Kid-movement needs cultivation but sometimes that requires simply getting things out of the way. In my book Grow Wild: The Whole-Child, Whole-Family, Nature-Rich Guide To Moving More, I break down how a lot of typical kids’ clothing can interfere with their more innate programs to move. From the slippery footie pajamas that affect crawling mechanics to stiff jeans that can keep them from climbing a tree, I’ve seen many ways clothes can hinder kid-moves.
Looking for ways to keep kids moving once they’re back to school? Keep summer movement going by learning how wardrobe choices affect kids’ freedom to play, fidget, and grow. Make sure their clothes are reading, writing, and recess-ready by learning all about the CLOTHING CONTAINER and why it matters to growing bodies.
Below are simple tests to evaluate back-to-school clothes for movability. I’m also adding some “functional fashion” tips in case your clothing-conscious kid or teen isn’t satisfied with wearing athletic wear all the time.
The Upper Body Test
Can this outfit climb a monkeybar? (Or catch a ball, or climb a tree?)
Clothing is a container our kids live in almost all the time, and it can help or hinder their movement. We need big arm moves for so many things—climbing, catching, dunking, cartwheels and more.
To test tops and outerwear, have kids reach both arms up at once. Make sure there’s enough clothing room to move at the shoulders, and also make sure that the entire “chest” of the outfit doesn't rise up toward the face when the arms lift overhead—that's a sign of inflexible clothing. Ideally the arms should be free to fully move out in front, overhead, to the sides, and behind.
Remember, kids are inside their clothes almost all the time, so the way their clothes move becomes how kids themselves move. The more freedom their clothes provide, the more movements kids will naturally try. The more movements kids try, the more they’re able to do. The more they’re able to do, the more fun it is to move, and the more fun it is to move, the more kids do it. Don’t let clothing get in the way of this process. Make sure their back-to-school clothes pass the movement test! Dynamic fashion tip: Does your kid love a jean jacket? Swap out stiff denim for stretchy.
The Lower Body Test
Can this outfit squat? (Or climb a hill, or sit cross-legged?)
Clothing is a container our kids live in almost all the time, and it can help or hinder their movement. We need freedom for our knees, hips, and waist so we can crouch, kneel, crawl, climb, jump, sit on the floor, and bend in other creative ways.
To test bottoms, have your kids bend forward, squat, and kneel. Ask them: Does the waistband cut into your middle? Are the legs loose and/or stretchy enough to allow full knee bends? Can you bring a knee to your chest? Stretch your leg out to the side? Sit criss-cross applesauce? Look for pants with legs that are loose and/or stretchy enough to allow full hip and knee bends, not only front to back, but also out sideways. Also beware of too baggy: flowy legs can get caught climbing. Prompt kids to think about how clothes can impact movement by teaching them to ponder: what types of play can or can’t I do in this outfit?
Dynamic fashion tip: If your kid wants “hard pants” or other restrictive bottoms, find movement-friendly alternatives with the elements they love. Fans of big pockets might enjoy looser cargo pants. Drawn to sparkly stiff canvas shorts? Bedazzle stretchy cartwheel shorts with self-adhesive rhinestones instead. And flexible jeggings offer a perfect alternative to sleek dark denim.
The Dynamic Footwear Test
Can these shoes keep up with me? (Let me run free, and keep my feet strong?)
Each foot has 33 joints, and they all need regular movement to stay healthy. And, the ability to run, balance, and grip over all kinds of terrain is affected by what we put on our feet, so shoes really matter when it comes to kid movement.
Minimal footwear lovers already know to look for flat, flexible soles, and wide toe-boxes with space for toes to spread. But there are other things to consider when it comes to footwear and kids moving more:
- Lightness & height: Taller, stiffer boots that pass over ankles can keep parts from moving. Instead of being able to make fine ankle adjustments on lumps and bumps underfoot, littles with boot-casted ankles often wind up lurching on uneven terrain. Heavy shoes can have a similar effect. Even if kids can do the extra work to stabilize themselves, they might not want to walk far or long because it's tiring. Choose short, light shoes when possible.
- Well-connected shoes: Slip-on shoes are also slip-off shoes unless toes constantly grip to keep them on, which can make walking difficult or uncomfortable. Shoes that easily slip off can also make a game of tag or a climbing session dangerous, if not downright impossible.
- Good traction? Human hand and feet skin provides great traction. Make sure any added materials like plastic and rubber don’t hinder climbing and balancing movements or make kids more slippery. There’s no perfect material for a shoe, just the best choice for your activity. Are you on cement? Metal? Mud? How’s the weather? Wet? Icy?
Teach kids to get dressed based on the activities they’ll want to be doing. If they wear shoes they can’t walk comfortably in, is it any wonder they don’t want to take a walk? Find more tips on back to school shoe shopping (and minimal brands!) here.
Dynamic fashion tip: There are many options for fashionable shoes—make sure your kids have seen a variety of options in your price range so they know they don’t have to wear the same shoes as their parents. Or get some plain white minimalist sneakers and some fabric pens and paint, and set to work making the best shoes ever.
General guidance for backpack weight for kids is 10-15% their body weight. LOADS are tricky, though (remember this section in Move Your DNA?). How long are you wearing the pack? Hours? Minutes? How strong is the body carrying it? The alignment of the body carrying it? Maybe you/they need it lighter, or maybe they can carry a bit more.
I'm a fan of "vary your carry." I know the idea is to wear a backpack with both straps to best distribute the load evenly over the body, but there's a different way to look at the concept of "evenly." Carrying a backpack over one shoulder is a good way to work waist muscles on the opposite side, and when you switch shoulders, you challenge the other side of the waist too. However, this requires that you're not slumping or slouching. When you load weight onto your body you want to begin with the soundest structure possible. Mind your form! Kids and adults benefit from learning good carrying form and also from challenging themselves physically more often so their structure is better suited to carry.
If you or your kids have a one-armed carry habit, make sure to vary your carry by switching up your carrying shoulder. Note: this will be tricky because you will keep wanting to take it off your weaker side! In this way the work is distributed more evenly over the body over time (vs. in the moment). Go a step further and actually wear it in all three ways (over right, over left, and on both shoulders) as each of these uses your body differently.
Want to hear more about ways to keep kids moving once they’re back to school? Listen to podcast episode 138: Back-to-School Movement.
Find more details about the CLOTHING and the LEARNING containers (and all the other containers where moving more is possible) in my award-winning book Grow Wild: The Whole-Child, Whole-Family, Nature-Rich Guide To Moving More. Paperback, e-book or audiobook!