Fun indoor activities to keep kids moving all winter

young kids doing Zumba

Altered image. Lori Yerdon, USAG Humphreys Public Affairs, Flickr. CC license.

Much like adults, children need regular physical activity, an hour a day, to reap numerous health benefits including improved cardiovascular health, strong bones and muscles, positive self-image, decreased stress levels, and improved sleep. Achieving an hour of exercise in the winter time can be a challenge due to the cold weather and shorter days. Here are some ideas and tips to keep kids moving all winter long.

Use what you have and what your child enjoys

Board games, puzzles, balls, arts and crafts all can be used as motivation to perform exercises. A familiar position we use as therapist is tall kneel and one-half kneel. These are great positions because they strengthen the hips and core muscles while working on balance, coordination and endurance. Once the child is in either position, he or she can play a board game, draw a picture, or play catch with a sibling, friend or family member.

tall kneel, one-half kneel

Yoga

Yoga is for everyone and you don’t need to leave the comfort of your home. Simply do an internet search for “storytime yoga” to locate kid friendly stories and themed yoga poses to go along with the stories. There are YouTube videos to follow along with or once you get the hang of it you can make up your own yoga poses to go along with some of your child’s favorite books. Ask your child to make up yoga poses as well. It’s great opportunity to be creative and silly. There are also kid friendly yoga pose cards that you can purchase or make your own from Pinterest. Take turns picking cards and performing the selected pose. Mix them up and create a yoga flow.

Play tag in a small space to improve agility

Do you have an area in your house that is pretty open, maybe a basement or play room? Create a “Tag Court” by sectioning off a small space, approximately 10′x10′ (smaller or larger if you choose), with use of masking tape. Play with two players at time and players cannot go outside the taped lines. Use stickers or football flags, if they are handy, to create a game of tag and keep track. This game is great fun and works on speed and agility. You will be surprised how quick this game gets your heart rate up. Variations of this game can also be used such as jump tag, playing tag while jumping, playing tag while crab walking, bear crawl tag and so on.

Have a dance party!

Time to be creative with your moves and get your heart rate up. Pick songs that your child enjoys, clear a space and have fun. You can keep it simple or decorate by putting up streamers, having balloons, different colored lights, flash lights, and microphones for singing. Invite friends over to work on dance routines and have a recital or just have fun. Want to change it up? Try a “freeze dance,” where dancers must freeze the music stops playing. This is a great activity to improve agility and direction following. You may want a theme dance: dance like your favorite underwater creature, favorite animal, cartoon character, etc. Try a dance in the dark with flashlights or incorporate instruments.

Turn screen time into activity time

Have you heard of Go Noodle? It’s an interactive website designed to get kids moving. Many classrooms are using this site and children are responding positively with improved attention and test scores. Sign up for the home version for free at gonoodle.com. There are limitless fun and catchy songs that incorporate academic content. There is also a section of mindfulness with calming activities.

I hope this gives you some more ideas on how to have fun and sneak in some exercise when stuck indoors over the winter. Imaginative play is limitless. Keep moving to stay healthy and stay warm!

– Christina Paniccia, pediatric physical therapist and pediatric supervisor at the Beaumont Neighborhood Club in Grosse Pointe, Mich.

Learning while we laugh

child jumping in puddle

Sometimes in this fast-paced world, we parents get caught up in making sure our children have all the skills they need to succeed—to the point where we over-schedule and stress our children and ourselves. From organized sports to lessons in language, art or music, not to mention school and educational apps or games, it can become overwhelming!

Here’s some great news: Good old-fashioned play has a multitude of benefits and involves lots of learning as well. Through play, kids model what they see, work out conflicts, build physical mastery of their environment, generate new ideas, and problem solve.

Sometimes unstructured play is thought of as not being as useful as lessons and classes, but it is actually essential to creativity and building perseverance and tolerance of boredom. When we are bored, we get creative and explore our environment, searching for something of interest. Educational television shows, websites or applications are fine in moderation, especially if you watch together and talk about what you see and learn. However, free-flowing, unstructured time is a must for both parents and kids.

There are lots of ways to make learning fun that don’t necessarily require set-aside time. Beyond the more obvious learning aspects of a toy or game, you can teach your kids to be curious and explore dramatic play or unexpected/silly play. Be creative and see what fits your family.

  • Take a walk together and explore a local park or even your neighborhood. It can be an open-ended exploration or set up like a scavenger hunt or I Spy. Really look around and see what you notice. Interesting flowers, scampering squirrels, crunchy leaves underfoot, piles of snow to climb, puddles to stomp in—all year round, there are things to appreciate and learn about, right outside your door.
  • Cook or bake something together and talk about all the ingredients (their different tastes, smells and textures) and how they combine to make the meal taste good. Practice using different units of measurement. You can even make cleanup fun with lots of bubbles, fun music, and good-smelling soap. Kids love to help and will have a sense of mastery and enjoyment over doing something we may take for granted. As they get older, they can help more and more, and can even cook (and clean up) the whole meal when they are old enough. Now that is a joyful moment!
  • Use sidewalk chalk and draw outlines of each family member on the pavement. Measure heights as well as hand and foot sizes. You can even make silly pictures out of the outlines.
  • Have races and use a stopwatch or timer to see how fast everyone can hop on one foot, run, walk, crab walk, crawl, walk backwards. Chart the times on a graph to teach graphing and comparison skills.
  • In the store, play I Spy for items you need. Have your children help find items in reach. Have them guess how much something costs and see who is closest to the actual price. Let them check items off your list. At the grocery store, have them help you pick one new healthy food to bring home and try; pretend you are curious scientists learning about the new food, and sampling its taste.

– Lori Warner, Ph.D., LP, BCBA-D, Director, Center for Human Development and Ted Lindsay Foundation HOPE Center at Beaumont Children’s

Love scavenger hunt

scavenger hunt clue

Valentine’s Day used to mean I looked forward to flowers and candy from my hubby (And I still do like those things if you’re reading honey,) but besides my husband’s modeling this for my two young boys, I questioned how do I explain this holiday to them?

Anyone could look up the history behind St. Valentine and end the discussion there. However, I’ve been on a mindfulness journey recently and taking an extra minute to really think about the decisions I make for my family. Do I want to show my children that this holiday is another event for candy? (There are just too many of those already!) Along this journey, I’m also paying extra attention to the lessons and traditions that I start for my family. After all, this will shape their lives and eventually how they celebrate this “holiday” in their own adult lives—maybe even one day carry on the traditions with their own children.

Instead of candy, giant teddy bears, or a love explosion concentrated in one day, I started the tradition of a Love Scavenger Hunt.

I created little rhymes and riddles that lead my oldest son, who is almost five, on an adventure throughout our house to highlight the everyday kind of love we have in our family. Once my youngest is old enough, he will get his own set of clues to play detective and join in on the fun.

My husband will tell you that I’m not the best at rhyming, as evidenced by my constant questions of “What rhymes with …..” in bed while writing the clues, but I’m the best at being grateful for everyday moments with my kids. I’m a big fan of gentle tickling my little ones wake them up, bedtime stories, card games at the kitchen table, and movie cuddles. So why not highlight these ordinary moments of love to show my boys that my love isn’t overflowing for them on Valentine’s Day? My love for those two rambunctious boys overflows for them every day.

I will disclose that at the end of the scavenger hunt my 5-year-old boy gets a big prize of dinner and movie (both his choice) with mommy or daddy. I feel this prize is fitting because it highlights that the importance of Valentine’s Day isn’t on the present or candy, but with the people who you love.

– Stephanie Babcock is an IFS coordinator with the Parenting Program. She’s a proud mom of two.

Singing helps speech and language development

little girl singing at piano

Unaltered image. David Simmonds, Flickr. CC license.

As a speech-language pathologist, I often incorporate singing songs and dancing during my therapy sessions as a fun way to target speech and language goals. It is common for my patients’ parents to ask, “Why songs?”

Children’s songs are very beneficial because they often include simple verbiage and repetitive language, and are commonly motivating to children. Those three key factors are recommended for early language learners in order to encourage engagement, whether vocally, verbally or physically.

Simple verbiage is important to a child who isn’t speaking yet or to a child who is beginning to speak. Why? Simple language increases attention and children are more likely to imitate. The longer and more complex sentences are, the more likely a child will lose attention and interest. Songs made for children are often short and use common vocabulary words that most children are familiar with.

Repetitive language enhances understanding of words or phrases, and increases practice opportunities for children to imitate or attempt to imitate. Typically, the more often children are exposed to an object, activity or place, the more comfortable the children become. This concept also applies to songs. The more repetitive a song is, the more children can anticipate the words and/or actions. This can help elicit more vocalizations and imitation attempts.

Songs are motivating! They capture a child’s attention and motivate them to imitate because they want to join in the fun. Being silly, laughing, and dancing with your child is a great way to bond, but also encourages your child to participate in the activity.

How do songs improve receptive language skills?

Receptive language is your child’s ability to comprehend experiences, words, people, etc. Songs often include concepts such as counting, body part recognition, animals, and more. Children tend to learn these concepts with ease when they relate to something more concrete and when it is fun! Many songs also build your child’s ability to follow directions and improve auditory memory (hearing information, processing, and later recalling).

Recommended songs:

  • Wheels on the Bus
  • Itsy Bitsy Spider
  • Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes
  • If You’re Happy and You Know It

If you want to make some of those well-known songs a little more entertaining and challenging, try a few of the five tips toward the end of this related article.

Song use also supports understanding reciprocal communication, vocabulary development, rhyming, concentration, spatial reasoning, and fine and gross motor skills. Use songs and enhance speech and language skills!

– Lauren DeClercq, M.A., CCC-SLP, Speech and Language Pathologist, Children’s Speech and Language Pathology Department, Beaumont Health

Bring on the mess

Little boy playing with Play-Doh

Unaltered image. Jose Martinez, Flickr. CC license.

Before I had my son (who’s now 3 years old), I used to facilitate developmental playgroups in community libraries for kids ages birth – 5 years. I used to love bringing out the cloud sand, shaving cream, water bubbles and play dough — and the parents loved it as well. I received comments all the time about how parents were overjoyed that I used these activities in the group because they wouldn’t dream of doing this with their child at home. And, honestly, I was a little taken aback. I thought, “But look at how much your child loves playing with this.” It seemed like a simple task to me at the time.

Now that I’m a parent myself, I totally get it.

I understand the hesitation to pull out the shaving cream for sensory play. Who wants to clean up even more messes in a household on top of the laundry to do, toys to pick up, dishes to clean, floor that needs vacuuming, and so on? The messes in my house seem to never end and I can feel myself cringe when I pull out the Play-Doh® for my son to take over the kitchen table with. But I have the background experience to know how important getting messy is for my child.

Why being messy is important

Allowing your children the opportunity to get messy lets them express their creativity, have pure fun making a parent-approved mess, and lets them work on improving multiple areas of their development.

Let’s take the shaving cream example. When my son plays with shaving cream, he is improving his fine motor skills (the small finger muscles that allow a person to grab small objects like a button or Cheerio). When he makes two “snowman friends” he’s working on his social-emotional skills (skills needed to understand emotion and interact with others). When those two “friends” talk to one another, he’s working on language and communication skills. The best part: This doesn’t even feel like a learning activity to my son!

In today’s world there’s too much pressure on kids to color within the lines, stay squeaky clean outside, or even keep their hands clean after eating an ice cream cone. I mean c’mon — I can barely keep clean after an ice cream cone myself!

There are days when I shake my head after I pull out a stained shirt from the dryer, but I try to remember the fun that my son had while making that mess. Childhood comes with sticky hands, messy faces, skinned knees, dirt under the finger nails, and black bath water. That’s the fun of childhood!

– Stephanie Babcock is an IFS coordinator with the Parenting Program. She’s a proud mom of one with another on the way.

The beauty in hearing “I’m bored”

Little boy playing with his cars by a tree

Summer is in full swing at our house. Late nights jumping on the trampoline, BBQs at the park, carpools to swim team practice, tubing on the lake, bed times pushed back — all the big and little moments that will forever remind my kids of summer.

Don’t get me wrong, not every summer day in our house is this busy. There are many, if not more, days that have no structure to them and I end up either battling the technology monsters demanding that they let go of my children or trying to call for a cease fire between battling kids.

I’ll admit there are moments where the peace and quiet that technology affords me is a beautiful thing. However I’m worried that it is also sucking the life out of my kids’ imaginations. So this summer, I’m trying to embrace the words “I’m bored” a little more thoughtfully and with a little less action.

Recently my boys were complaining that they had nothing to do. They were relentless in their complaints, but I held tight to not offering anything up. About 45 minutes later, I heard the boys outside in the yard. They had found a remote control toy truck in the attic and had created an obstacle course in the yard using logs, tree branches and pieces of flat wood. They rearranged the course in several different patterns and ended up playing outside until dark.

So the next time you hear your kids complaining, “There’s nothing to do,” try to resist the urge to step in. It may just be exactly what your kids need to jump start some great creative play.

– Andree Palmgren is a parent volunteer with the Beaumont Parenting Program and mom of four kids ages 13, 11, 8 and 4.

Letterboxing fun

Boy on his dad's shoulders in the woods

Cropped image. Ikmal H Noordin, Flickr. CC license.

It’s summertime in Michigan. The kids are out of school; the weather is warm and inviting. Many of us are looking for a way to unplug and spend some time with nature. But if your kids are anything like mine (and to be honest, like me), they might need a little more incentive to take a walk in the woods than simply “Look at the leaves on that tree.” One thing my kids can’t resist (I wonder where they get it from?) is a prize! Take a walk in the woods to find a reward?! When can we go? So we started letterboxing.

What is letterboxing?

No, this has nothing to do with the format in which you watch a movie. Letterboxing is an activity that involves following a set of clues to find a hidden box, usually in the woods but in some other surprising places as well.

All you need to start letterboxing is a team (my family is “Well Done, Dragon”), a rubber stamp, an ink pad, and a notebook. You then use a letterboxing website (I like Atlas Quest) to search for sets of clues that will lead you to hidden treasures all over the world.

How does it work?

People who letterbox hide boxes in various places and write a set of clues (some simple, some maddeningly complex) that lead you to the prize. You may have to use a compass or work together to solve riddles and puzzles.

Some clues tell a wonderful story, but they all lead you to a hiding place where the author has a box containing a notebook and a rubber stamp. When you find the box, put your team stamp in the notebook in the box, and the stamp from the box in your notebook. Be stealthy; the first rule of letterboxing is not to let other people see what you are doing.

Remember to look at the notebook you found to see what teams have found the box before you. Many of us put our hometowns and the date we made the find — it’s amazing to see how far some people will go to find their prize.

As you continue to find letterboxes, your notebook fills with images from the rubber stamps — many of which are hand carved — as you make a record of your finds. I also like to make notes in our book about which team member made the find, and other cool stuff we saw along the way (like the family of baby raccoons that followed my youngest with her bag of peanuts).

Letterboxing vs. geocaching

I know some of you are reading this and saying, “I’ve heard of this, but I thought it was called geocaching.” Geocaching is different as it involves using a GPS and coordinates to find things.

Letterboxing is tech-free beyond finding your set of clues. Instead of coordinates, you use your brain and your powers of observation to follow clues and solve puzzles. That’s what got us hooked on letterboxing — not just the pleasure of the find, but the satisfaction of solving the riddles and unraveling the clues.

Go out and letterbox

Letterboxing is something you can spend the day doing, or something you can incorporate into another activity. One of my favorite summer days ended when my family stumbled out of the woods dirty, sweaty, and beaming after spending six hours hunting down a series of boxes (we found them all). But there are also many letterboxes hidden in the wooded areas of highway rest stops. In fact, Atlas Quest has a feature where you can search by proximity to a highway route, so we like to get a list of boxes hidden along our route on road trips. There are also boxes hidden in less woodsy areas (look for team Well Done, Dragon’s stamp if you letterbox at Cedar Point or the Rochester Hills Public Library). I’ve even heard that there are letterboxes hidden on each of Disney’s cruise ships but I haven’t had the chance to check that one out. Yet.

So unplug, find some clues to a box near you, and go find your prize. And if you find Box 2 of National Treasure, can you give me a hint?

– Nicole Capozello, Parenting Program Volunteer