Originally published in Good Living Magazine
Take a moment right now and check in with your body. Are you hungry? Are you tired? Are you thirsty? Do you need to move your body? Do you need to go to the bathroom?
Seriously. As parents, we often disconnect from our own bodily needs because we have so many other things that need our attention. Can you take care of any of those needs right now? Do it before you continue reading this article.
This is a great first step to becoming aware of our own bodies and our own needs. And this is one of the essential skills our children need to learn to become healthy, mindful individuals. And it isn’t taught in schools.
In fact, schools have a full agenda, much like you probably do, and children learn to disconnect from their bodies and their own needs.
As the requirements for our children in traditional schools become longer, including mandates for the number of minutes each subject must be taught, schools are eliminating recess, physical education, and play-based learning. There simply isn’t time for movement because it is considered unimportant in our head-centric education. But this disconnect is hurting our children.
Children who are connected to their bodies learn better.
They’re more capable, more able to calm themselves when they’re having a difficult time, and more likely to be able to engage their thinking brain to learn. The connectedness of our bodies and brains is well documented. Kids who move regularly score better on standardized tests, have better reading and problem solving skills, and have better classroom behavior.
So what’s a parent to do? While we can certainly take research to our teachers and Principals, such as the article in the resources section below, to help bring awareness of simple things teachers can do to support all children in the classroom, it really falls on us as parents to educate our children about their needs and to get them moving more at home.
As parents, we can cultivate our child’s awareness of his or her own body. We can promote physical movement and time for play when they are with us after school, on the weekends, and on school vacations. It matters and it is what we can do.
Below you’ll find suggestions for incorporating movement into your time with your kids to help cultivate awareness of their bodies (and yours, too!) at different ages. You may find some added benefits, including better behavior at home as well. Give it a try and let us know what you find.
Preschool and Kindergarten-aged children
The wonder and awe of the world in young children can be exhausting and exhilarating all at the same time. They naturally gravitate towards moving their bodies. Create spaces in and outside of your home where they can climb, imagine, and dig in the earth. Set aside time every day where they are free to explore without structured outside activities (where someone tells them what to do with their time).
Shovels to dig in the dirt or sand, some old pots and pans, and a trip to the playground where they can hang on the monkey bars go a long way toward getting energy out and connecting pathways in their brains for learning. As they move, so they learn.
Children between 3 and 5 need you to see what they need and provide it for them. You can begin to talk to them about how they feel when they run around and play for a while to help them identify how it feels in their bodies after they play and move to create awareness. Invite them to ask for a trip to the park or a quick game of Simon Says when they think of it.
- Building blocks
- Hide and go seek
- Make believe play
- Clapping games like Patty-Cake where they cross their bodies to the opposite side
- Helping with household tasks like cooking and laundry
As our kids get older, they’re more likely to have more scheduled activities in addition to more homework in the evenings. Just because they have bigger bodies doesn’t mean that they don’t need to be moving or playing. In fact, it becomes even more important to create the time.
Encourage your kids to get up and stretch and check in with their bodies while they’re home in the evening with you. When they get home from school, encourage them to move their bodies before they sit down yet again to do their homework if they’re at a school that still assigns homework.
Consider limiting structured activities to the one they really love. Your little dancer or soccer player will do much better having some unstructured playtime and will benefit from both the outside activities that get them moving AND the time where no one is telling them what to do. They really need both!
Talk to your kids about how they feel when they’re sitting too long at school. What does it feel like in their bodies? And what does it feel like when they get to move and play? Create the space for open dialogue about what they need and how they can meet those needs both in and out of school.
- Keep homework to 30 minutes at a time, moving around for at least 30 minutes if it
- takes longer than that
- Create child-friendly play spaces (Legos, clay or play-dough, paints)
- Scavenger hunts
- Get them into the kitchen to cook with you
Middle and High School-Aged Kids
By the time our kids are tweens and teens, many of these habits are already formed, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t teach some mindfulness and help them to change some patterns at this stage. In fact, you may benefit from the suggestions here, as well. We ALL need to move more and this can be a great way to open dialogue with your older kids. Start with yourself.
It might sound something like this: “I’m noticing that I sit a lot at work. I haven’t really been moving my body very much and I was just reading an article about how we learn better and work better when we move. I’m wondering if you’d like to try some of the ideas with me and see how it feels for you?”
They might say no. Let them. And start doing it yourself. When you sit down together at dinner, talk about what you’re noticing about yourself. (I did my work in less time today. I feel better. I’m less fidgety when I get out for a bike ride in the morning… Whatever you notice about yourself.) Leave an open invitation for your child to join in. But know that your child is watching and learning from your example.
If they’re willing to join you in an experiment, give some ideas and let them run with it. One mother does low-intensity weight training every day and invited her teen daughter to join her. Her daughter thought it was a great idea and now they have something they can do together.
- Bike riding
Add your own ideas here!
The most important thing in all of this is to begin thinking about what your child really needs and start talking about it. Use yourself and your own experiences as a guide to engage in conversation with your child and create some awareness of their bodies and what they need. Having someone else consider what they need helps them to consider what they need. Being mindful of oneself and one’s experiences is really what it is all about.
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