Let's Move. Let's Play. Everywhere!
There are a lot of people talking about how to get kids physically active. Too often the conversation is about how kids can get more exercise, which conjures up images of kids running laps or doing push-ups. The key to changing habits is to tap into what kids already love to do: They love to play.
I know because my job is to get kids playing. Four-square, basketball, jump rope, hula hoop…. All those games I grew up with and assume everyone knows, I often have to teach. It’s amazing that kids don’t know many of the basics.
I coordinate recess at an elementary school in Philadelphia. Most of the kids there come from low-income families and live in neighborhoods where (there aren’t as many opportunities to be physically active?) and it’s not safe to play outside. But the recess playground is one place where every kid can have a chance to run around and have fun. For the kids in my school, recess is a life-changing experience.
Every day at recess I’m out on the yard helping get games started. After teaching the basics to the games, I make sure that that any student who wants to play can. I help teach them how to be good sports, resolve simple conflicts with rock-paper-scissors (or Roshambo, as some folks know it) and hand out high-fives. I cheer loudly and encourage other kids to cheer. And I play.
When kids have the chance to play a game and they know that they won’t be “locked out”of games by their peers, they feel safe and are more inclined to participate. When they learn to resolve simple conflicts such as whether the ball was in or out, whose turn it is and so on with rock paper scissors, they get right back in the game without arguing.
But the real activity happens when an adult joins in the mix and plays. When we turn into the “big kids” at school, it’s almost a given the students will join. Kids who may come off as being “too cool for school” will jump in if the game is going and their classmates are laughing, having fun and enjoying themselves.
Put a kid on a treadmill and you’re likely to turn her or him off to exercise forever. Help a kid lose himself or herself at recess in a game of four square, basketball, jump rope, hula hoop or freeze tag, and help a love of physical activity take root.
So if we want to get kids moving, let’s get the grown-ups out playing, and recess is the perfect place to start. It’s easier than you think. And it’s a lot of fun.