At this time of year it’s relatively easy to keep our kids active, with the delightfully clement weather and an abundance of green parks and sandy beaches perfect for ball games, bike rides and running races. But, let’s be honest, as the temperatures start to rise, it becomes ever more tempting to spend more time indoors and stick on a DVD or a computer game instead of spending time in more physical pursuits.
This natural tendency towards laziness – and its implications for the future health of our children – is something close to Neelam Moorjani’s heart. As franchise developer for The Little Gym, which provides gymnastics-based classes for kids aged 10 months to 12 years, she firmly believes in the importance of keeping fit.
‘It’s so important for children to get exercise – not just for the physical benefits but also the social and psychological benefits,’ she says. ‘A fit child tends to have a fit mind. Physical benefits such as muscle growth, flexibility and all-round motor skill development are simple to see, while exercise also enhances a child’s listening, emotional, social and intellectual skills – and there are social benefits, as kids make friends and bond with children on another level when they participate in exercise.’
Neelam recommends that children get at least one hour of exercise a day ‘to get the heart rate going.’ But before you gasp in horror, she doesn’t necessarily mean an hour of playing a sport or taking part in a formal – and often expensive – exercise class. ‘The best way to get children into sport is to let them do something that they enjoy – this can be in the form of running around, swimming in the pool or even a simple trip to the park. As long as they are having fun and enjoying themselves their skills and fitness will increase.’
Regardless of whether or not your little ‘un is interested in keeping fit (and, let’s face it, if it’s a choice between bicep curls and Ben 10, we know which will come off worse) Neelam has these simple exercise tips to make sure your children build movement and activity into their daily routine.
Make mornings fun
Kids love a bit of competition, and any kind of racing game with a sibling will usually get them off their butts and into action. Try a ‘getting dressed and getting to the breakfast table’ race first thing in the morning. Winner gets to choose the day’s fun activities.
All too often parents sit back and wring their hands while the kids fight and bicker because they aren’t channeling their energy. Organise a game of chase, musical bumps or musical statues. If you join in with them, in just 30 minutes, you’ll have burned off 200 calories. Good for them and good for you.
Stretching and balancing
Kids usually have an energy rush after their evening bath, leading to lots of silly behaviour. Channel that by getting them to stretch, or practice their forward rolls on the bed or play mats. Standing on one leg while they brush their hair and their teeth is great for improving their balance.
In the swim
Most compounds and apartment buildings have swimming pools. Make use of this amazing fitness opportunity on your doorstep. An hour’s swim before lunch will boost their appetites for healthy food, while a swim in the late afternoon will make them wonderfully sleepy for bed time.
If you have a garden, kicking a football around, spending an hour on the bike or scooter, or simply practising the hula hoop – especially if you combine the session with a playdate – are three great ways to get their hearts pumping without spending the earth.
Gym’ll fix it!
The Little Gym in Ibn Battuta Mall offers great movement and gymnastic classes for babies all the way up to tweens, with sessions encompassing mat, bar and beam. Parents join in with kids aged up to 36 months but once the tots hit three years old, they’re on their own. Mum and dad can keep an eye on their progress through the glass walls as they tumble, bounce and run around, getting rid of some of that annoying excess energy. All classes are age-specific and taught by qualified, friendly instructors who seem to have an endless supply of patience and energy. Brilliant for some indoor exercise, and for promoting balance, co-ordination and confidence, The Little Gym’s non-competitive environment allows kids to take risks, according to Neelam Moorjani. ‘It rewards their individual effort, producing levels of confidence and self-esteem that allow a child to succeed throughout life,’ she says. ‘We feel it is important for children to participate in exercise in a fun and playful manner, and kids here are encouraged to express themselves freely without fear of failure. By teaching them in a safe and nurturing environment we expect nothing but full smiles as they acquire the skills they need to succeed not just in sport but in all areas of life.’
The Little Gym’s new winter/spring semester begins this month and lasts until June. The 20-week semester costs Dhs2,050. Want to try before you book? Time Out Kids has teamed up with The Little Gym to offer readers a free trial class worth Dhs95. Turn to page 75 for full details!