Most parents would be too overwhelmed with a new baby to start up a business, but in 1999 Shawna Babcock did just that. She launched a paddling program on the Madawaska River in response to the startling lack of children playing outside in her Ottawa Valley community.
That program has since evolved into a collaborative, nationally registered, charitable organization called KidActive. With both summer and school programs, KidActive reaches up to 1,000 kids each year. As advocates for healthy child development, KidActive promotes the 30x30x30 rule, breaking down the Canadian guidelines for 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day into three areas: active transportation, active play, and active learning. According to Shawna, “If kids get 30 minutes of each outside per day then they’re well on their way towards a path of healthy physical activity and engagement outdoors.”
To increase the likelihood of active transportation, KidActive helps communities develop green spaces and safe walking trails to make it easy for kids to walk or bike to school. For parents who want to improve their own communities, Shawna says there are resources available (see sidebar) but points out that it’s not an easy task due to the way they’ve have been designed and built. “I think green space has not been a priority area and walkability has not been a priority area,” she told me in an interview.
Still, Shawna encourages parents to make walking or biking to school a priority for their children. “Transportation is a key issue and actually was highlighted in the most recent Active Healthy Kids Canada report card as a key way to increase kids’ physical activity,” she says. “And it’s a huge one. If you start small, even 2-year-olds can go hiking; they can walk on the trails. If your school is a kilometer-and-a-half away that is a 20 minute walk. You can look at it like that’s 20 minutes of quality time to spend with your child.”
Spending more time with your child is one of the chief ways Shawna feels we can help increase active play in our country. When it comes to play, she’s asking parents to look closer to home for the solution to our kids’ inactivity.
Shawna thinks the solution “might lie in taking a step away from a busy lifestyle and saying, ‘Hey, I can go outside with my kids to play.’ Because it’s one thing to send your kids outside to play but I think it’s entirely another to be able to put down whatever you have and go outside with them. That speaks hugely to the role-modeling that parents do and I think parents know it’s a critical piece … And I do think there are definitely barriers, financial and time barriers, and as a mom, I certainly face those same ones.”
A lot of KidActive’s work takes place in schools across the country and includes the creation of engaging outdoor play spaces for kids. Babcock says they often collaborate with other groups like the Child and Nature Alliance of Canada and through organizations like Evergreen.
They also have a strong focus on teaching outside. With our kids spending so much time sitting in classrooms, these organizations are striving to provide teachers with the tools they need to move the teaching outdoors, and not just in one curriculum area like Phys. Ed.
Teachers are being encouraged to rethink how they approach all their subjects. It’s a shift from what most of our schools have been doing, but if we can help kids spend more of their school day outdoors their engagement with the natural environment would skyrocket.
In addition to the 30x30x30 rule, KidActive embraces the same philosophy that we do here at Active for Life: what you start when you are young, you are more likely to continue with for life. And when it comes to creating a connection to the natural environment, Shawna believes that early exposure is essential. “… We do know that research says that if kids are outside they will be more physically active, and that it fosters a lifelong recognition of the value a healthy natural environment has on our world.”
That’s a notion we can certainly get behind.
What is KidActive?
What do they have in common?
A desire to help kids develop movement skills through fun and easy activities.