Living in New York City means there’s no shortage of fun, from kid-friendly museum exhibits to inventive playgrounds and off-beat classes. But what New York doesn’t give kids much of is unstructured free time in nature. Many books and articles have been written on the psychological benefits of more free time. But Weena Pauly, the curriculum director at Everyday Athlete, and the creator of Ninja Class, also points out that having less time outdoors and less recreational time at school leads to kids having weak cores. This is something that hit home with me, as my 5-year-old son has low core muscle tone, which we are always looking for ways to work on this.
Back in the day, kids would play outside in the woods, and I can even remember playing with my friends in a field (unsupervised!) after school until dinner time every day. Granted, this was in New Hampshire where there weren’t taxi cabs whizzing by on sidewalks, and a person peeing in a garbage can on the corner.
“Ideally, kids play outside for several hours a day–climbing trees, running up hills, and rolling back down, swinging from playground bars,” Weena says. Playgrounds today have become even more safe and don’t allow enough body movement to build up these inner muscles.
A “weak core” doesn’t just mean being unable to flex a gnarly six-pack. According to Weena, it’s an issue that can lead to a host of other problems like bad handwriting, the inability to sit still in school, even poor eyesight. My son’s body gets tired by the end of the school day, and he will end up leaning or lying on his desk for support. This obviously affects his ability to concentrate at his tasks at hand. Like most Brooklyn parents, we’ve signed him up for soccer, kindersports and swimming at different times to fit into his increasingly busy schedule. “Having ballet or soccer once or twice a week is great, but it doesn’t equal a strong, integrated body,” says Weena. She suggests instead to incorporate core strength exercises into the child’s day, by making it fun and not just another homework assignment to check off a list. Here’s a couple of her suggestions; all of which we plan to implement!
“Having ballet or soccer once or twice a week is great, but it doesn’t equal a strong, integrated body,” says Weena. She suggests instead incorporating core strength exercises into the child’s day, by making it fun and not just another homework assignment to check off a list. Here are a couple of her suggestions, all of which we plan to implement.
Let your kid climb the snowbanks, balance the curb, roll down hills, or scale small walls. Many parents (myself included) keep their kids on a short leash when walking the streets. Allowing them the chance to explore and even fall, helps build strength. If your kid is like mine, and doesn’t automatically gravitate towards exploration, see #2.
Sign up for the Ninja Class at Everyday Athlete. This has to be the coolest class ever. An obstacle-based class that incorporates parkour, rock climbing and even eventually skateboarding, kids learn to move their bodies in many different ways. My son took his first session yesterday. The class culminates into a party with a light show and blasting music like “Everything Is Awesome” and “What Does The Fox Say,” while kids jump from five-foot-high mat stacks, shimmy across high beams, and swing into a ball pits. According to Weena, “They learn to transform any landscape into a place to explore their physical potential.” My son’s review? “This was my favorite class ever!” The three different class options are for kids ages 4-6, ages 7-9, or ages 10+.
Work on explosive movements. Says Weena, “the ability to fire up muscles quickly” can be developed when you are walking around the neighborhood. Racing your child to the nearest mailbox, jumping ten times across a driveway, or unexpected sprinting will delight your children and tone muscles.
Encourage graceful movements. Weena points out that “anything can be a playground.” Roll up a yoga mat at home and have your child balance walk across it. While you’re waiting in line at Duane Reade, balance on one foot with your child and see who can do it the longest.
Losing and Catching Balance. The snow is melting, but some icy spots may still remain. Walking over ice is a great way to work on core control. Wobbling on another slippery surface could have the same effect.
Buy inexpensive props to encourage core strength. Sitting on a small exercise ball at the Lego table can be an easy way to get the core working. (Weena suggests storing the clunky item in a net in your shower if space is an issue!) Getting an air stability balance pad for use at the dinner table or while watching TV will also encourage sitting properly.