As a child growing up on the west coast of Scotland, I had lots of freedom to explore and play outdoors.
It was normal for me and my friends to spend many unsupervised hours at the park, in the woods, climbing up the hill to the local reservoir or down to the lochside to swim.
Now I’m a parent I realise how free and easy things were back then.
Today, our well-intentioned concern and need to constantly supervise comes at a cost to our children’s freedom and time and again we resort to screens to keep them amused or out from under our feet.
So, in our digital age, here are some thoughts on ways to encourage our kids to disconnect from devices and connect with their healthy, active lives.
1. Don’t reply on organised sport
Not every child is going to want to join a club or team and play competitively, or even for fun. Encourage them to try but don’t worry if they reject organised sport. There are many other ways to keep active and most important is finding something they enjoy.
2. Lead by example
If you don’t keep active yourself, why would you expect your kids to be any different? Let them see you walking and cycling instead of taking the bus or car, take them swimming for fun not just for lessons. Choose the stairs or race them up that escalator. Our children learn good habits from observing how we include physical activity in every day.
3. Spend time together
Family life is so busy. Too often we rush headlong through the school and working week without realising that we haven’t had a meaningful conversation with the ones we love. Aside from the health benefits, carving out active time each week is a great way for the family to reconnect and simply enjoy being together without any distractions. I love long walks with our boys and surprisingly they do too, perhaps because they know they have their parents undivided attention for a while.
4. Get the right gear
You don’t have to spend a fortune and lots of things can be bought second-hand or borrowed, but it’s worth having the right gear to make your chosen activity safe, comfortable and enjoyable. Sometimes, the thrill of something new can be enough to inject your kids with a bit more enthusiasm for an activity they haven’t tried before. Decathlon, Trespass and Mountain Warehouse are all great sources for cheap but quality waterproofs, sturdy shoes and sports gear.
5. Little and often
There’s no point expecting your kids to fall in love with cycling if they do it a few times a year. Go often but for short amounts of time – take off the pressure and let them build up their confidence slowly, just enough so they can start to feel the buzz of learning something new. Soon you’ll be struggling to keep up.
6. Lower your expectations
If they’re not enjoying themselves there is no point in pushing it. Instead of fun and family bonding time you will end up arguing and resenting one another. Not worth it. Find another activity but don’t be surprised if they come to mountain biking or hill walking later in life when you have nothing to do with it.
7. Let them choose
Kids love to feel they have some choice and control so let them choose an activity for the family from time to time – you never know, it might be something completely unexpected that you love.
8. Turn off TV and put away the devices
It sounds simple but can be one of the hardest things to enforce, especially as we all know a bit of screen time gives us busy parents much needed time to catch up on work or chores. Impose limits and resist the temptation to fill their screen-free time with activities that you plan and organise. A bit of boredom is great for the imagination.
9. Take up camping
Camping or glamping might not appeal to everyone but it’s a fantastic way to get your kids to spend hours and hours outdoors, from dawn to dusk – far from WiFi and charging points. It’s amazing how time passes and the memories you make will stay with you and them forever.
10. Try new things
My children have dabbled in everything from football to water polo to judo, cycling, parkour, sailing, skateboarding and cricket. Have they kept them all up? Thankfully no! But at least their minds are open to the rich variety of sport and activities out there. My husband and I have both taken up new sports in adulthood and are probably physically fitter in our forties than we have ever been. I hope our children will see keeping active and healthy as a life- long goal and have the confidence to keep learning and trying new things for the simple joy of it.