School is out for summer! As an Alaskan, our 24-hour daylight encourages lots of opportunity for kids to stay outdoors and active all summer long. One of our favorite jokes involves parents sending their kids outside to play, and telling them to be home by dark. However, you might be surprised to learn that kids all across the United States, including Alaska, tend to be less active during summer vacation than they are throughout the school year. This can lead to a decrease in fitness and an increase in weight gain over the long break from school and structured activities.
From August to June, we physical educators do our best to provide students with the fitness, skills, motivation, and opportunity to be active before, during and after school. Once summer arrives, too many of our students plop down on the couch for hours at a time in front of televisions, tablets, and videogames. The President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition reports that, on average, our kids spend more than 7 and ½ hours each day in front of a screen. So, how can we keep our students healthy, physically active and meaningfully engaged during the long summer break?
Parents, this is where you come in. Your children will follow your example, so make it count. After a long day at work, grab your kids and take the dog for a nice, long walk. Do you have a few days off? Plan an active family vacation, or stay-cation! This doesn’t have to be expensive. Look around your community for free or inexpensive ways to be active: Is there a local swimming hole? Plan an afternoon of swimming with a nutritious picnic adventure. Is there a new bicycle path that you haven’t yet explored? Grab the bikes and go. Do you have an old tent and sleeping bags gathering dust? It might be time to dust them off and enjoy a long overdue camping trip.
Look for excuses to recognize your kids for taking initiative this summer. Did they clean up their rooms without being asked? Maybe they have helped you clean up the dishes for an entire week without complaint! Why not celebrate by taking a family trip to the local skate park, roller rink, rock climbing gym, or other active location?
How can you get your older kids to play outside if you’re busy working each day? Why not put together a fun scavenger hunt for their day with a friend, which includes a bike ride or walk to a particular location, with a few peculiar items on the list to collect? Examine your community with an eye for active adventures. You might be surprised to rediscover tennis courts, playgrounds, basketball courts, and other active environments that you had forgotten in the busy-ness of day-to-day living.
The truth is, when we were growing up, we often complained when we were “stuck in the house” during summer days. Being inside was “boring” and adventures were found on the other side of the front door. These days, our kids have too many indoor entertainment options that are designed to keep them in their seats and gazing at screens. We all want our kids to be healthy, fit and ready to learn when they return to school. A bit of creativity and planning can help us achieve this goal.
Nancy Blake is a teacher at Goose Bay Elementary School, AK.