WORTHINGTON – If you think you are beautiful bouncing off the walls after months of confinement, imagine what the pandemic shutdown was like for young families.
What should a parent do? And how vital is it to keep your little ones away from screens and moving their limbs?
Hear what Tara Thompson, local early years specialist, has to say.
“Physical activity contributes to optimal brain function,” said Thompson, District 518’s early childhood coordinator since 2000.
“Our body learns as a whole, so we need to make sure we incorporate physical activity.
“And physical activity also helps fight obesity, so it’s good to instill healthy lifestyles from an early age.”
Thompson’s career has focused on humans from birth to age 5. His knowledge of what children need, and why, is deep and broad.
And movement tops his list.
“Young children use their whole body to learn,” she advocated. “And what they learn is how their body moves and how they can control those movements.
“It’s a very important part of growth and development, so you have to give them time to explore big [as well as small] motor movements.
Keeping it all fun is also part of the parenting game.
“It’s also joyful,” she said. “Laughter and running can be involved, and it’s a good outlet for anxiety and stress.
“Given the pandemic, the importance of this outlet is multiplied, but adults aren’t always good at understanding why kids are doing what they’re doing,” Thompson continued.
“We don’t always think about the fact that kids can be stressed too, and that’s another reason to encourage them to be active.”
Thompson easily produces a list of creative ways — inside and out — for exhausted parents and caregivers to help kids burn energy and calories while strengthening their minds and bodies.
While Thompson urges caregivers to get their children out into the fresh air, no matter how cold, she knows that’s not a 24-hour option in the winter.
“During the colder months, you can’t always be outside for long periods of time,” Thompson said.
His first piece of advice?
Turn on your phone, iPod, radio, cassette player, or whatever else is within easy reach to listen to music.
“Put on some music,” Thompson pointed out. “Dance, be silly, have fun.
“Consider adding a scarf or ribbon and encourage your child to move with the moods created by the music, and express that through different movements with the props.”
Don’t have ice skates? Take out the paper plates.
“Put your feet on paper plates and pretend to ‘skate’ in an indoor area – it’s a lot of fun,” Thompson promised.
“Or pretend the floor is made of lava and you have to move from side to side of the room — and you can’t touch the floor because it’s hot lava,” Thompson said. .
Throw pillows, cushions or blankets to create a walking path through the “lava,” she suggested.
Likewise, Thompson said making a construction paper path can engage the whole family.
“Jump or jump from one piece of paper to another,” Thompson said. “As you do this, ask them to name the color of the paper they are on, and if they have their colors down, place dots on the paper and ask them to count.
“You can adapt a progression of learning skills this way, with written numbers or animals [think: animal sounds].”
Indoor snowball fights with crumpled paper are favorites.
“Maybe create ‘forts’ to go with — you’re in this one, I’m in that one — and have a ‘fight,’ pick up your balls, go back to your fort and start again,” Thompson said. .
She also mentioned getting a “really inexpensive Nerf ball hoop” to encourage large motor movements.
And… get off the beaten track – maybe to the sandbox.
“What type of small or large motor equipment do you have outdoors that could work indoors?” asked Thompson.
“A little slip? A mini-trampoline? This year I know of families who have brought kids bikes inside and chocked the rear wheels so the kids can pedal them without going anywhere.
Or try jumping jacks, an indoor obstacle course, pencil rolls on the mat, or a “balance beam” made out of string or tape so kids can practice balancing and walking heel to toe (or toe to heel).
winter wonderland works
It’s a mistake, says Thompson, that winter weather is bad for kids.
“Fresh air is vital for our bodies,” she said, “and cold air alone not make your child sick.
Her ideas for outdoor activities this season are falling fast and thick like snowflakes.
“The first ones that come to mind are sledding, skating, snowball fights, building a fort, making snow angels, or just going for a walk,” Thompson said.
Rather than viewing summer activities as off-limits because the thermometer reads 20 degrees and not 70, Thompson suggests a different mindset.
“If you typically go to a playground in the summer, bundle up and go to the same playground in the winter,” Thompson urged.
“Children may experience the same place but use it differently depending on the weather conditions.
“It’s a familiar place but with snow on the ground, and it allows for exploration and observations – maybe it’s icicles, or you can say, ‘In the summer we do this, in the winter, we do this”, so great conversations and comparisons can result.”
Fill a bottle with colored water, suggests Thompson, and shoot in the snow.
“Or give your child various objects to use for scooping and throwing — like a plastic laundry scoop that they can pack with snow and create a wall of cubes,” she said.
“Unplug from screens and enjoy the cool outdoors,” Thompson said.
“It’s important for kids to see the adults in their lives doing these things too. You can join them sometimes and not other times, but it’s great for young and old alike.
Surprises at snack time
And, as Thompson says, “What’s more fun than coming outside from the cold to enjoy a cup of cocoa and a special snack?”
Involving children in kitchen creations is another way to encourage healthy eating.
“For 3-year-olds, hands in the kitchen doesn’t have to mean making a full meal, but let them take a scoop each of Goldfish Crackers, Raisins, Pretzels, and Chocolate Chips to make a little mix of snacks,” noted Thompson.
“It’s something they can eat after outdoor play time, it promotes claw grip and hand-eye coordination and they develop a sense of pride and joy knowing, ‘Hey, j ‘did that.'”
Lifelines for parents
Thompson knows that with young children at home, the days can be long – but the years go by quickly, so it’s vital for adults in children’s lives to try to model behavior that inspires toddlers to adopt healthy habits.
“The five years from birth to kindergarten go by pretty quickly,” Thompson acknowledged.
“Think back to the things you did when you were young and consider the memories you’d like to replicate for your own children,” Thompson said.
She also warned of the potentially negative effects.
“Parents should always be mindful of the screen time their kids — and them as adults — are getting,” Thompson said.
“Willingness to step away from it and provide other opportunities to explore, learn and grow in different ways is important because hands-on learning is a concrete way for young children to learn, to explore and make observations.”
When they’re at a loss for what to do, parents can try “timing” children to make tedious tasks – like picking up toys or books – more exciting.
“A lot of kids like it when you say, ‘I’ll time you; see how fast [or slow] you can do it,” Thompson said. “It adds a slight competitive edge to the business.”
Above all, getting through the pandemic while keeping kids active and healthy is the main goal.
“Stay alert, keep being patient – and there is hope,” Thompson said.
“I know this may be difficult for some families to deal with at the moment, but hope will carry us through.
“Focus on the positives; focus on what you can to do and on what is available to you rather than what you can not To do.”
For more information about District 518’s early childhood programming, call 727-1207.