May is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month.
The President’s Council on Fitness designated this month to promote healthy lifestyles among Americans. The importance of fitness for American citizens drew presidential concern as early as 1956, when President Eisenhower created the President’s Council on Youth Fitness, which was renamed the President’s Council on Physical Fitness by President Kennedy in 1961.
National Physical Fitness and Sports Month is a time to highlight the many benefits that sports and physical exercise can provide. In a 2016 proclamation, President Obama remarked that, sports and other forms of physical activity
“…bridge differences, unite Americans from every walk of life, and teach the importance of teamwork. Whether exploring the great outdoors or shooting hoops with friends, regular physical activity can also relieve stress, boost energy and self-esteem, and prevent numerous chronic diseases, including some of the leading causes of death, such as cancer, stroke, and heart disease.”
President Obama then became more specific, stating that children in particular
“should engage in physical activity for at least one hour each day, and adults should do so for at least 30 minutes. Critical to enabling our youth to reach their fullest potential, regular exercise must go hand-in-hand with healthy eating and proper nutrition — because our children’s well-being tomorrow depends on what they eat today.”
What does this mean for our children, who are naturally active? They need and want to move, learn, create, and explore. Toys and screens cannot satisfy these innate needs, so it is essential that children have a variety of opportunities to engage in physical activity.
The outdoors is the optimal place for kids to practice their developing physical skills. It’s where children can fully and freely experience gross motor skills such as running and jumping. Additionally, children are likely to burn more calories outdoors than indoors, helping to prevent obesity and reducing heart disease risk. And if that’s not enough reason to get outside, there is an abundance of evidence that children who play regularly in natural settings have stronger immune systems, feel less stress, display increased imagination, and generally have more positive feelings towards others.
At The Learning Experience®, we include the value of a healthy lifestyle as part of the foundation of early childhood education. Our resident physical fitness expert, Flexi Flamingo®, invigorates the children with energy and enthusiasm as they engage in daily stretching, balancing, hopping, and twisting. Teaching young children the importance of positive food choices and participation in regular physical fitness provides young learners with the fundamental knowledge and skills to take the first steps toward a healthy lifestyle.
The Learning Experience also recognizes the benefits of engaging in sports and physical activity outdoors. Each day incorporates into the schedule outdoor playtime in addition to regular physical fitness activities. Teachers find numerous creative ways to bring the classroom outdoors while teaching through activities involving science, art, math, and movement. Several of our enrichment programs, including Super Soccer®, Movin’ N Groovin’®, and Yippee 4 Yoga®, provide children with fun and engaging ways to get active, both indoors and outdoors.
As parents, we want our children to reap the many benefits of engaging in outdoor sports and physical activity. Creating a home environment that is conducive to playing outside is essential to promoting these types of activities. Here are some suggestions to help you get started:
- Fill a large bin with balls, jump ropes, racquets, flying discs, and other items that encourage outdoor games. Items that aid outdoor discovery, such as trowels, magnifying glasses, and bug boxes will also motivate kids to get outside and explore. Keep the bin someplace where children can access it easily and become inspired to be active each time they see it.
- Give children a designated place in the house or on the porch where they can collect and display nature treasures. This will encourage children to actively explore the outdoors and build their collections.
- Be a role model. Show that you prioritize an active lifestyle, and make time for it. This can include taking walks and bike rides together, as well as walking instead of driving to nearby locations. Dedicate time over the weekend for family fun and fitness and mark it on your calendar. Visiting a local park, flying kites, and participating in a fun run are all outdoor activities that families can enjoy together.
As the President’s Council reminds us, each time we engage in physical activity, we take steps on the road to being fit and healthy. Playing and being active outdoors offers additional physical and emotional benefits. The time we devote to keeping ourselves and our families moving will yield the reward of happiness for our children and for ourselves many times over as we enjoy the extra energy, productivity and good health we all wish to enjoy for the rest of our lives.