“What, no recess?!” These were the first words I uttered when I reviewed my kids’ 100% remote learning schedule for the fall. They are second and fourth grade boys. Not having a scheduled recess time to run around outside looked like a death sentence.
My boys have a 45’ish minute break for lunch and two other 5-minute breaks scheduled into the day. But that’s it. Yes, I’ve seen the teachers do their best to take some regularly-scheduled movement breaks. But that’s not the same thing as recess. And what does my 7-year old do during the movement breaks? He stares lethargically at the screen and declares that he is NOT going to stand up.
For years now, parents have gotten the message that we’re meant to keep our kids off screens as much as possible. And now suddenly, in this remote schooling world, we’re being asked to do everything we can to keep them on their screens. Sigh.
A life without exercise, the chance to scream, and frequent energy releases is a recipe for cranky and not-tired-at-bedtime boys. Knowing this, my husband and I decided we had to take matters into our own hands. We had to prioritize our own forms of recess.
4 Ways We Get Our Boys to Move, Like It’s Recess
I now admit I took for granted just how many life supports came with having an open neighborhood elementary school. I knew my kids went there for education. But it turns out they also got friendships, mentoring, exercise, food, mental health support, and amazing amounts of structure out of the deal. Creating all of this relatively from scratch is extremely challenging for parents. Especially those of us trying to work for pay at the same time.
On the exercise and movement front, here are the 4 strategies that have been helping us lately:
- Hiring a Trainer for the Whole Family: Yes, you heard right. For the whole family. Two days a week, from 7:15-7:45am, we are now getting outside as a family of 4 to have someone re-create PE class. We head over to a nearby public park. A trainer my husband used to work with several years ago joins us there to lead a workout. My husband originally thought he might lead the kids himself in a workout, but… You know how well your own kids listen to you, right? Having someone else lead the session also takes the burden off of us to come up with a game plan.
Speaking of game plans, exactly what activities will make all 4 of us happy during the 30-minute session is a work in progress. We’re still getting into the swing of things in terms of the rhythm of our sessions. But I’m proud of us just for getting out there together.
Sometimes I startle myself with thoughts like, “we’re paying someone for recess?” But then I remind myself that there are so many trainers out there these days who are unemployed, with gyms being closed on account of COVID. We’re not paying any gym fees these days. And there are comparatively few things we are delegating to others, so this one feels good.
- A Trampoline On the Back Deck: Never before did I see myself as someone who would say yes to a trampoline. As a colleague aptly noted with just a hint of sarcasm in his voice, “a healthcare lawyer just said it’s safe to get your kids a trampoline?” COVID has taught me to never say never. This thing has changed our lives. Yes, we had to wait a few months for it to arrive. And yes, it took us over 4 hours to put it together. (We may or may not have had to reverse course a few times in the building process.) But when the kids have even short breaks in their school day, we send them outside to get their wiggles out.
Though I’m not so keen on having to clean off all the acorns, leaves, and other debris that keeps falling on it, I have had my own share of fun jumping on it myself. I’m not any good at shooting hoops on a real basketball court, but the basketball hoop on the trampoline is something I can actually handle. (Mostly because I can reach the net without even jumping.) It’s been fun to play 1:1 pick-up games in the style of Father of the Bride (er, Mother of the Grooms?).
- Simon Says: My kids may not listen to me, if I tell them to do 10 jumping jacks. But if Simon says to do 10 jumping jacks, it’s suddenly a competitive sport, and they can’t resist! I don’t think I even knew the word “gamify” until a few months ago, but it fits here. Rather than saying “you should get up and run around,” simply declare that “Simon says jump up and down while patting your head.” See how fast your kiddo gets out of her or his seat. I don’t think this oldie but goodie can be overused.
- Socially-Distanced Soccer Skills: My boys were both very much into their sports teams. My little guy loves soccer, and my older son adores flag football. Though “socially-distanced” and “flag football” don’t really go together, our local area soccer leagues have done a good job creating skills programs that do require masks and 6 feet of distance between kids. My boys’ soccer programs are just kicking off this week so the jury is still out on how much they enjoy it. Anything that gets them out and running around a field with their friends is a good thing in my book, though.
I’m sure there are a million good ways to inspire kids to be active, even under pandemic conditions. I’m also sure that in a few months, we’ll be bored with these options and ready to move on to something else. What activities are keeping your kids moving these days? Please leave ideas in comments below, so we have a good resource list for the fall and winter months!
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave