Keep On Moving
As a parent, with two primary-aged children, I don't usually get a chance to put my feet up and relax. My day (weekday + weekend), usually consists of running a small business, running (literally) to and from work and school pick up and drop off, chauffeuring my kids around, cooking, cleaning, shopping... boring my way through a never-ending 'things to do' list.
With such a busy schedule, I truly believed that my family and I must be doing okay when it came to getting enough daily exercise. But I was wrong! It took an App on my phone to tell me how much our dependence on electronical devices had grown.
So, I called a family meeting. Myself and the kids all sat down and went through our daily schedule - from the time we wake up, until the time we usually go to bed. We were all surprised to find out how much more time we spent sitting, staring goggle-eyed into a screen, then being up and active.
Worse still... this App did not record all the non-screen times spent sitting... like, sitting in a car, stuck in traffic. Sitting behind a desk, whether it be in a classroom or my bedroom office. Apart from PE and break time, much of school learning is still very much chair based. Having twenty to thirty kids crammed into a space that is jam-packed with desks, shelves, tables, chairs and whatever else they have to throw in, getting up and moving round becomes quite a health and safety issue.
HEALTH AND SAFETY
Talking about health and safety... There is so much literature out there telling us, yelling at us, that we need to stop sitting and to keep moving. However, theory and practice seem to be very much out of sync, especially when it comes to following good practice with our kids.
During the lock-down, screen time dramatically increased for all of us, most notably my kids. And despite an easing, my kids homework continues to remain online, plus schools are now introducing IPads for kids to work from.
If no one else seems to be taking the health of our children seriously, I as a parent have to take my own stand and address the issue myself. Home is a domain where I can grapple a degree of control, so I started putting healthy and well-being at the top of my family's agenda. But, as you can imagine, that was not easy.
TOP OF THE AGENDA
We can all get stuck in a rut, moving around quite contentedly in our comfort zones. So, when it come to shaking things up, it can be quite daunting for everyone. Having a starting point really helped set the agenda and steer us gentle in the direction we wanted to go.
I started with my never-ending 'to do' list. I put our family's health right at the top of that list. Like everything else I cram into my diary, I scheduled time for movement throughout the day, making sure that any changes made, were going to be welcomed and more importantly, enjoyed by all.
Often exercise is given such a bad name. There are many people who avoid doing it, whilst others who try, can only keep up for a limited period of time before giving up altogether. In my opinion, exercise should be fun and should not feel like exercise at all. It should neatly and naturally fit into everyday life. Cleaning and dusting is a great way of exercising. I love putting on music and turning up the volume - although, I'm not sure if the neighbours appreciate my enthusiasm!
Over the weeks, my kids and I gradually built up a 'doable' schedule, which in effect, was just another kind of 'things to do' list. First things first we had to tackle the issue around screen time. And when I say tackle, I was prepared for a battle.
Apart from homework, I had to get my kids to agree to NO SCREEN time during the school week. This certainly was no easy feat, let me tell you! Like most kids, mine were absolutely horrified at the thought of no screen time. But when they looked at their schedule and we spoke about what we could do to fill the time, it no longer became such an issue.
Looking back, I can see just how much we had all become so dependent on a screen to fill our time. For the kids, their devotion seemed to strip away their ability to think or act creatively and independently. At the very beginning, they were at a total loss. They kept asking me, "What shall I do?".
The thing to do is - be prepared. We had come up with an list of activities, which we still keep adding to on a regular basis. If they ever ask me what to do, I simply say, "Check the activity list and you choose".
We now have a folder on hand for when my kids get stuck or feel bored. In it, lists all the games and activities they enjoy. If lists and folders are not your thing, there are hundreds of websites with plenty of ideas right at your finger tips.
Check our GAMES page - it is work in progress, but hopefully you can pick up a few ideas and even adapt them to suit your own family. ENJOY!
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Life's pressures can make it exceptionally hard, maintaining a good enough balance, between work, rest and play. The 2020/21 lock-down was especially tough for most families, including myself and my children. We were not only locked in, we had to be locked on to our screens too, for several hours a day!
Homeschooling was such a learning curve. I learnt so many things - that I am not as good a teacher as I thought I would be and that I was not as patient as I would have liked either.
Some may raise an eyebrow at my candid opinion of my inadequate parenting skills, particularly since I spend a great part of my life, working with children and families, alongside designing fun and engaging activities for them too.
I recognize my own limitations however, and am a great believer, that it 'takes a village to raise a child'. When it came to my own family, I really did try my best. Despite including regular breaks and activities into our daily schedule, our health still took a knocking.
Between us, my children and I experienced many different health issues - stiffness, bones cracking and creaking to get up or sit down (that was all me), blurry vision, headaches, irritability, getting upset more easily, crying for no apparent reason. The mood swings, I think were the worse (I hold my hand up to experiencing many of those), especially when locked up, day after day, just me and the kids!
There are so many issues, health experts talk about, when it comes to sitting down for too long a period, particularly in front of a screen. Worse still are those hand-held devices. The strain they put on our eyes, looking so close and so intently, it is phenomenal!
The eyes are said to be at their most relaxed when looking into the distance, and come under pressure when looking close up. Like every other muscle in the body, the eyes no different - they need regular exercise too.
STANDING UP FOR HEALTH
When I started to notice the impact, an increase in screen time was having on us as a family, I contacted my kids school and told them that "from now on, every Wednesday it was going to be 'Well-Being Wednesday'. This meant our home was going to be screen-free (I could only used my phone for essential work) for the day. We then spent the day engaging in other activities which were not only physically exhilarating, but fun and creative too.
We made our very own foosball table, after the one we had, broke within a couple weeks of purchase. We made a larva lamp, an erupting volcano, several huge shields for dodge-ball, sword fighting and a nerf gun game. We also made up lots of three person games to play at the park - basket ball, cricket without a wicket, blindfold walk, hide and seek etc. Most fun was mud sledging. We got an old sheet of tarpaulin, a skipping rope and cardboard and slid down a long muddy hill at our local park. The walk back up the hill was exhilarating!!
I also introduced some relaxation and mindfulness exercises, all found on the wonderful-wide-web. From cloud gazing, to imagining we were birds of prey, soaring through the sky.
Breathing exercises might sound bumptiously boring, but the key is to make them fun. My kids love a bit of healthy competition, so I turned a feather blowing exercise into a race. To warm up, we simply began with blowing a feather, watching it fall to the ground, before trying to see if it could go higher and higher and further away. We then lined up. It was such fun trying to get across the room as fast as we could, blowing our feathers, particularly since feathers do not go fast at all!
MAKING IT FUN
The older my kids get, the battle between screen and staying active will not go away. Not unless I make a decision to put our health first and lead by example.
As a rule, I do not tell my kids to get active and watch them get on with it. I roll up my sleeves and get stuck in too - stuck being the operative word. Oh yes, it was pretty scary and yucky sliding down a muddy hill at top speed. But dressed in my full waterproofs, plus wellies, there was no stopping me and it was such a thrilling experience.
SILENCING THE WORRY
Slipping into roller skates (yes we all bought skates, me included!), was as terrifying at first. I kept thinking, 'I'm going to fall..." or "What if I break, I won't heal at my age!'. But I know that was the Worry talking. A bit like a Doctor taking their own advice, I really needed to practice what I preach and shut the Worry out.
Stepping out of ones' comfort zone is the perfect time for Worry with a capital 'W', to rear its ugly head. So, once I plucked up the courage and learnt to ignore it, I could get on enjoying myself and boy, it has all been worth it!
Taking the 'B' word out of exercise!
Imagine, every ten years the human skeleton is said to regenerate itself. Since bone is a living tissue that responds well to exercise, experts say how important it is to get up and get moving!
More and more studies highlight just how important exercise is for everyone both young and old. Yet many of us, children included, still struggle to reach even the daily recommendation, let alone engage in it all together and I can see why.
REGENERATE . REJUVENATE
If I tell my kids, 'Go and exercise', they would run a mile and go hide. For some, exercise has gotten a bad name, often associated with treadmills and reps, repeated over and over, until you bore yourself out of wanting to do anymore, ever again!
So instead, I ask my kids, 'What activity do you want to do or play?' From experience, they associate exercise with play and fun, which is as it should be. Getting the kids involved in putting together a list of ideas is crucial in all of this. Often we as parents decide what is best for our children, signing them up for ballet, martial arts or music lessons, simply because we have been told that it's highly beneficial for our kids. However, all the benefits found by partaking in those sort of activities can also be found in play - and it does not have to cost a penny!
SKILLS & BENEFITS
My family and I certainly enjoy playing all sorts of games and activities and have improved upon as well as learnt many, many new skills - running, jumping, dancing, hopping, skipping, chasing, tumbling, climbing, batting, bowling, rolling, gliding, sliding, diving, rowing, building, creating, thinking, planning, judging, sharing, leading, directing, following... the list is endless.
When I was younger, I thought that our mind and body were two separate entities. I do not know exactly where that idea came from, but I believe it is because it was and still is, often spoken about separately.
When mental health is talked about in the media, the topic is usually around stress, anxiety or depression. The same can be said about physical health - the focus is usually on weight, diet and exercise.
But many more recent studies have shown, strong links with certain conditions, such as dementia and depression to diet, exercise and general well-being.
How can there not be a link, when the mind is part of the body and vice versa! Mind and body work hand-in-hand as one and we definitely cannot survive, one without the other.
MIND . BODY . SPIRIT
Keeping active is such an important tool in helping to maintain our well-being, all round. Combined with a healthy diet and lifestyle, the positive impact exercise has on our mental health and well-being is mind-blowing (pardon the pun).
Exercise is said to help reduce anxiety, negative mood, depression, as well as improve self-esteem cognitive function and even social withdrawal.
So, what are you waiting for? Get off that couch and out having fun!
LET'S MAKE IT HAPPEN
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NB. If required, check with your doctor first, before starting an exercise regime.