As the school year gains momentum during the COVID crisis and more kids and families adjust to various levels of at-home learning, Seattle physical therapist Erik Norwood encourages parents and instructors to not overlook what should be a standard facet of all children’s curriculum: physical activity.
“Kids need to be given time to move around, exercise and play, even as they adjust to a new structure and a new way of learning,” said Norwood, owner of Renew Physical Therapy in Seattle. “This is critical not just for a student’s physical health, but to also ensure he or she is better able reach their academic potential.”
How does one affect the other?
Studies show regular exercise can have a positive effect on young people’s concentration, development, self-esteem, and academic scores. It also helps them get a better night’s sleep and lowers their stress throughout the day.
“Just like adults, kids need the chance to step away and unwind, especially during a time when they’re trying to adjust to something new and potentially stressful,” said Norwood. “Having this time to burn off some energy will help improve their focus when it’s time to get back to lessons and learning.”
Of course, encouraging regular activity also helps establish lifelong habits that can enrich a child or adolescent’s long-term health and physical development. School-aged kids and teens need at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
To help ensure kids can reach this activity goal while also reaping the mental and academic benefits of exercise as they learn at home, Norwood recommends the following to parents and guardians:
If your school doesn’t include physical activity as part of its daily remote-learning schedule, add it in yourself. Pick at least a couple of times each day when your student will get a chance to step away and be active. Just call it recess!
Be consistent with times to make this a daily habit. And, if you have an indecisive child, be sure to include play or exercise suggestions that can guide them toward an activity.
Take the Lead, Make It Fun
If you’re home with your child or children (as a stay-at-home parent or as a remote worker), join them during their recess time. Make it a fun family time by playing outside, going for walks or bike rides, doing exercises in your living room, having a quick dance party, etc. This will do you some good, too.
Along with regular “recess” activities, encourage your kids to stand up, stretch and move around for a minute or two every 30 to 60 minutes. Young bodies are resilient, but even kids can start to feel tightness, discomfort and pain when bending over laptops or tablets for long periods of time.
Urge them to stand up, walk around, and do some shoulder rolls, neck rolls and back bends/twists. Don’t let them sit slouched over a desk without taking time to balance out the body. This is also a great time for them to hydrate and grab a healthy snack.