As a mum to three children (19 months, 6 and 8 years old), I want to share a few lessons I’ve learned throughout my parenting journey. I hope to provide you with some ideas to help you teach your children to:
- Understand the importance of moving their bodies.
- Feel good about moving their bodies.
- Choose to move their bodies so that they enhance their health, as well as the health of those around them.
Take these tips, modify them, and improve them to find what best suits the specific needs of your family unit. Good luck, and most importantly, have fun!
The knowledge of how competence ought to be gained in a variety of environments (e.g., snow, ice, land, water) and settings (e.g., on wheels, on feet, etc.) is really beneficial in drowning out the temptation to register my kids for year-round sports.
The goal of raising kids is not for them to be the most competent/the best in one sport in relation to their peers. Stop comparing them. Kids develop at different rates. The plethora of research agrees that early specialization often results in burnout, injuries, etc.
Guest post by Amanda Stanec
A proud native of Nova Scotia, Dr. Amanda Stanec is the founder of Move Live Learn, a physical literacy advocacy group for educators. She’s worked with many organizations, including The Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation, the International Olympic Committee, and the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport.
So, in our family, we have a 10 to 12 week specific sport experience limit. It’s tempting to continue in a sport for a consecutive session (especially when we see their peers continue on and make huge strides compared to them) but we resist the temptation as our girls are using this time to develop different physical skills. Throughout a year, they participate in ballet, wrestling, swim team, soccer, field hockey, and basketball. They also ride their bikes a lot, skateboard, climb any tree they can find, particiipate in two kids’ triathlons each summer, and attend a weekly public skate in the fall and winter.
We’re so grateful for wonderful coaches who believe in development and equal playing time even if it means going home with a loss. We’ve watched the girls develop new friendships in their varied experiences and be in situations that began somewhat uncomfortably. When they joined wrestling, for example, they were the only girls. Additionally, at ballet and field hockey they didn’t know anyone in their class or on their team. While they are learning skills in different physical environments, they are gaining so many benefits from varied social environments as well.
Family calendars and plans should keep physical literacy in mind so that we don’t strip kids from opportunities to be physically active.
On long weekends, for example, sometimes I intentionally don’t have plans because while I love getting together with others for dinners and such, I prefer our unplanned hikes or other activities. It’s okay to protect time in your calendar for those things. As the kids grew and we began to make more friends in our community, I wasn’t intentional about protecting time as a family. I noticed weeks were passing without a family bike ride or hike. That wasn’t sitting well with me, so we adjusted.
Prioritizing active transportation and other elements of raising a physically literate child allows our kids to gain competence and later confidence and motivation; it also allows for some great memories.
We periodically take a very long journey to the nearest Target to stock up on birthday gifts for their friends’ parties. While I like Amazon Prime as much as the next busy mom, I want my kids to learn to bike safely and I want to normalize active transportation. Admittedly, I mostly want to get on my bike and feel the stresses of running a company and having three kids fly over the handlebars. Who doesn’t feel like a carefree kid when riding a bike?
Intentional gift giving to support physical literacy development usually results in very happy children.
I am very mindful of what we buy the kids on their birthdays and at Christmas. We have juggling scarves, crash mats, a slackline, ninja rope, etc. And while it may seem extreme to refuse to buy them technology, that’s just the way we roll. Kids are inundated with technology soon enough. Why cancel the joys of childhood? Why throw an addictive device in their nose and strip them the joy of reading a book in a tree?
The purpose of sport is to help kids learn valuable lessons that they can transfer to other facets of their lives, it’s not about rewriting a parent’s sport experience with a better ending.
Some will excel in sport. Most won’t, and that’s okay. Don’t stop putting your children in sport if they aren’t excelling or even average compared to their peers. Let’s love our children no matter if they are the best on the field or more interested in how the score clock works.
For beginner skill level movers, keep them in sport and don’t say, “It’s not their thing.” Let’s not tell them they aren’t good at it. Let them be kids and love them hard and be proud of them for getting out there. In other words, check your ego. My partner and I both were college student-athletes. When asked if that’s our goal for our kids we crack up. We want our kids to learn how to work with others, manage their time, feel good when they improve. College sport is not even on the radar, nor should it be.
Modeling a physically literate life encourages children to be both advocates and activists.
I love how my child came home complaining about indoor recess on a rainy day. Of course, I hate indoor recess on a rainy day, but I had the chance to ask her what she was going to do about it. Her. Not me. She chose to write a letter to her principal. I reviewed it for her to make sure it was “polite and professional”.
The principal thanked my child for the letter, invited her to have a lunch meeting with her, and they are brainstorming ways to make outdoor recess the norm even on rainy days. My child is learning that change doesn’t happen overnight and recognizing that there are some issues she perhaps didn’t think about (e.g., some children may not be able to afford rain gear). With this knowledge, she can think deeper about how to overcome the challenges and has a goal to seek donations of rain gear for children in need.
The importance of normalizing a love of movement is essential to free the next generation of movement-related guilt.
Our kids know that their mum and dad are happier when they move their bodies and even happier when they do so with friends. They greet our running and biking buddies with coffee and beg to come to yoga with me (I can’t wait until they are 10 when studio rules will permit this).
I park far away from the door at swimming lessons and let them know it’s because I care about them and want them to get to move and that we should be gracious and leave spots close to the door for those who need them. Beware, one time I was late and so parked close to the door and they accused me of not loving them.
Many busy parents feel guilt or feel that they don’t have permission to stay true to their physical literacy journey. Not only will parents be less likely to be dependent on others prematurely when they model physical literacy, they will allow their children to fully understand why they live active lives.
Serving others and providing others opportunity to develop in their physical literacy journey ought to be a goal of parent and child.
Physical literacy isn’t just about fitness or movement. It’s also about helping others and improving communities. As such, we volunteer at a water station for a race or two a year. We share information on upcoming active experiences with our friends and the kids’ peers. My partner and I are both volunteer coaches at the community level.
It’s important we recognize that many of us are as healthy and in love with movement as we are because others gave to their communities. It’s important to pay it forward and to have conversations with our children about why we are doing so.
I hope some of these tips help you to rethink how you might support your children’s physical literacy journey. Parenting is humbling. I never understand how a parent can have a big ego! I haven’t figured it all out, but I am fortunate to work in the profession I work in so that many decisions made for our family are done so through a physical literacy lens.
Go climb that tree!