A little time outdoors can work wonders

Dec 11 2020

A little time outdoors can work wonders

“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.”
–Scandinavian saying

7th/8th Grade Hiking Club at Pedernales Falls State Park in October

In a week, students, faculty, and staff will leave for a well-deserved vacation. Everyone has worked hard, and the time away will allow children and adults to rest and rejuvenate for the new year and second semester.

Although it’s tempting to let our children spend their time off texting and FaceTimeing with their friends or playing the latest games, how do we encourage them to get some exercise and fresh air, which is even more important during the pandemic?

A recent article in the New York Times called “Shut Down Your Computers, Kids, and Lace Up” by Rachel Levin offers helpful tips for how to get children moving in the open air “when the weather outside is frightful.” (Granted, cold in San Antonio is a relative concept.)

Exercise provides important benefits for children and adolescents; it’s all the more fundamental when students spend an inordinate amount of time inside in front of a computer screen because they’re in distance learning. “Many students, particularly tweens and teens, are not moving their bodies as much as they are supposed to be — during a pandemic or otherwise. (60 minutes per day for ages 6 to 17, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.) A March 2020 report in The Lancet offers scientific evidence as to why your kids won’t get off the couch: As children move through adolescence, they indeed become more sedentary, which is associated with greater risk of depression by the age of 18. Being physically active is important for their physical health as well as mental health.”

However, as we know, prying a child off the couch can be challenging, particularly when so many activities may be on hold and venues might be closed. So, what’s one to do? Levin’s article includes suggestions from parents across the country.

For example, in San Francisco, a group of parents and sixth graders created a running club that jogs two miles twice a week. Yes, there’s a treat at the end, but that’s not the point. “As 11-year-old Henry Gersick says, “I like the experience of being with my peers and actually doing something, all at the same time, Instead of just sitting there.”

Another activity that has taken off thanks to social media is jumping rope. Unlike some other sports, jumping rope can be done solo or in groups, and the starter costs remain minimal. There are online workshops available, or children can do it on their own or with friends in a physically distanced environment.

Perhaps your family prefers hiking. Here again, this can be done as a singular unit or with other families. I know that many Keystone families visit state and national parks during vacations. Is this something that can be done over the winter holidays? Our family plans to take advantage of the period between Christmas and the new year and visit several Texas state parks. Like other winter activities, dressing warmly can make the difference between everyone having a good time and children complaining the entire trip.

To get more information, I asked PE teacher/coach Kyle Unruh about hiking in general and the middle school Hiking Club he sponsors. “Hiking has many benefits, two important examples being physical and mental well-being. It provides a great opportunity to disconnect and slow down while enjoying beautiful sights. As much as hiking is a great way for all ages to be introduced to the world of the outdoors, it’s also an activity that you’ll be able to enjoy your whole life.”

Coach U recommends Lost Maples State Natural Area, Government Canyon State Natural Area, and Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, “which has much more to offer than just the rock,” he notes. Some less popular, but great parks are Hill Country State Natural Area, South Llano River State Park, and Guadalupe River State Park.” (https://www.nps.gov/subjects/trails/benefits-of-hiking.htm)

Thanks to Upper School head Mr. Spedding, a number of high school students have been meeting on Saturdays for bike rides this semester. It seems like San Antonio has a variety of greenway trails, so maybe this is a good activity for a family or a group of friends to do together.

Perhaps none of these forms of social interaction and exercise strike your child’s fancy. Then here’s the chance to create something new. Children can take elements of their favorite sports or games and devise a game of their own. Many years ago, somebody thought to combine roller-skating and hockey, and roller hockey was born. Polo on bikes? Keystone students show again and again they are incredibly ingenious when left to their own devices. Perhaps this is their chance to devise something original and radically different.

A few weeks ago, I had the good fortune to observe fourth grader Pia as she taught yoga to her classmates. Students could don warm clothes, take their mats to the park or the backyard, and work on their yoga poses in the great outdoors. They could stretch themselves metaphorically and literally.

Now, please know that separating a child from the couch or the bed may be a monumental task, especially when “it’s cold outside.” However, whether they admit it or not, they will probably feel refreshed, have more energy after moving around and increasing their heart rate, and maybe even sleep better. And that combination may be the catalyst for a happy and healthy vacation for everyone.

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