When I was a child we used to “play out” and in the summer we might just come back for meal times. I remember being out at the tennis courts as the sun was going down, and heading back just before dark. I also recall being on the beach for hours on end, swimming, digging and exploring. When I was 15 I deliberately chose the rowing club at school because you did training 5 days a week, usually for 1-3 hours at a time, depending on whether it was circuits, jogging, or rowing on the river. Fast forward to last week when I attended our local Operational Weight management meeting where we had to discuss rolling the new government exercise campaign. It is called “10-minute Shake Up”, where the idea is for children to get up from the TV or computer and exercise for 10 minutes before sitting down again. This seems like something I might want to do if I was one of the sicker residents in a nursing home, and had a wish to liven myself up a bit. I went home confused, and fairly certain that 10-20 minutes a day would have little impact on any kids’ physical and mental health, in comparison to the hours we used to spend.
When I got home it was a rather nice day so I donned my trainers and headed off into the park for a gentle jog. Are you surprised that when I turned a corner, I overheard one mum tell another that while in her day it was punishment for children to be kept indoors, it was now a punishment to be sent outdoors?
I’ve got to say the idea of the 10-minute shake up for kids capable of 8 hours playing out is setting our sights much too low. Yes, it is a start and small changes can lead to big ones, but I say we need to have much higher expectations to make a difference.
I’d strongly recommend we encourage our children to be outdoors as much as they can, to have fun being with friends and family, and to do stuff they enjoy. It could be a laugh, it could be sociable and it most definitely should not be a chore. Not something you itemise on a bar or star chart.