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How to lessen screen time and boost your kids’ activity levels

DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR

active kids

Riding bikes is one of the simplest ways your child can stay active this summer — and away from the video games. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

MARBLE FALLS — Once upon a time, kids raced outdoors as soon as they could when summer break descended upon them. That was before video games, the Internet and the 3,068 channels on TV these days.

Now, some parents struggle to pry their kids off the couch and out of the house.

“Yeah, I think one of the reports I read said kids today spend an average of four minutes outdoors each day,” said Brian Anderson, a father of four kids and executive director at Camp Peniel (www.camppeniel.org). “It’s become quite a problem.”

Anderson admitted that, even though he’s the executive director at an outdoor-oriented summer camp, he has struggled to get his kids outside. But, he pointed out, there are things parents can and should do to encourage their kids to escape the indoors and countless hours of screen time.

“First of all, make it fun,” Anderson said. “Kids don’t always realize how much fun they can have outside. Parents, I’m afraid, may need to show them.”

Two of the biggest outdoor activities are as simple as swimming and riding a bike.

“They’re both fun things to do. Plus, they’re good for their health,” Anderson noted.

Colt Elementary School physical education teacher Debby Johnson agreed that getting kids active and outdoors doesn’t necessarily require a major expense or production.

“The pools are open, you have tennis courts around town,” she said. “But let them choose their own activity. Instead of parents or adults telling them what to do, if they pick it themselves, it’s probably something they enjoy and will do.”

One of the biggest problems parents face when it comes to kids’ physical activity isn’t a lack of things to do but the main competition.

“The biggest thing with kids these days is the video games and TV,” Johnson said. “You have to limit the amount of time they spend in front of a screen.”

Video games, however, offer kids a competitive activity that’s fun. And kids enjoy competing or doing fun things.

Eddie Kovel, the founder and CEO of Playout, discovered that by making exercise competitive, in turn, made it something kids enjoyed. Playout is a card game that features different bodyweight exercises. As participants draw a card, they earn points by completing the exercise.

“We, first, associate cards with games, which is something we all like — games,” Kovel said. “With our cards you can earn points. You can play or compete for 10, 15 or however many minutes you want. At the end, whoever has the most points wins. It’s a fulfilled competition.”

Kovel was traveling in India during a summer break in college when he was trying to figure how he could get in shape. He ran across a kung fu master who showed him how to use bodyweight exercises to stay in the best shape of his life. For the past three years, Kovel has used bodyweight exercise for his own workout and even to help him become a winning obstacle course competitor.

A few years ago, the idea of combining cards and bodyweight exercises struck him as a way to get people moving. But he added the points twist to make it competitive.

Playout (www.playouthegame.com) offers a people of all ages a way to make working out fun. In fact, with this game, it’s not working out, it’s “play out.”

“If you go out and play basketball, what are you doing? You’re running, jumping — doing all these things that are part of basketball, but you see it as a game,” he said. “You’re having fun, but you’re also getting in a great workout. You just don’t call it that.”

And that’s one of the ways to get kids (and even adults) out and moving, Kovel said.

“You have to make it fun,” he added.

Anderson sees the smiles on kids’ faces every summer as they swim, hike, canoe and play various sports. Even kids who might have spent hours in front of a TV or playing video games suddenly come alive at a different level.

“Being outside, they get to experience the wonder and awe of nature and God’s creation,” Anderson said. “They come back in with a different frame of mind.”

While a summer or outdoor day camp is one option, Anderson pointed out there are lots of outdoor opportunities waiting that don’t require money — from local parks to taking a walk as a family.

For the more adventurous, parents can create a scaled-down version of an obstacle course in their yard and run it with their kids.

“I think the recommendation is 60 minutes of physical activity a day for kids,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t have to be the same thing, mix it up. A game of tag, (disc) golf, riding your bike — have fun with it. It is summer after all.”

daniel@thepicayune.com

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