In March 2020, at the beginning of our shelter-in-place orders, I wrote an article, “Keep Moving in Place,” that gave a broad overview of all the places movement could “fit” into a home. Close to six months later, many of us are finding ourselves moving less than we were a year ago. This is a problem, given that movement might be one of the most proactive preventive measures we can take when it comes to keeping our bodies and families well. This “Dynamic at Home” series includes a handful of articles, each diving more deeply into individual tips from my first article, providing more images, examples, and considerations. Find other articles in this series linked at the bottom of this page.
Kids used to be moved by life, then they were moved by chores, then they were moved by movement classes, and now, without movement classes and recess built into a school day, many are being moved solely by their home environment. This is a bit of an oversimplification, but not much. Kids used to move all day, and now they’re only moving as required by their own house. But how much movement is that, really?
Watch out for the home-all-day-means-still-all-day trap
I’m writing this for those of you who might have suddenly realized that moving kids isn’t that easy, especially when their home is full of stuff that makes it easier (better, funnest-er, etc.) to not move.
Here’s the thing, friends: YOU ARE THE P.E. TEACHER NOW. And because I’d like to support you in this new endeavor, here are some tricks of the trade—the parenting trade, which really feels like the hardest trade of all, especially if you’re doing it alone or what feels like parenting in isolation. (Maybe “trade” means, I’ll trade you my job for that one over there you’re doing with all that green grass.)
Lesson 1: Kids need more than a P.E. classA period of educational time dedicated to a child improving how they move is the idea behind Physical Education. Physical Education (P.E.) is that time when kids are practicing certain movement skills and/or rules that surround various games. They’re also being moved, but P.E. is different from free play or recess, where kids are moving in a less structured way than during a bout of exercise or a sport session.
Both P.E. and free play/recess have their place. It’s helpful to have time set aside to hone a movement pattern and learn the intricacies of a sport, team dynamics, and performance (this is what grows up to become exercise). It’s also necessary to have blocks of time that use movement as a way of exploring the seemingly non-movement parts of the world.
Only teaching P.E. sort of leads us to believe, through experience, that movement is only for performance, athletics, or exercise’s sake. Recess and free play don’t center movement as much as they feature the experiences—with nature, with others—that movement can bring you to. So your first lesson, P.E. teacher, is that bringing the movement requires you be more than the P.E. teacher. You also need to be recess…and perhaps right now, the team- and playmates.
“Nobody said it was easy.” – Coldplay, on raising kids.
Lesson 2: Kids need more than P.E. and recess
School actually moves kids beyond P.E. and recess (if they still teach P.E. and have recess). Simply getting up and out of the chair to change classrooms or move to the cafeteria or to a locker all take steps—steps that are missing when everything is conveniently within reach.
A non-exercising friend of mine who enjoys tracking his daily activity with a device recently expressed his incredulity at how few steps he was taking working at home. And this was a guy who barely took any steps outside of moving from home to work, around work, and back home again. It was only once he was working at home did he realize how much leaving home moved him.
It’s the same thing with kids all over the world. Right now they’re moving less simply because the bulk of their world has been brought to them via their computer. This is happening in unprecedented amounts (and we were already at an unprecedented amount before this).
To keep your kids' movement up, you can use multiple strategies: one to replace P.E., one to replace free play, and one that replaces movement getting to, from, and around a school campus. There’s also a bonus strategy: one to address how little school (including P.E. and recess) moves our kids in the first place.
YOU ARE GOING TO HAVE A PHD IN TEACHING MOVEMENT AT THE END OF THIS, ISN’T THAT JUST GREAT?
Gather your gear
Movement doesn’t require gear—nature provides—but if you’ve already got stuff available, or you don’t have access to a lot of outdoor space and natural materials, the following work really well.
wobble/balance boards (these can slot easily into a desk space, too)
jump rope, circular elastic jump rope
sturdy jumping boxes
Throwing and “whole body” eye-hand coordination
balloons (these work well when your space is small, when you have really little littles, or if you have to adapt a movement to slower reaction times/less agility)
Frisbee (also try this while walking if you have the space!)
balls (baseball, volleyball)
badminton rackets and birdies
bow and arrows
“spears” and hoops (another great game to take on a walk; see more details below)
slingshot and target
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"Mom, can we play toss the squash?" YES. I like to grow 'em and throw 'em (and will eat this when we're done so VERY #stackyourlife, hey?). The #nutritiousmovement team just had a wonderful four days with the @movnat team in the form of a movement co-lab and we've created something I think many of you will be stoked to be able to train with. I have found the content from their level one cert so helpful and relevant to filling a moment, a day, a life with movement (go take one!). No one ever threw anything to me when I was a kid and I, then, never threw anything back. So what joy to not only throw stuff now, but to be able to spend my throwing time with littles who are nourished by it in so many ways (#movnatinthehooouuse #literally). We're about to do a 7km trek down to the river with 50 people so they can gather some organic weights (rocks) to learn to carry them well (and how to #varytheircarry, how to share the load over their body, over each other) to help resolve a movement deficiency that's expressing in their core area. If it hasn't occurred to you yet, go get something (anything, any weight you can manage--a squash, a log, a rock) to start hoisting--especially if you like to follow my end of year MOVEMENT ADVENT CALENDAR. There, you've been notified. #moveyourdna #letthemmovetheirdna #letthemmoveyourdna #movnat
Hanging, Climbing/Upper Body
Read more on stuff for that here
timing device (foot races)
chalk (also great for creating obstacle courses)
AND DON’T FORGET A WHISTLE. Every P.E. teacher needs a whistle because it saves a lot of yelling. Who’s been yelling a lot more lately? Anyone? Anyone? Just me? Okay.
Lesson 3: They can move while they learn There’s two parts to learning on the move. The first is to make sure the desk or “learning station” you’ve created is dynamic. If you can mix up the location of lessons as well as the body positions used at the set-up(s), then daily online lessons don’t have to come with repetitive positioning. Quite simply, a dynamic set-up can encourage fidgeting and changing position while sitting in front of a computer for schooling or sitting and working on an assignment.
For millennia, learning and movement went hand in hand, so don’t get stuck in the mindset that learning requires stillness. It can take a little bit of planning beforehand, but dynamic schooling is an ultimate homeschool stack-your-life feat (or is it feet?).
The other way to learn on the move is to make more lessons or activities portable. Assignments that have kids out of their seats, measuring and observing with their arms, legs, and eyes, can be more nutritious than only looking at screens and print-outs.
Body algebra is my favorite. How long (or how many steps) is one loop around your living room or home? How many loops in your home would it take to walk a mile (or 1000 steps?). How far can you jump? How many of your steps equals one jump? How many jumps would it take to do that in-home mile? These are movement-based lessons, but also, there are activities, like art or making, that transition well to being more movement-full.
If you’re laying schooling onto work responsibilities, look for assignments that not only provide learning and movement but also accomplish something that needs to be done for the household. If you have to do an errand, but you also need to gather items for measuring or observing (like plant parts or flowers for science class), walk to your errand as you gather. Do your chemistry in the kitchen and get a meal made in the process. Start a garden project.
Walking is one of those moves that’s so simple and seemingly ubiquitous that we don’t even recognize how little we do it anymore. Kids are barely walking. Their parents are barely walking too, and it’s likely these phenomena are related.
I’m going to suggest (again) that you start walking more—as a P.E. teacher—and that you start walking more with those in your care. Before settling in to a day in front of the computer, take everyone on a stroll around the block. Do this again at lunch and again the evening. Walk as much as you can fit it in.
Kids have just found themselves facing a sudden onset of hours of screen time (and grown-ups too, right?). This is on top of the hours we all were spending before. As we shift to screen-based education, consider subtracting screen-based time elsewhere. If you watched videos as a family in the evening, pack up your dinner and enjoy it along with a family walk or head to a local park for a picnic. Or, pull out your P.E. gear and enjoy a family game that gets everyone moving more, including you.
A lesson plan to try
- Start the morning with a "walk to school”—even just around the block once or twice. Follow that with a short session of good old-fashioned jump rope, or something “bigger” than walking, to help everyone dig a little deeper into movement before sitting down to a morning at the computer. You might find a session of free-play emerges once you’re out and about. Walking quickly turns into natural balancing games, collecting and carrying things.
- Plan on a mid-morning "P.E. session" of 15-20 minutes. This is a play session where you all grab a Frisbee for a bunch of throws, play a round of handball against the garage door, or anything inspired by the gear list above.
- Morning “active” lesson, i.e., a traditional school topic that’s explored using the entire body.
- Pack a lunch, yes, even if you’re schooling at home, so you can take your lunch on the go to break up a long bout of inside, screen-based time. Find some green space to walk to and move in as you eat.
- Facilitate a recess/free play session in the afternoon. If you’re stuck inside, this can be a “fort challenge” where items in the house are fine to dismantle and stack. Or take turns creating an indoor obstacle course (bonus: let it stay up for a while and see how the family moves within and around it for a day or two). Outside can be a good place for building projects, outdoor obstacle-course challenges, or nature exploration (like climbing trees). The “facilitate” is less about saying exactly what to do and more like creating the timespace and a more complex/interesting environment for play to emerge.
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Today at my kids' school I taught a lesson on feet--->balance--->obstacle course--->bare feet---> better on the obstacle course --->they carried everything around to build their own obstacle course (that was tougher than mine) --->jump-triggered catapult ---->simple machines/whole-body physics lesson. CAN I BE HAPPIER? I cannot. Tomorrow morning my podcast with OT Angela Hanscom drops--on why kids need AT LEAST an hour of play during recess, to transition from getting their ya-yas out to being able to go deep into learning, exploring their environment with their bodies, imagination and creation. Go sign up for the Move Your DNA podcast and the episode will find you. Otherwise, I'll share it (plus an outline of today's lesson plan) on here tomorrow! #LetThemMoveTheirDNA #movementmatters
- Afternoon active lesson
- Family game/walking time! An easy going sunset walk paired with a traveling bowl of soup is a family favorite and a great way to reconnect to all the things after a day of being "connected" online.
There are many paths to moving more at home(school)
Some kind of schedule is usually helpful, but it’ll be different depending not only on how your school district has set up their learning platforms (some will have mandatory log-in times, others will not), but also on the needs of your individual family. There’s not a single right way to do this. You might find that the P.E. teacher does best with a solo walk in the morning, and an earlier session of free play with walks later in the day. (This P.E. teacher needs a walk by herself to get herself in order for the day and then she also loves taking a morning family walk just after that.) Personalities, ages, work schedules, and even weather all need to be taken into account as you negotiate movement as you school from home.
READY, TEAM? BREAK!
Find more ways to make your home life dynamic in the rest of the articles in the Dynamic at Home series. Dynamic Work and School Spaces will show you how to set up work and learning that allow for movement. Hanging and Reaching Spaces will guide you in setting up what you need to keep everyone’s upper body healthy and mobile. Sitting Well includes a great “Prepare for Floor Sitting ” exercise class and other tips on how to move in your newly arranged living spaces. For more on the ideas behind this series, read (or listen to) Move Your DNA. If you’re looking for more kid and family movement information, check out More Movement for Babies and Kids.