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School is Out, Playtime is In

Friday, June 16, 2017

Don’t you miss that end of the school year feeling?  No more pencils, no more books…you know the rhyme.  Pure joy as you walk out of that school and know that for the next two months, you have total freedom!   For most kiddos, the biggest concern is figuring out what to do with all that extra free time.   Some will be super active and others will take it easy on the couch.  While lazing around watching TV or playing video games may seem attractive, studies link couch potato behavior with weight gain and poor health.  As our nation’s obesity rates continue to rise among school-age children, pediatricians and health experts are suggesting limiting all types of screen time and encouraging active, fun play.

A 2007 American Journal of Public Health study reported that the body mass indexes (BMI – weight to height ratio) of more than 5,000 kindergartners and first graders increased by almost twice as much during summer break as compared with the school year.  The combination of readily available food and sedentary behavior take their toll.  Currently in Livingston County, there are school districts where 37% of the children are either overweight or obese.  Nationwide, we are seeing a rise in type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke in our youth because of the obesity epidemic.  Keeping this in mind, summer is a great time to hit the reset button.  As summer vacation starts, there is an opportunity to talk about the daily schedule – that is how much screen time, outdoor play time, friend time, and reading time. 

The key to getting your children and grandchildren to exercise more is to, not call it exercise!  Instead, call it what it is, play time!  Good-old fashioned play will naturally result in exercise and activity. Here are a few tips for incorporating more movement into your kiddo’s daily life this summer:

Limit screen time.  The American Pediatric Association issued the following guidelines for parents: 1) Screens should be kept out of kids’ bedrooms. 2) Limit entertainment screen time to less than two hours per day. 3) For children under two, discourage screen media exposure. Play as a family.  If you tend to turn on the TV, Netflix, or watch videos in the evening, try a new routine.  After dinnertime, take the whole family outside, play kickball, shoot some hoops, throw a Frisbee, or take the dog for a walk.  Studies show that children, whose parents are active, tend to be more active themselves. Create some schedule and structure.  While summer is meant to be downtime from the rigid schedule of the school year, some structure is still needed to prevent couch time temptation.  Consider day camps, scheduled playdates, or simply a loose daily schedule for simple chores, outdoor play, and indoor quiet time.  Keep a stash of toys.  Parents need not spend a bundle.  Often outdoor play toys can be found at garage sales or second hand shops for a reasonable price.  Classic toys like kick balls, racquets, jump ropes, hula-hoops, bean toss games, and such will provide hours of fun and a variety of activity options throughout the summer.  Play with other families.  Just as some adults are extroverts and enjoy the company of others on a regular basis, so do some children.  As the summer progresses, children may miss their friends from school.  Inviting friends and families over for a game night or tag at the local park will provide much needed interaction for parents and children alike. Involve children in chores.  Everyday chores keep kiddos active as well.  Requiring children to do a small number of daily chores teaches responsibility, keeps the child active, and helps the household to stay in order.  Depending on the age, a child can pick up toys, water the garden, weed, vacuum, dust, wash the dishes, paint, or clean cupboards. Be prepared for rainy days.  Rain happens but with a little forethought, children can still be active.  Musical chairs, dancing, games like Twister , or creating forts out of couch cushions and sheets are fantastic, creative ways to be active even on the rainiest of days.

Lorraine Wichtowski is a community health educator at UR Medicine Noyes Health in Dansville, NY.  If you have questions or ideas for future articles, please contact Lorraine at or (585)335-4327.

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