Go Out and Play: Let’s Get Active

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It’s a sad fact that children today don’t get enough exercise, and even sadder still that there are now interactive video games to “help solve” the problem. For parents faced with pasty-skinned, overweight kids sitting like zombies on the couch, the problem can be an emotional one; we wonder what we did wrong to turn our kids into sofa slugs. We wonder if our children would feel safer in a better neighborhood. We try to provide “activities” to fill our children’s need for exercise and social interaction, but the simple fact is, they just need to go out and play.

Telling your kids to go out and “do something” is easier said than done, though. A lot of children just don’t know what to do when they’re left to their own devices; unlike children of only a few generations ago, digging for worms in the dirt just isn’t entertaining. Going fishing is unsafe in a lot of areas. Playing in the park is often out of the question, due to drug and gang activity, bullying, etc. A lot of people don’t even have yards, and even those who do are sometimes reluctant to allow the neighborhood kids to come over and “tear things up” playing kickball.

There are several ways to encourage outdoor play, though, provided that you can find a safe, easily observed space for your children to play in. You may have to go out and play with your children at first, until they’re comfortable with the idea of playing outside on their own. (Yes, there really are children who are afraid to play outside alone. And you really shouldn’t leave your young ones outside by themselves, in any case.)

You can start with something as simple as starting a patio garden with your child. Kids-especially young ones-love to watch things grow, and a patio garden only requires a small amount of effort. Plant some flowers in pots, maybe a salad box, a few herbs, etc. Let your kids take care of the plants. If you grow edibles, teach your children how to cook whatever they’ve grown.

Another idea is to start a sidewalk art mural. Get a big bucket of colored chalk, and have the kids start drawing. Help them design  a mural if you need to. Get down there on the sidewalk with them and color!

If you really have no outdoor play space near your home, take the kids to a park at least twice a week. Pack a picnic lunch, bring sunscreen and drinks, and watch your kids play. Teach your children basic safety rules, such as not going with anybody they don’t know, avoiding people who look or act intoxicated, etc.

If there’s a vacant lot in your neighborhood, start asking around to find out who owns it. If you can petition enough neighbors, you can sometimes get the city to buy a vacant lot and turn it into a pocket park.

The most important thing you can do to encourage your children to play, though, is to get down on their level and play with them. Indoors or out, play is the business of children, and should be taken just as seriously as their education or health.

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