Getting Kids on Their Feet Is a Holiday Challenge
Austin students are off until January 5. During the winter break, children are spending lots of time at home, and some parents are struggling to get their kids active and off the couch.
“Sonic, Digimon, Wally and that’s it.”
Eight year-old Joe Edward Sturgeon loves his Nintendo DS.
“He’s pretty much on it when he’s off of school, the weekends,” said Russell Zapata, Joe’s stepfather. “On the weekend, instead of going outside and playing like little kids, climbing trees, he wants to be on the TV.”
Zapata says during the holiday break it’s especially tough to get his stepson into the great outdoors.
“When I was a kid I used to climb trees and be in the yard and throw rocks, and I can’t get him to do that; he just wants to watch his shows on Saturdays his shows on Sundays,” he said. “We go out to eat dinner, ‘But my show’s on.’”
“I do not!” Joe replied.
This kind of talk is all too familiar to Dr. Stephen Pont, a medical director at Dell Children’s Medical Center and for Austin ISD’s Student Health Services. He works with families to figure out ways to get kids healthy and eating right.
“There are plenty of activities that we can do outside that are free regardless of how much time you have or where you live, and there’s things that we can do indoors as well,” Pont said. “There’s a great website called Nature Rocks, or Nature Rocks Austin, and on there they have a little toggle tool that you can do where you actually type in how much space you have.”
The site lists ideas for activities you can do in your back yard and outdoor events happening around Austin, at preserves and at state parks.
“So if you’ve never been camping before there’s programs you can sign up for, and it doesn’t really cost very much money, and they’ll provide the tent and the sleeping bag and all of the equipment and even show you how to use it and put it up, because they know if you get exposed to some of these things you’re really going to want to do it again,” he said.
While Austin has a reputation of being a healthy city, Pont says about a third of students in the Austin school district are considered overweight or obese. And an increasing number of students are in the severely obese range.
Pont advises letting children be a part of the decision-making process when it comes to video game and TV time.
“So we say, you can do it an hour a day, when would you like to do it?” he said “It’s good for us as parents to set those boundaries and those expectations and the guidelines, and as long as we stick to them, then our kids will learn to appreciate and will be able to follow them. So if we have that limit of the time, then helping them come up with other activities they can do when they’re not playing video games will be helpful. I think a lot of kids still love to jump rope and they love to do things outside.”
Some Austin schools have been spray-painting good old fashioned games such as hopscotch on sidewalks as part of a pilot program. And just as you might expect, now that the games are there, kids are moving around and interacting with them.
The experts say the holiday break can be a great time for families to try out a new, active hobby that just make stick into the new year.