Summer Time Means Being Outside to Feel Good Inside
By Dr. Jay Greenfeld
The school year ends and summer starts, a lot of students are thrilled that they have made it through another year and have all the time to be free of any homework. The school year ends and parents are either thrilled they made it through the year or nervously ponder how are they going to keep their children busy for multiple hours of the day. Timeslots from after breakfast to before dinner that are usually reserved for the dedicated teachers are now left in the hands of the parents to decide as to what will keep their children occupied physically, mentally, and socially. It is at this time in the year that I often reflect on what I did with my summer breaks. Growing up, I had choices as to what I could do, but I had to be busy outside doing something. The days started early and were spent outside until supper time. The activities varied from time at the lake, camping, bike rides with friends, street hockey, day camps, and at times Math or writing workbooks. As I have spent the the last number of years watching, teaching, and working with children (and their parents), one thing I have seen less of is time spent outside and more time spent inside. Unfortunately, too many rely on electronics to entertain themselves and for the hard working parents, it is sometimes hard to arrange a variety of activities to keep children of different ages interested and occupied. The truth is there are ways to limit electronics, still keep children in 2017 interested, and maintain sanity in the house.
Realistically, electronics are more than just video games as they now span to phones, tablets, laptops, leap frogs, handheld consoles, and of course television and movies. An important first step is figuring out how many hours your family is spending on each of those devices and then add up that time. If your children do not have enough time in their day to engage in a 2:1 ratio of physical activity to technology then it might be time to make some changes. Your children have approximately 12-15 hours of awake time throughout the summer day as there are often special events that can extend the days and nights. Of their awake time hours, assess how many of those are used for technology, then multiply that by two, and then see if they are getting that 2:1 ration of physical activity to technology. The physical benefits of exercise lead to significant health and wellness improvement.
The psychological benefits of routine physical activity can lead to decreasing Anxiety, improving mood, enhancing focus and attention, and increasing self-confidence. To help your children feel empowered, give them choices. It would likely be very helpful if your children are given options as to which activities they can take part in, this way they will feel as though they are making the choices (i.e., giving them a perceived sense of control). It will also be helpful to not make every aspect of physical activity connected to some external reward surrounding the summer time favourite - ice cream. Initially you may have to use some type of extrinsic reward to motivate your children to engage in physical activity, but over time it would be important to shift that motivation to reflecting with them what intrinsic rewards/benefits (e.g., accomplishment, pride, strength) they gained from engaging in the activities.
Whether you realize it or not, getting your children to be routinely physically active throughout the summer is often not the hardest part, the harder parts include ensuring that it is consistent and more so ensuring you as the parents are setting the example. I would encourage that you never suggest your children do something, you yourself do not do. It is not enough to tell them they have to engage in physical activity every day, show them-they are watching your every move and they will see that is the norm within your household. Regardless of where you are during the summer; the lake, vacations, your backyard, grandparents' homes, the best part about living in Winnipeg, is the ability to be outside and moving for many hours during the summer rather than just talking about it during the winter.
To help further empower your children (and possibly yourselves), set goals WITH them in terms of how often you will engage in physical activity collectively and individually. It is important to recognize that each child's interests may vary and their physical abilities may be different, but you can set distinctive attainable goals WITH each child. Then work with them to establish which activities they will do and for how long. At the end of each day, if they have met their daily goals of physical activity AND reflected with you on how they felt about it, then carve out that time for electronics. Your children will learn quickly that their electronics are not a given just because they do not have any homework to do. If your children are enrolled in physical activities during the day, all the better, if they are not explore with them when they will take part in that type of activity before they go to bed.
Even though school has finished until September for most, you still want to try your best to help your children wake up with determination and go to bed feeling accomplished. Technology is out there and is not going anywhere anytime soon, but that does not necessarily mean we need to do let go of what we were born to do and that is move. There are many physical activities that can be done throughout the summer that may be unlike any other season (e.g., camping, hiking, bonfires, bike riding on trails, golfing, skateboarding, or swimming in the lake). Why do the same things indoors during summer that you can do during the other seasons? As summer moves fast, it only makes sense that we move with it! Get outside with each other to help feel good on the inside within ourselves.
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