When was the last time you played with your children—really played? I don’t mean a board game or Xbox. I’m talking about old-fashioned play—like tag, leapfrog, and hopscotch.
The sad fact is kids don’t play like they used to. Rough-and-tumble games have been replaced by staring at screens—televisions, computers, iPads, and smart phones—for hours on end.
The result of this trend is alarming. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta reports that the number of obese children has nearly tripled since 1980. One in five children—ages two to 19 years old—is obese. Thankfully, caring local professionals are working hard to cut the fat from our children.
A LOST ART
“Playing games such as hide and seek has become a lost art,” said Sandra “Sam” Fabian, community outreach program manager at Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters (CHKD). She has made it her mission to keep families healthy through a variety of programs. It can be as simple as child’s play, Sam says.
She encourages families to get moving with their kids. Activities like playing freeze tag, riding bikes, or taking a hike together are perfect for burning calories and boosting your metabolism. Sounds easy, right? Unfortunately, according to Sam, families that play together are becoming a rare sight these days.
One benefit of playing with your kids is it strengthens the parent-child relationship, notes Sam, who often takes after-dinner walks with her kids. They talk about school, friends, or whatever’s on their minds. Before her sons headed off to college, Sam took a walk with them to discuss how to be responsible away from home.
Of course, homework time is important, but Sam advises children to go outside after school prior to starting homework. “I know for a lot of kids, coming home and doing homework right away works for them,” she said. “But I always tell parents to consider letting kids go out to play first especially as it starts getting dark early.”
Babs Benson, Healthy You For Life program manager at CHKD, sees many overweight families seeking help. Often, besides problems with overeating and inactivity, children have emotional issues as well. The Healthy You For Life program provides dieticians to help families establish healthy eating patterns and counselors to assist with emotional problems kids may be having.
Babs is especially concerned about children who seek food for comfort in front of an electronic screen. “No child should have a television in her room,” Babs said. “It isolates a child and can lead to self-esteem issues. I see a difference when families turn off the TV and eat together.”
One way CHKD is helping families develop active, healthy lifestyles is through a new program aimed at reaching children in area schools. Thanks to an $89,000 grant from Kohl’s—via the Kohl’s Cares® cause merchandise program, CHKD is launching a new campaign called Kohl’s FitKids. The program will educate families about the importance of making healthy food choices and staying fit.
The FitKids philosophy will be presented at assembly programs for grades three, four, and five in several Norfolk schools. “The hope is that children will pass information they learned to their parents,” Sam said. Each child will also receive a colorful booklet, which includes information about food groups, staying hydrated, and fitness ideas.
Besides presenting FitKids in area schools, CHKD will take its mission on the road to local health fairs and festivals. Look for CHKD and Healthy Bear, the FitKids’ mascot, at an event near you!
Trisha Coulson has been teaching families how to have a fit lifestyle for 30 years. As owner of Gymboree Play & Music, an early learning program for children newborn to five years, she’s a firm believer in starting children on the road to fitness at a young age. “The early years are crucial for their development,” Trisha said.
A mother of five, Trisha watched her own children develop healthy habits by participating in organized play activities, like those offered at Gymboree. “It improves physical agility, increases confidence, and instills a love for fitness,” Trisha said. “It can also help children learn self-control.”
Other benefits include teaching kids how to take turns and be part of a team. “It is not uncommon in the first couple of sessions for kids not to understand they have to wait in line,” Trisha explained, “but after a few times here, they fall in line readily.”
Gymboree has a positive impact on parents as well as kids. “Many parents work long hours, and Gymboree enables them to bond with their children,” says Trisha.
Trisha says her program gives insight to what parents should expect as their children begin playing organized sports and working with future coaches since Gymboree instructors use positive reinforcement to help children learn new ways of doing things. “There are ways to tell kids how to do something without saying they are doing it wrong,” Trisha said.
Children prefer coaches who do not put down other methods while teaching their own, Trisha has learned through her own experience as a mom.
“My daughter worked with several tennis pros through the years,” Trisha recalled. “The one she liked the best was the one who never had a bad word about a method she previously learned. Instead he would say ‘I would rather you do it this way.’”
Sports, such as swimming, can offer lifelong benefits and help kids develop social skills, says Trisha. She also recommends tennis, golf, and dance as great sports to help kids stay fit and have fun with friends.
“I think Tiger Woods got to be a great golfer because he started playing with his dad,” she said.
In spite of her busy schedule, Neely Vollette, owner of Vollette’s Aloha Dance Studio in Newport News, makes a conscious effort to exercise with her three kids, Noveigh, 12, Rainer, 6, and Fable, 10 months. It’s no surprise that dancing to music is her first choice for getting her children moving.
As a result, her kids seem to have a special sense of rhythm, especially Noveigh, who has won a number of dance competitions. For the family, dance is about more than exercise and performing. It’s life affirming.
“We dance a lot because dancing is good for the soul and it feels natural,” Neely said. Plus it’s the perfect exercise to do indoors as winter approaches and the weather turns cold.
“It is really important to me to dance and encourage children to dance,” Neely said. “To see their faces light up when they dance—it’s really great.”
Dance is not her only passion. Neely is also passionate about eating the right foods and serving healthy meals to her family. “We can be out a lot, so I always pack snacks such as fruit, string cheese, and nuts,” Neely explained. “This keeps us from eating fast food, which I believe really slows us down.”
“I highly recommend—no matter what you’re doing—to put on the music and dance,” Neely said swaying.
With all this talk about staying fit, I’m grabbing an apple and heading out to the backyard with my husband and daughters. It’s time to play.
- CHKD & Kohl’s FitKids - Visit chkd.org/kohlsfitkids or contact Sam Fabian at 757-668-7402 or Sandra.Fabian@chkd.org. Download your own FitKids booket here.
- Gymboree Play and Music - Two locations: Providence Square Shopping Center (VB) - 757-467-4357 and Academy Crossing (P) - 757-483-9001
- Vollette’s Aloha Dance Studio - Call 757-240-7992 or search on Facebook