By Rugcutterz Danz Artz
They buy car seats and bike helmets to protect them from accidents. They take them to the doctor and dentist for regular check-ups. They try to feed them nourishing meals most of the time and they aim for reasonable bed times. However, in their attempt to give their kids a long and healthy life, many parents forget a major component – physical activity.
Statistics Canada says that “obesity rates among children…have increased substantially.” A report released two years ago claimed that in 1978/ 79, 3% of children aged 2 to 17 were obese, compared to 8% in 2004. To address the issue the government has launched a number of new initiatives, including a new $500 tax credit aimed at encouraging parents to register their children in organized fitness programs. (See article, ‘Minister of Finance Appoints Expert Panel to Advise on Children’s Fitness Tax Credit’.)
Active kids are better students
Combating obesity is not the only benefit of participating in organized fitness activities. According to published reports by the Mayo Clinic, there is a long list of benefits associated with increased levels of physical activity, even for toddlers and children as young as 4 or 5. Benefits include improved fitness, coordination, weight control and a reduced risk of health problems such as heart disease later in life. Furthermore, other studies indicate that children who participate in team activities also demonstrate greater self-esteem, and are less likely to engage in undesirable behaviour.
Studies also prove that academic achievement improves when children are exposed to team sports. Social Development Canada says, “Participation in extracurricular activities is positively related to educational aspirations…The greater the number of extracurricular activities, the more education they desire.”
Even when parents recognize the need for extracurricular fitness activities, choosing the right program sometimes seems an overwhelming task.
‘What’s right for my kid?’
Kim Barker, Artistic Director at Rugcutterz Danz Artz studio in Vaughan, says “children should be given input into the type of activity chosen. Just because dad was a hockey player doesn’t mean his children will follow in his footsteps.” And she suggests exposing children to a few activities before heavily committing to one or two.
There are a number of factors to consider when deciding which activities to try. On top of the list is age. Children ages two to three should be given supervised, but unstructured playtime with other children. Parents can encourage running and walking in the yard or around the neighbourhood. Keeping in mind that each child develops at different times, around the time children are four years old, they may be ready for more formal programs, such as dance, learn-to-skate programs or kinder gymnastics. A child who is 6 or 7 years old may be ready to participate in team activities.
Today’s children have more opportunities than ever. As parents it’s important to keep an open mind when it comes to formal activities. Often parents have visions of what they want to see their child become, but in order for a child to get the most of any activity, they must enjoy it first and foremost. While there are still some activities which tend to attract one gender in greater numbers than others, that shouldn’t prevent parents from signing up if that’s the activity the child wants to try.
Other factors to consider when choosing an activity include the time commitment. Most activities can be done on a recreational or house-league level which usually requires a commitment of once a week for one or two hours.
Recreational or Competitive?
If a child shows an aptitude in a certain activity, they may be asked by the teacher, coach or director to take it to the next level and join the competitive team. Parents may feel honoured their child’s skills were recognized, but before agreeing to move up a level, they should know that in any activity when a child ‘goes competitive’, the time commitment increases significantly. Most competitive programs require a three- or four-day commitment, while others, such as figure skating, require three of fours hours a day of practice, five days a week.
On top of the time commitment, there are cost factors to consider. Team activities tend to be less expensive than individual pursuits such as tennis. The cost from recreational to competitive also increases significantly, often costing 10-15 times more. In the case of a competitive team, additional costs include more lesson time, team travel, uniforms and special clinics or workshops.
An activity should be an affordable expense for the household and the child should never feel pressure to achieve certain results to justify the cost. It’s best to choose an activity that even if the child succeeds and advances, it is still affordable for that family. When signing up for any program, ask questions, including how much it will cost to continue the program if the child is suited to the elite level.
Parents might also want to consider whether the activity is something the child can still enjoy as an adult or even if it offers any future employment possibilities. For example, a child taking dance may assist in a studio as a part-time job during high school or university. But parents should be careful not to confuse future opportunities with fame and fortune. If a parent is putting their child into an organized activity to become the next Wayne Gretzky or the next Karen Kain, they are setting their child up for disappointment.
With almost unlimited options parents may feel overwhelmed at where to start. Word of mouth is always a good way to get information about a particular program a person is considering. Check out local newspapers for stories about local organizations. Browse through your flyers. Many programs/schools advertise around key registration times during the year, usually end of August and beginning of September.
Above all, children should be encouraged to be active. According to Canada’s Physical Activity Guide for Children and Youth, “children and youth should try to accumulate at least 90 minutes more physical activity per day and decrease by at least 90 minutes per day the amount of time spent of sedentary activities like watching videos and being on the computer.”
By starting children towards a healthy lifestyle when they are young, parents are helping them set a course for healthy living throughout their lifetimes.
Rugcutterz Danz Artz, Where Dance Dreams Begin
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