Getting our children moving in the UAE can be a challenge, especially when the weather is far too hot to be outside. So how can we ensure that our children are getting the exercise they need, and also eating the right foods?
Make the task a family one – doing exercise and fun games together gets us all fit and also gives good quality family time. Try walking around the park, riding bikes, or even just a fun game of hide-and-seek or chase around the garden. There are special walks with various companies that can be a fun family event and they allow for all ages. Some malls allow walking inside them in the early morning before the shops open.
Visit the pool or beach – Let’s not forget a favorite sport in the UAE- swimming. This is a great way of exercising in the heat and having some fun. Just make sure that you cover up and wear sunscreen as the sun can be very strong. Try to visit the pool in the afternoon, as by 4pm the sun is less strong and there is still a good hour or two left of light for swimming. The beach is a good way to get those leg muscles working by running along the sand or even just a pleasant stroll along the shore looking for shells and other washed up items. Look out for jellyfish though and be careful of the riptides.
Ball games – Playing ball games is a fantastic way to enjoy family time, develop coordination skills, get some fresh air and move those muscles. There are so many games to play including football, tennis, volleyball, and even golf. Just get a ball out and let the kids kick it around in the park, in the garden or on the beach. For the younger ones try a balloon, it moves slower and so allows a chance to move, hit or kick it.
Plan a scavenger hunt – Make a list of common items that can be found in the park or on the beach (or any other large area) and produce a picture card with them on. This should be things that are plentiful and easy to find like a brown leaf, a round shell, a black stone, etc. Let the children run around looking for all the items, ticking them off as they find them. First back with the full list gets to pick what they eat for dinner! You can even do a digital version using a small digital camera and let the children take a picture of each item as they find it, like something red, something that looks like a circle, an animal, etc.
Look for sports clubs and events the children can join in – There are many clubs that cater for all ages and all sports. If you think your child is a budding footballer, gymnast, ballerina or rugby player, etc, search on-line, check local magazines, your community, or online.
Make an indoor obstacle course – If it is too hot outside, you can always plan an indoor event. Find the biggest and safest room in your house and make an obstacle course up using whatever items you have available. For example: large boxes to crawl through, cushions to jump onto, a broom supported on a two chairs to climb under, balled up socks to throw into the laundry bin, a rope on the floor to ‘balance’ on, etc.
Keep it fun – Exercise should always be an enjoyable experience and, especially for the younger ones, if you push too much at the start, they may lose interest and not want to do it anymore. Let the child choose the activity and ask about sample classes before enrolling for a whole term. Use positive terms for all activities. Competition is good, but it should not be about always winning or coming first. Let your child know they have your support and you are proud of the effort that they put it. Use phrases like ‘Well done, I love your energy today!’ or ‘You tried so hard, I’m so proud of you’. Celebrate the successes but also be positive for the losses. Talk about how great they were or how much they have improved, and they will keep trying. If you only tell them what they can’t do they will lose self esteem and confidence.
Do be realistic – When starting a new exercise or sport, do not expect great miracles or change to start with. Set small goals and work beyond them. If your child is not very fit, it may take a while until they can go through a whole session before they get tired. Give them time to improve and, most important, keep encouraging.
Limit the time with technology – Try to give limits to the amount of time spent on iPads or other electronic items. Do not use it as a babysitter or a distraction during meals. This time should be concentrated on the food and being social with the family. Also, eating while playing can lead to excessive snacking and promote obesity and cardio-vascular problems. Make sure that games or activities on the iPad are educational and not platform games (like subway surfer or Mario) – these can lead to eye problems, especially before the ages of 10.
Pick positive rewards – Plan a family trip to the beach or the park if they did a good job at school rather than a lollipop or a candy bar. This will help them to associate happiness and enjoyment with exercise and getting healthy.
On-line exercise – there are some fun groups on Youtube that do great exercise routines for children that are enjoyable and keep them moving. Following are some of the ones that we find are the best.