If you sometimes feel at a loss for ideas on how to get your kid off the iPad, you’re definitely not alone. Whereas in past decades parents would send kids outside to roam the neighbourhood with the kids next door, these days kids are more likely to spend their time inside watching Netflix or playing Xbox with other kids online.
Even when kids are active, it’s often as part of a sports team or another organized activity. Instead of games made up by a group of kids of different ages and abilities, they’re streamed into teams or groups sorted by age and ability, and may rarely get the chance to play with younger or older kids who are not their siblings.
Enter ActiveForLife.com: a website to help parents get kids playing again. The site includes a searchable database with ideas for physical games, inspirational articles about active lifestyles, and practical advice for parents. Article topics include games you can play indoors, things to do outside in the winter, activity ideas for kids with casts, and how to choose a sport for your child.
According to Richard Monette, who leads the team behind Active For Life, the dramatic change in how kids play happened quite suddenly, starting around the mid-1980s. The fear of “stranger danger” led many parents to feel they had to supervise children at all times outside lest they be abducted.
“If I was to show you pictures of kids playing outdoors in the early 1960s and 70s, what you would see is kids of all different age groups playing together with very little supervision from parents,” Monette said. “Kids would make up their own games. When I would go outside growing up, there would be lots of kids, but now there are no kids outside playing.”
Many parents feel that playing outdoors involves risks of bumps, bruises, scrapes and falls. Some even fear encounters with bullies or collisions with cars. For those caregivers, it may seem much less dangerous to arrange playdates, rather than let kids bike around and see who’s home. Safer to have the kids play in the yard where you can see them, rather than at the park. Safest, perhaps, to just let them play on the iPad or Nintendo …
But as it turns out, energetic, unstructured, active play is essential for children’s development. When kids spend their days sitting (in cars, at school, and on the couch) instead of walking, running, jumping, skipping and climbing, the consequences to their health can be dire.
Monette said one United Kingdom study found that many of today’s 4-year-olds weren’t able to do simple things like stand on one leg, because they simply hadn’t had enough practice of fundamental movement skills during playtime.
“We went from moving a fair amount to barely moving at all within a span of 25-30 years,” Monette said. “It’s a huge change in a very short period of time and we’re starting to see some ill effects because we’ve stopped moving.”
In a troubling twist, Monette said even when parents agree that children should have more time to play outside unsupervised and should be encouraged to walk or bike in their neighbourhoods, they still keep kids in for fear of being judged neglectful by other parents. “That’s a tough nut to crack, but that’s where we’re putting our focus right now,” Monette added.
By providing high-quality information on the importance of getting outside, and giving parents alternative ways to assess and understand risk, Monette hopes he can convince more parents to send kids outside and play freely, the way his generation did as children.
Monette said he wants parents to understand that kids need to move and from an early age in life. “You don’t want them to establish being inactive as a habit for life.”
For more information, visit activeforlife.com.