Growing up, I wasn’t involved in my Mom’s healthy lifestyle. My memories of her exercising involve my puzzlement at why she would extract herself from bed at o’dark thirty to walk (and gossip) with her BFF. I now understand her desire to spend time in adult company, and the necessity of working out before the sun rose and her family and job both needed her. Today, I’m following Mom’s legacy of practicing a fit lifestyle. I’m also trying to give my kids a place in that life.
With Mothers’ Day just behind us, now is a good time to celebrate family fitness. If you have pre-school or young elementary-aged children, here are a few ways do that.
Play while they’re playing: Every Saturday, I take my son to swimming lessons at the gym where our family has a membership. While most of the parents gather in the bleachers watching, you’ll find me swimming laps in the one lap lane open during lessons. Not that I don’t like seeing my kid’s progress. I actually get a better view swimming in the lane adjacent to his than I would on the bleachers. But there’s a pool, and time that might otherwise be downtime, so I take advantage of it.
You might feel like your weekends are consumed with kids’ activities, so why not use that time for you, too? Walk around the gym or field during practice. If there’s a playground, take younger siblings there. Turn on your tunes or a favorite quick workout app (more of those here) and do a couple of quick circuits while you watch the little ones on the slide and the older ones on the field. Keep a light set of weights in the trunk to add some resistance while you’re on the go. When you’re finished, talk to them in the car ride home (or to the next activity) about what everyone did.
Let them choose: My kids like to join me when I exercise at home. We set an app or video, and then follow along with the moves, sometimes the whole workout and sometimes just until they get bored and move on to the play kitchen on the other side of the basement. Sometimes I go one step further and let them choose.
YouTube has done wonders for in-home exercise, and kids’ fitness is no exception. Look up yoga for kids or other movement videos. My son loves Koo Koo Kangaroo, a duo of 30-something guys that sings songs for kids (that are clever enough to make the grown-ups chuckle) while doing simple dance movements. The GoNoodle app is another good – and free – resource for movement songs and activities. Try a couple of short videos for the littles before moving on to your regular workout, or just make it your whole workout. Don’t expect high intensity, but expect to have fun while getting some moves in.
Walk: Yes, it is that simple. Take a walk around the block or to a close-to-home errand. Mix it up by incorporating some fun movements. For example, jump, walk backward, or race to the next block. Take turns with your children deciding what’s next, or where to turn. For new readers or map enthusiasts, ask about street signs. If your kid is into numbers, get her a pedometer. Depending on your budget, there are kids’ activity trackers with fun games, or a refurbished adult version probably holds fewer distractions. But any basic pedometer will do.
Bribery! Let’s face it, despite your best efforts to include your children in your healthy lifestyle, Junior is not always going to be so thrilled about a walk with mom. I am not above sweetening the pot. Sometimes, a walk with the promise of ice cream is better than no walk at all. Extended playground time is another – less caloric – favorite.
Often, though, you will find that kids are the workout. If (hypothetically) you find yourself on your back, airplaning a small, giggling child on your uplifted feet while you sing, “Ground control to Major Mom,” you might think, “Wow, this is really working my core.” It’s those times that you’ll realize that all the planning you can do won’t compare to the moments of spontaneous activity and fun that come with your family. Happy belated Mothers’ Day!