“It isn’t what you do, but how you do it.”– John Wooden
Physical activity is essential for healthy growth and development of children and adolescents. According to the U.S. Guidelines, children and adolescents should engage in 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) every day. This includes engaging in muscle and bone strengthening activities several times a week. It is especially important to ensure that children and adolescents participate in MVPA during stressful times. MVPA has many benefits including stress reduction and strengthening immunity.
There is an emerging need for children to engage in MVPA at home. People are spending more time at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Families are facing obstacles due to the closure of facilities where they normally engage in physical activity (e.g., schools, parks, and gym facilities). However, in many cases, children may have a tough time engaging at home because space is limited and because it is not part of their normal routine.
Families can benefit from having strategies to facilitate physical activity engagement in their home. Strategies can be helpful in establishing and maintaining a positive home environment and creating a routine that supports physical activity.To this end, the SPARK BASICs are really helpful. Establishing the BASICS from the get-go can help ensure that children maintain a sense of control and structure when engaging in physical activity in the home. Control and structure are crucial, especially when space is limited.
Stop and Start Signals
If you or someone you know is faced with the challenge of engaging in physical activity in their home environment with limited space, consider the following:
B is for Boundaries…
Establish a dedicated space with clearly defined boundaries so children know where it’s safe to engage in physical activity in the home. In home environments, physical activities should be modified to fit the space that is available. Physical activity can be limited to a small personal space such as a bedroom or extended to a larger general space, such as the living room. If the weather is nice the backyard is a great place for activity.
Higher intensity activities, activities that require manipulation of an object (e.g., catching or throwing an object), and/or activities with more people require more space. If more than one child is engaging in physical activity think about strategies for ensuring there is sufficient time and space to avoid accidents. If there is not enough space, create guidelines (e.g., one person at a time) and make sure everyone has an equal opportunity to take a turn (e.g., each person gets 2 minutes).
A is for Activity….
Encourage children to engage in at least 60 minutes of physical activity throughout the day. It is recommended that some activities include MVPA (moderate to vigorous physical activity). These activities elevate heart and breathing rates and work the large muscles of the body. Make physical activity fun by disguising fitness. For example, ask kids to imitate their favorite animal walking and add music vs just asking them to do an ordinary walk with no music. When fitness is disguised kids focus on having fun and are more likely to persist even when they are working hard.
S is for Start and Stop Signals…
Start and stop signals are important to grab children’s attention and to cue children when to begin and when to stop activity. Start and stop signals are important to help maintain control. Start and stop signals facilitate smooth transitions from one activity to another, give children an opportunity to relax and catch their breath between activities, and provide an opportunity to give positive praise, encouragement, and feedback. The best signals are interactive. When signals are interactive, the adult gives a signal and the children signal back.
I is for Inclusion…
Inclusion is important to ensure that activities are tailored to meet the level of every child. If an activity is too hard, simplify it. If an activity is not hard enough, make it more challenging. Emphasize that movement, improvement, and having fun are the goals, not “winning” the game. This helps keep the focus on skills and fun instead of the final outcome. Change the amount of time given, distance from a target, the size of the object or other elements of the activity to allow children to participate at their level and experience success.
C is for Clear Instructions
It is important to give clear instructions when working with children and adolescents. This can be accomplished by using simple cues in a consistent manner when giving directions. It starts with telling your children what the goal is followed by how the goal will be accomplished. Using cues like “today we are going to…” and “…the object is…you do this by…” go a long way in ensuring that instructions are clear and concise. Children have difficulty listening to a long list of instructions. Keep them short and to the point then come back with additional ones if needed.
S is for Safety
Safety should be the #1 priority when engaging in activity at home. Setting boundaries, choosing appropriate tasks, using start and stop signals, being inclusive, and having clear directions are all important for safety. It is crucial to maintain supervision of children when they are engaging in physical activity at home. This can be accomplished by setting up the activity boundaries in a location where children can be monitored continuously. Space, equipment and level of activity need to be considered when choosing the activity to ensure children can participate safely.
Dr. Nicole J. Smith is an Assistant Professor in the Department Kinesiology and Faculty Fellow in the Central California Children’s Institute at California State University, Fresno. She aims to increase physical activity in the population. She does this by preparing teachers to implement evidence-based programs and by engaging in research to understand factors that influence physical activity in school settings. She publishes and presents work on topics including the
utility of heart rate monitors and applications; school-based physical activity opportunity, high school physical education, the System for Observing Fitness Instruction Time, and physical activity policy. She formerly coordinated Discovering Obstacles to Physical Education: Do PE! A project funded by Active Living Research and was Project Manager for the Physical Education Academy, a component of the Healthy Eaters Lifelong Movers project funded by the Colorado Health Foundation and implemented in 25 schools in southeastern Colorado.