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It’s Got to Be Fun

How to inspire kids to get (and keep!) moving on their physical literacy journey

By Sharsvarnee Kundasawmy

July 23, 2021 •

If the words “sports” or “physical activity” make you sigh, you’re not alone. Even fitness enthusiasts find it hard to be consistently active. But what about kids — aren’t they just naturally active? Turns out, only 39 per cent of children and youth meet Canada’s national physical activity guidelines.

“Movement is part of what it means to be human,” says Doug Gleddie, ’06 MA, ’10 PhD, professor of physical education in the Faculty of Education at the U of A. 

Physical literacy, the understanding and motivation to make physical activity an integral part of life, is essential for purposeful participation in society, Gleddie says. And so, if you want to help your kids get active — and have them actually like it — where do you start? Thankfully, Gleddie has shared a few tips.

Show them it’s fun

“Give them some opportunities for voice and choice,” Gleddie says. It’s important for kids to have a say in what they’re doing. This generates more interest and willingness to indulge in the activity. “Would you like to snowboard or ski?” is a good way to pitch it to them. Gleddie also touches on the concept of parent modelling. “You can’t make your kids like physical activity without actually liking it yourself.” Research shows that kids who have active parents are more likely to be active. Reflect on why you like to be active and you could find new ideas on how to make it more appealing to your kids.

Make it a challenge

Kids love a good challenge. If they’re bored, they lose interest. “Trust your kids to choose challenges that are just right for them,” says Gleddie. “They’re waiting for that perfect kickflip that they’ve been working on and they’re having fun from it.” While perfecting their moves and focusing on the fun, kids develop motor competence and reap health benefits. It’s part of the learning process to take risks, fail and try again. 

Amp up the social interaction safely

As with most things, regular exercise became more difficult when the pandemic hit. “We’re going to see the impact years down the road from the lockdowns and kids being unable to socialize.” That said, he says, “we don’t want to exercise by ourselves.” Staying within COVID-19 safety guidelines, Gleddie recommends finding a group of people to practise, since kids find it more engaging when there’s healthy competition and social interaction. In the meantime, get outdoors, regardless of the season. “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” 

Make it meaningful

Gleddie insists that movement should be joyful and meaningful to the child — not just to the parents. Parents may want their kids to share their favourite physical activities, but kids need to find what’s meaningful to them, he says. So how do you know when it’s a hit? “Look for cues of when kids are smiling,” he says. Or you could connect something that your child already likes to something that’s part of a physical activity. “Connect dance to footwork and being light on your feet,” he suggests. These little, personally relevant connections can strike a chord with a child and make them love a given activity.

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