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Seven ways to get your kids moving this summer
Gym classes are scrapped and the “lazy” days of summer begin, usually encompassing excess screen time. But with the warmer weather, there are more built-in fitness opportunities during the summer holidays. “Exercise can help children improve their cardiorespiratory fitness, build strong bones and muscles, and improve their mental health,” says Alicia Kockler, vice president of Aquatic activities and children for life. “If kids don’t establish healthy habits early on, it can be more difficult to do so later, when they’re adults.” Get into good habits with these tips.
Exemplify. If parenthood could be summed up in one sentence (and we know it can’t be), it would be this: lead by example. Children learn by modeling behavior, especially of those in their household, that is you. “If you take small steps to eat healthier and move more, your kids are much more likely to follow your lead,” says Kockler.
Leading by example can also take the form of family exercise initiatives. Take the kids to meet friends at a park, go for a bike ride (destination: ice cream) or sign up for a themed 5k walk/run. Going for a walk is the easiest and most practical way to build a fitness habit, says Kockler. “Instead of falling asleep in front of the TV after dinner, why not take a family walk around the neighborhood?”
Try something new. We know that getting kids to try new things can be like getting the weather to cooperate. To keep exercise from feeling like a chore or another chore to do, says Kockler, work with your child to choose a sport or activity that matches their interests. You are now working together to make movement fun.
Running out of ideas? Ways to incorporate movement into your local adventure itinerary. We call it exercise in disguise.
Recipe for fun
Cooking with your children not only forms life habits, but also teaches a life skill and provides bonding time.
“Kids are more likely to eat the dish if they help you decide what to put in it and how to prepare it,” says Lynn Elliott, owner of Way Cool Cooking School Inc.who shares one of his favorites.
Wok ‘n’ Roll Egg Rolls
- 1 lb ground pork (or turkey)
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 liter peanut oil for frying
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons of water
- 2 cups shredded cabbage
- 1 cup grated carrots
- 8 (7 square inch) spring roll wrappers
- 1/2 tbsp sesame seeds (optional)
- Season the pork with ginger and garlic powder and mix well. Heat mixture in medium skillet, stirring, until pork is cooked through and no longer pink. Put aside.
- In another large skillet, heat the oil to about 375°F or over medium-high heat. While the oil is heating, mix the flour and water in a bowl until they form a paste. In another bowl, combine the cabbage, carrots and reserved pork mixture.
- Lay out a sheet of rolled egg with one corner pointing towards you. Place about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of the cabbage, carrot and pork mixture on the egg roll wrapper and fold the corner up over the mixture. Fold the left and right corners towards the center and keep rolling. Brush a little flour dough on the last corner to help seal the roll. Repeat with the remaining pasta.
- Place spring rolls in heated oil and fry, turning occasionally, until golden brown. Remove from oil and drain on paper towel or wire rack. Place on a serving platter and garnish with sesame seeds if desired.
Why summer camps are more important than ever
As virtual classrooms have reached the learning portion of a school day, the social development and relationship building fostered by a physical classroom has been diminished or even suspended. “The emotional toll has been heartbreaking,” says Ann Joseph-Douglas, director of education at Children’s theater company. This is where Summer Camps (in their myriad forms and themes) play a vital role, especially with the pandemic season 3 rolling out.
“It’s more important than ever for kids to interact with other kids, be silly, and explore new things,” says Joseph-Douglas. CLC Theater Arts Education strives to nurture curious, creative and confident young people through its drama camps. “We’re more interested in what happens along the journey, from the first day to the last, than in a finished product,” she says.
Exploration is often a theme at summer camps, whether it’s exploring expressions and characters on stage or learning about different cultures. To Concordia Language Villages, children expand their world by learning about different cultures, trying new foods and developing new language skills; they get to know each other by developing friendships, exploring nature and trying out leadership roles. As a result, “they often become more courageous and curious,” says associate marketing director Nicole Ellis.
Disconnecting from technology is a key factor in developing connections in camps. “Summer camp provides a healthy and safe space where children can simply be– in an environment where they can explore, try new names and build trust,” says Ellis.
“Participation in the arts builds self-esteem, builds empathy for others, and improves collaboration skills, much of which young people lack due to the pandemic,” says Joseph-Douglas.
“It’s more important than ever for kids to interact with other kids, be silly, and explore new things.” —Ann Joseph Douglas, Children’s theater company
Beyond developing budding personalities and gaining confidence, summer programs are often opportunities for kids to improve their skills or try out a new interest, without having to try out for a team. or commit to an extended program. To The Blake School summer camps, staff members ensure that all children are welcome, regardless of background or ability. “Our staff love working with children and take the time to get to know them and build trusting relationships with them,” says Tony Andrade, Director of Summer Programs at Blake, “which, in turn, allows campers to feel more comfortable taking risks and exploring new ideas and experiences in a safe and supportive environment.
Summer programs typically cross school districts, which can broaden friendships, Andrade says. “This is particularly important today, in the wake of the ongoing pandemic, which has limited certain pathways of social development in children.”
“Summer camp provides a healthy and safe space where children can simply be—in an environment where they can explore . . . and build trust. ” —Nicole Ellis, Concordia Language Villages
Tips from pediatricians to support children’s mental health
1. PARENTS, LISTEN.
“I recommend that the first and most important thing parents do is validate and listen,” says Dr. Sarah Jerstad, a child psychologist at Minnesota for kids. Supportive relationships and connections with others are key factors in children’s mental health and well-being. When parents listen to their children’s concerns, children feel heard and validated.
2. GET OUTSIDE.
“Getting outdoors provides more than a fun break for kids and teens,” says Jerstad. “Research found that when children spent time in natural environments, they had less anger and aggression. Impulse control also improved. Time bonding with Mother Nature also reduced stress and depression in children (and adults!), she says, “This could be especially important when normal routines have changed for children.”
“Research has found that when children spend time in natural environments, they have less anger and aggression. Impulse control also improves. —Dr. Sarah Jerstad, Minnesota for kids
3. ESTABLISH ROUTINES AND MAKE PLANS.
Type A parents, now is your time. “One of the best things for our mental health is being able to plan something,” says Jerstad. Giving kids something to plan for and look forward to, like play dates or family gatherings, can help counter the stress of uncertainty and ever-changing plans, she says. Even small routines – normal bedtimes and mealtimes – can be beneficial.
4. BRING YOUR EMOTIONS TO THE TABLE.
Children often learn by observation, so modeling is very important to help children express and talk about their emotions. “As a family, share the best and worst times of the day,” suggests Dr. Andrea Hutchinson, CEO and licensed psychologist at CARE Tips. “Some families add a third record based on their family values, such as proudest, bravest, or kindest part of the day.”
Self-regulation tools are things children can use to calm themselves and manage their emotions. “This can include relaxation techniques such as belly breathing, stretching, yoga poses, and tensing and releasing muscles,” says Jerstad. When children are upset or angry, they can turn to these skills.
This article originally appeared in the March 2022 issue of Mpls.St.Paul Magazine.