“We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing” – George Bernard Shaw
For some reason, our culture associates play with something that kids do. As parents, we are the responsible ones and we have to embody a level of seriousness that portrays that we are in charge. Children play by nature and when we, as adults, play on their field, they feel valued and supported.
Now, of course, I acknowledge that there are times when you just need to let a kid be a kid and back off. Not only is play time an opportunity to connect with your child, but if you are one who struggles to find time to exercise, it also creates an opening for physical activity in your life. Furthermore, you get to model for your kids that exercise is fun and it is not drudgery. Just think about what message you send when you tell your child, “Mommy has to go to the gym now. I HAVE to exercise.” Now imagine yourself running around on the playground and pausing to feel your heart beat and commenting, “Mommy’s heart is pounding away. How about yours? Doesn’t it feel good to move your body?”
Here are some ways that you can enjoy the Power of Play with your child next time you go to the playground.
Play follow the leader.
Watch your children play for a while. Ask one child to be the leader and then tell him/her that everyone else will follow what they do on the playground until it is time to switch. Designating a child as a leader instills confidence and trust in a child.
Create an obstacle course.
It may look like this: Walk across the curb without falling, go across the monkey bars (you can hold younger kids as they move across.), climb the ladder and go down the slide, and run around the whole playground two times. Repeat as many times as you like. Creating the obstacle course puts your child into their creative brain and if children work together to create a course, you are teaching teamwork.
Race for time.
My children love to time themselves doing certain activities. For instance, “Mom, time how fast I can go up and down the climbing wall.” I time them and then they repeat and try to beat their own time. This exercise builds self-efficacy and the belief that I am in control of myself and I can improve each time.
Create a playground circuit.
This is my favorite one. I bring my TRX Suspension and Rip Trainers to the park with me and attach them to the playground equipment and then off I go with my circuit. I will intersperse a game of chase or tag with my kids in between sets. I realize that as a professional, I am at an advantage already knowing how to use these training devices, but your circuit could look as simple as this Sample Playground Circuit:
- Do 20 Jumping Jacks
- Do 10 step ups per leg on a step or a park bench
- Run around the playground
- Side Shuffle around the playground leading with the right and then the left.
- With hands on a park bench, do 30 seconds of Mountain Climber, alternately bringing one knee into the chest and then the other.
- Bench Push Ups: With hands on a bench shoulder width, perform 10 push ups
Repeat the circuit for up to 15 minutes. You will feel so much more energized and your kids will probably ask to join in.
Please note that you should always get a doctor’s approval before beginning any exercise program, especially if you are pregnant or if you are less than 8 weeks postpartum.