Talking about children’s summer activities with the U of M | Columns
Many young children don’t get the amount of physical activity they need to be healthy. As the summer months approach, Daheia Barr-Anderson, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the School of Kinesiology, shares her expertise on how to keep children physically active during the summer months.
Why is it important for children to stay active in the summer?
Barr–Anderson: Whatever the season, it’s important for children to be physically active for the myriad of physical, emotional, mental and psychological benefits that result from regular movement of your body. However, in the summer, when children can have less structured activities, it is imperative that parents keep their children moving, whether with structured activities such as sports and sports camps or unstructured activities such as dedicated time at the local park or community pool. During the long summer days — filled with sunshine but no seven-hour school day — some kids can have a lot of unstructured time that can easily be filled with sedentary screen time. Parents need to be very intentional about giving their children the opportunity to be active for at least an hour every day.
What daily activity is recommended for children?
Barr–Anderson: For children ages 3-5, the National Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that preschoolers move their bodies in structured and unstructured active play at all intensities (light, moderate, and vigorous) for at least three hours a day. For this population, almost all movements count towards the minimum recommendation. Guidelines for older children ages 6-17 are more specific. The goal is at least 60 minutes a day of moderate to vigorous physical activity with most of those 60 minutes devoted to aerobic activities and on at least three of those days it should include muscle and bone strengthening activities, such as running. , jump and jump. Regardless of their age, it is imperative that children participate in a variety of fun activities that are appropriate for their age and development.
What are good summer activities outdoors and indoors?
Barr–Anderson: Outdoor activities include: playing in parks and playgrounds, biking, swimming, walking/running/hiking, structured sports (softball, baseball, soccer, etc.), tennis, skipping rope, yoga ( outdoor yoga during the summer is just awesome!) And the list goes on. As long as they move your body in fun and enjoyable ways in the sun, kids are winners.
Kids can beat the heat in indoor parks and playgrounds. Depending on the space available at local community centers and indoor recreation centers, many of the outdoor activities listed above can be enjoyed indoors – although biking can be a little challenging! If indoor space is limited at home, physically active video games and dancing are viable options.
How can parents and other caregivers support their children in physical activity?
Barr–Anderson: If it fits within the family budget, it can be easy for parents to outsource their children’s physical activity by enrolling them in various sports and summer camps and having their children’s physical activity supervised by competent professionals (or zealous teenagers). However, this is not possible for all families, so the most important support from parents and carers will be their mere presence. Take your children and do some physical activity with them. Go for a walk after dinner. Check local Salvation Army and online shopping sites like the Nextdoor app, Craigslist, and Facebook Marketplace to locate inexpensive outdoor gear like bikes, bats, and balls. Living in Minneapolis, there are several parks within a given mile radius that provide spaces that invite physical activity, including at local parks and recreation signs.
What are you doing to advance research and awareness on this subject? Do you have any resources to share?
Barr–Anderson: One of my ongoing studies is on children’s physical activity. We use a smart, interactive doll to inspire African American or Black girls ages 4-8 to be more physically active and eat healthy. It was a really fun project to work with a tech company to develop the doll with guidance from a community advisory board made up of African American girls and their mothers. Although the goal of the project was to create a tangible object to promote healthy living, it reaffirmed the importance of parental, and even family, support for young children to engage in these health-seeking behaviors.
Daheia Barr-Anderson, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the School of Kinesiology. Dr. Barr-Anderson’s research interests focus on physical activity, sedentary behaviors and obesity prevention in children.