During the hot summer months, you might be wondering how to keep your children physically active. While high temperatures might tempt you to sit inside all day, health experts say it's important to keep moving.
Here's a look at why regular exercise is so good for your child, plus creative ideas for safe fun during the hot weather.
Why do kids need to be active in the summer?
"To stay healthy and well, all children need at least an hour of physical activity each day – either structured or free play. Preschool children need even more," says Anna Lorenzi, MPH, Health Program Planner at Get Up & Go by Children's Health℠. "Being active has a multitude of benefits for kids – physically, mentally and socially."
Regular exercise benefits a child in many ways. It can:
- Develop coordination and basic motor skills
- Build muscle and bone strength, cardiovascular endurance and flexibility
- Reduce the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease
- Build confidence and sense of self-worth
- Improve sleep quality
- Reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety
- Increase the child's ability to focus and concentrate when back in school
"The child's activity doesn't have to last for a solid hour. Small bursts – 15 minutes here, 15 minutes there – are fine," says Lorenzi.
What are some fun ways to stay active in the summer?
Water activities are a great way to stay cool and active in the summer heat. Even if you don't have access to a swimming pool or splash pad, you can improvise. "With a water spigot and a hose, you can create your own splash pad at home," says Lorenzi. "Your kids will stay cool and get lots of great exercise at the same time."
Try the following water activities:
- Let your kids run through the lawn sprinkler. For extra fun, set up two sprinklers.
- Set up a "slip and slide" in your yard. You can even make your own slip and slide with plastic sheeting that you buy at a hardware store or online. For small children, you can use a couple of plastic shower curtains or plastic tablecloths.
- Play limbo with the water hose. Turn on the hose and create a steady stream of water. Let the kids try to "limbo" under the water without getting wet. Lower the level of the water stream each time they pass through. To add variety, start the stream of water on the ground and let the kids jump over it. Raise the hose each time the kids jump over.
- Toss water balloons. If you don't have an outdoor water spigot, make the balloons indoors and carry them outside. You can also soak sponge balls from a dollar store or regular sponges in a bucket of water. Let the kids enjoy getting wet while tossing their "water balls."
10 summer exercise tips for kids
"Remember that most kids are not intrinsically motivated to start doing pushups and crunches. And that's OK," says Lorenzi. "Any physical activity is fine. Keep it fun."
In addition to water activities, consider these other summer exercises for kids.
1. Take a family outing
- Walk or jog in the neighborhood.
- Hike through a park.
- Go rollerblading or biking.
2. Create an obstacle course
Pull items out of your garage – buckets, broomsticks, lawn chairs, balls – and let your imagination take over.
"Within the obstacle course, you can create several play stations. Use a broomstick for limbo, walk while balancing on a wood beam or dribble a ball. Jump around a chair. Toss clothespins into a bucket," suggests Lorenzi. "You can even assign different children to create various stations."
With obstacle courses, kids can use their imaginations and stay physically active for hours.
3. Encourage kids to help with gardening and lawn work
They learn new skills and can help you out at the same time.
4. Play traditional childhood favorites
Teach Simon Says, Red Light/Green Light and Hide and Seek. Try hula hoops and jump ropes.
5. Have a dance party
Move furniture to clear the floor, blow up balloons and turn on dance music. Encourage children to take turns stepping into the middle of the room and perform their favorite dance moves.
6. Dance while you clean the house
Incorporate music and dance into your cleaning routine. Kids can "boogie" around the house while helping parents dust the furniture or push the vacuum.
7. Build forts
If your sofa has removable cushions, allow children to use cushions to build the walls of the fort. They can move chairs around to create tunnels and barricades. Show them how to set up tents with old sheets and blankets.
8. Stage a scavenger hunt
Take turns creating a scavenger list. For example, search for a red book on the bookcase, a yellow duck in the toy box or a family photograph – anything that keeps your child engaged and active.
9. Embrace "active" technology
"Incorporating technology is a way to engage kids in physical activity," says Lorenzi. "Look for active video games where you use a handheld device with a sensor that incorporates movement into the game."
10. Check out interactive websites
Go Noodle features dance and movement activities for elementary school children. You can also find Zumba and yoga sites that cater to children.
Whatever activity you choose, do it with your child whenever possible – as a family.
"While it's healthy for kids to play by themselves, parents are their children's biggest role models," explains Lorenzi. "If kids see their parents being active and enjoying it, they will be more motivated to be active as well." Plus, physical activity is healthy and beneficial for all ages.
How can active kids stay safe in the summer heat?
When playing outside during the summer, make sure to watch for signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke in children. Take the following steps to keep kids safe:
- Play outdoors before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m. to avoid the peak intensity of the sun.
- Wear light, loose-fitting clothes, a hat and sunglasses. Consider purchasing sun-protective clothing for days when your child is outside for long periods of time.
- Wear sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or greater.
- If weather forecasters report a heat index of 90 or above, limit your outdoor time.
- Play in the shade if you can.
- Encourage kids to drink enough water, especially before, during and after physical activity. Remember, sports drinks are often unnecessary – they contain extra sugar that most kids don't need.
See more exercise ideas for kids
The Get Up & Go team created easy-to-use exercise cards to help children and parents stay active together. Download the exercise cards for inspiration. Plus, see even more ideas to stay active indoors and at home.