Wednesday, December 16, 2009

On the Go, or on the Chair?

Recently, I read a headline about an Australian study that bothered me: STUDY FINDS YOUNG KIDS SPEND ALMOST ALL THEIR TIME SITTING AROUND.

The article went on to say:

Preschoolers are spending 85 per cent of their waking hours inactive, a Deakin University study has revealed.

“Despite popular belief that young children are always on the go, the results of the Healthy Active Preschool Years (HAPPY) study indicate that they are spending the majority of their time inactive,” said Deakin health researcher Trina Hinkley.

“The results of our study are concerning as they show that only 2.5 per cent of children aged three to five years are meeting the new national guideline of three hours of activity each day released by the Federal Government last week. Additionally, 63 per cent of the children in the study exceeded the guideline of one hour or less of TV/screen-based entertainment each day."

Apart from the fact that I believe statistics don't always present the whole story, I think that we parents do need to check how our toddlers spend the majority of their time. I don't think anyone would say being inactive for most of the day helps them at all.

So what are the implications for us as parents? Literacy is important too. Is it possible for our kids to be active AND engaged in literacy activities?

Definitely. Read aloud time is CRUCIAL, let's not make any changes to that. But it sounds like we could cut down on some screen time if our kids are mostly sedentary. Making small changes might be the best way to start.

We could swap half an hour of TV watching with half an hour of family walking or bike riding in the park. Once the whole family is involved, it becomes not only a healthy habit, but a way for everyone to wind down after work and school, and a great opportunity for casual conversation.

We could look at the shows our toddler is watching and make some changes with them. Some children's shows, like the
Australian ABC TV's Play School, actually encourage kids to dance, sing and act out roles. This is a much more active option than passively sitting to watch a cartoon. If you're able to watch a show with your youngster, you can find places to suggest movement, like being a train rolling along a track, or dance your heart out in the ad breaks.

Some literacy activities seem to need kids to sit still. But we can change that perception. Boys in particular find it difficult to sit and listen to a story read aloud. Allowing them to roll around on the floor nearby while they listen means they get to move AND enjoy the story. Look for stories and songs with movement opportunities for a daytime read aloud. Bed time read alouds are probably better to be quieter if you'd like some sleep yourself!

Turning the TV off might seem big, but sometimes we just need to bite the bullet. If you find yourself using the TV as a babysitter, look around for other options. Can his big brother take the toddler outside for ten minutes and throw or kick a ball around? Would Grandpa like to supervise him while he builds? Can you create a game that you can appear in minimally while you prepare dinner? My old favourite was me pretending to be a witch stirring broth, while Hansel escaped from his make-believe cage under the table, and ran off to hide.

After I'd had a difficult day at work, it was tempting to plug my son into a TV show. Let me tell you, that happened often too. But I became an expert at beginning a building activity together, then fading back to the food preparation. Our kitchen was small, but sometimes I would set my son up at one end of the table with scissors, paint, paper and glue, while I diced vegetables at the other end. We hardly ever got things mixed up! Yes, he was on a chair for that activity, but I consoled myself that the TV was off, and we were chatting about his day at pre-school.

Let's not forget that many literacy activities can take place outdoors - from simple games like I Spy, to scavenger hunts, letter walks and sign spotting. Just by our being alert to opportunities to develop literacy skills, our kids will truly benefit.

There is nothing inherently "wrong" with screens. It's all about balance. We need to encourage our kids to involve themselves in all sorts of play experiences - building with blocks, dancing, making music, painting, quiet reading, listening to stories, dressing up, playing make believe, using sport equipment, riding, playing with other kids, watching clouds. All those and more will contribute to a happier, healthier toddler.

(photo: ©

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