Whether you can’t wait to get them out of the house or you dread the morning scramble, it’s back to school time again. Unfortunately, “back to school” often translates to “back to sitting" but it doesn’t have to! Even though a lot of stillness is built into the Education Container (see Grow Wild: The Whole-Child, Whole-Family, Nature-Rich Guide to Moving More) there are ways to approach the way you set up a day to keep a child’s overall movement up.
Begin by assessing your kid’s current “movement diet” with our Grow Wild Activity Tracker (it’s free, no strings attached).
What’s a movement diet? A movement diet is the sum of all the “movement foods” your body gets—over a day, week, or month. When it comes to a food diet, you want one that’s balanced: the right amount of carbs, protein and fat, plus all the vitamins and minerals we need to stay healthy. While all nutrients are good, you can end up having too much of one category of food or specific nutrient and not enough of another, which can leave you feeling bad.
A movement diet is similar. Bodies don’t work as well when they’re doing too much of any one type of movement or position (like, ahem, sitting in a chair at a desk). They need variety to make sure all parts are being moved and strengthened.
FILL OUT YOUR KID’S TRACKER WITH THEM
This tracker will help you figure out what your kid’s movement diet is right now. Each of the rows represents about an hour, and the columns help you see how their body is moving/positioned during those minutes.
Fill in (with your No. 2 pencil!) everything your kid does in a day from morning to night, although if you remember something you forgot to include chronologically, just add it to the bottom of your list.
You might start with “getting ready for school” on the first line. Then is it “bus/car ride” or “walk to school”? For school time use something like “first period,” “ second period,” etc. and include recesses and lunch time too. If your child is at school the conventional 8 to 3, school time should take up seven or more rows.
Next add after-school activities—soccer practice, accordion lesson, tutoring, playdates, “hanging out” (or whatever it is older kids do these days), homework, dinner, screen time, family games…you get the idea.
Now the fun part: Help your kid picture themselves doing each of these activities. What body positions are they using? Where are their eyes focusing? What about balance? Are they with other kids or alone? Is it a structured (adult-led) activity or not? Are they indoors or outdoors?
Every category across the top is a type of movement that contributes to a child’s development and well-being. Once you’ve filled in all the boxes for each activity, you’ll have a visual representation of what parts of the movement nutrients they’re full up on and which they’re missing.
BALANCING A MOVEMENT DIET
Back to school time is tough because so much of how a school day is spent is up to the educators. That being said, before and after school, electives, weekends and holidays are all malleable. While school life can dominate a family, think of it this way: there are 168 hours in a week and only 35 of them are in the “school” container. That’s only 21% of a week. Get creative!
Before school: Active commute (driving partway and walking the rest, walking school buses). Get up early for family exercise competition (kids love contests), a 10-minute one-on-one bike ride or sunrise connection walk with a parent, or 15 minutes of pelvic-care stretches (great for menstrual cramps!).
Electives: What electives during the school day provide some activity or outside time during an otherwise sedentary, indoor day? Discuss this as they’re setting up their classes.
Lunchtime: Many schools have gotten rid of recess and allow tech-use at lunch. And, they’re supposed to eat during that break too! If you pack lunch, choose things that are nutrient dense and easy to eat so they don't require a lot of sitting time or send extra snacks for quick grazing (e.g. nuts, jerky and fruit leather) during other breaktimes, like walking between classes. Talk to your kids about using a portion of lunch time to get a dose of outside for natural light (necessary for the eyes) and moving their body out of a near-work chair-shape. If they’re using screens IN class and on break time too, the body is getting a super overdose of this particular movement. A few teachers have asked me to make this request: Parents, please don’t text your kids during the school day outside of emergencies (and even in that case, schools have emergency communication pathways already established—no kid-phones required).
Class time: Are you an educator, or someone who wants an educator to think about allowing class time to promote different body shapes (see: flexible seating and dynamic lessons)? Order Grow Wild for your school library!
After school: A different club, sport, lesson or hobby can introduce kids to movements they might be missing. If current scheduled activities are necessary, adjust how unstructured after-school time is spent. Our local YMCA offers a free membership to all seventh graders to promote getting physical activity after school with their peers. Check around your area to see what inexpensive, dynamic options are available. Below is a graph filled out with simple activities that moves the body in the way most school time doesn't. Some activities require structured classes, but many have a low-cost, unstructured format you can create in your home or neighborhood.
After dinner: We tend to forget about evening time when it comes to movement. Play around with dynamic homework time: practice spelling words, mental math/math facts, and test questions while walking around your neighborhood. Create a dynamic homework station so that their body shape doing schoolwork at home is different than their body shape doing similar work in class. Our family’s soup night is hands down one of the favorite parts of our fall: A handful of families meet up at a local park to share a huge pot of soup while also playing frisbee, soccer, tag, on the playground, or simply stretching.
Weekends: You can fill out a tracker for just the weekend and see if you’re currently maximizing these school-free days when it comes to nutritious movement. That’s the thing about balance. Maybe there are weekdays that feel super stiff and unchangeable, but the balance is over the entire week, where you have a large portion of a free-er day dedicated to experiencing more movement outside.
In-service days and holidays: Dream up a larger movement adventure for days when the whole family is off; these can be the “payoff” for having practiced so much movement in daily life! Bouldering, hiking, a long icecream-crawl through the city—enjoy the endurance and strength your family has built up!
I’m a parent too, and I know that trying to meet all the needs all the time is overwhelming. This is why I wrote Grow Wild—not only to make it easier to find opportunities for movement, but also to make these opportunities do more than just move our bodies. Movement can be joyful—you just have to start seeing it in a whole new light.