fitness. Casual participation is healthy and beneficial!
Age-appropriate activities keep children emotionally, intellectually, and physically challenged and engaged. With each new learning experience, children further their skills and advance to new phases.
Make time for fun at home. Though having an electronic device at the ready keeps children content, carving out screen-free time each day is essential to a child’s well-being. Your home, backyard, and neighborhood are ideal arenas for adventure or projects. Consider planting a few different types of herbs and vegetables in the spring (this can double as an educational activity or a lesson in responsibility), or exploring nearby parks, playgrounds, and museum exhibits. Let your children build Legos or make abstract art in a space where they are unconfined and free to draw outside the lines. My children loved to build pillow forts with my couch cushions, and though I took pride in a tidy house, I found that allowing them to be a little boisterous and messy made them happy and wholesome kids. Make it a priority to have fun together at home.
Be active yourself. Almost as soon as they come into the world, little ones modify their behavior based on the actions of those around them. Because children emulate what they see, modeling an active lifestyle and a kind and caring attitude will encourage them to do the same.
There is no greater charge than playing a positive role in your child’s early experiences. Setting the foundations for a healthy, dynamic life begins with encouraging curiosity and embracing fun in the form of physical activity.
From the Enrichment Experts at NY Kids Club:
Pamela Wolf founded the NY Kids Club and NY Preschool in September of 2001, which have grown to become the premiere enrichment centers for children two months to12 years. Ms. Wolf has been recognized as a Business Mentor of the Year, Best Entrepreneur, and one of the top female entrepreneurs of the year by Entrepreneur magazine. Ms. Wolf’s extensive business background and simultaneous experience as a mother of four have allowed the NY Kids Club to successfully expand to sixteen locations in New York and twelve in China. The company received INC 500/5000 list recognition in 2014. Of the several successful businesses Pamela Wolf has owned in New York, she is most proud of the NY Kids Club.