Stuck Indoors: Let the Games Begin

by Bonita Porte's Energetic Juniors

"It's too cold. It's too hot. There's not enough snow. There's too much snow. It's raining too hard."

How many times have you and your children made these statements to each other as reasons not to go outside and play? Sometimes, children may even view bad weather as a treat: more time to relax, to watch television, play computer games or simply spend hours on the internet with their friends.

Why not turn indoor hibernation into a family-fun activity, a time to enjoy healthy, energetic playtime that elicits lots of laughing, smiles and giggles from both you and your children? (Sure, all your paperwork and household chores will be waiting for you. But you know that the time you spend moving and laughing together is a gift.)

Here are some ideas to get you started. Your children don't even have to know that the adventure you are about to go on with them is not only lots of fun, but it is also healthy, active play. First, put the computer to sleep, clear humans off the couch (leave the dog) and turn off the TV and here we go.

You'll need such equipment as a deck of playing cards (and/or a deck of UNO cards), a pair of dice, a beach ball or other large, soft ball and music. Or you may prefer other items that you already have in your child's room. The point is to have fun and be active, not to worry about using the perfect prop. To get warmed up, turn on your child's favorite bouncy music and just start moving around in time to the music. Your child can either follow your movements or be the leader. If you are not the dancing type, you can march or run in place or do jumping jacks - the sillier, the better. This is the opportunity for all of you to be childish and start moving.

  • Freeze Dance. Children move to the music. When you suddenly stop the music, they must "freeze' in whatever position they are in. The duration of the freeze depends on the positions in which the children are caught. Occasionally, make believe you are stopping the music without actually doing so in order to make it harder for them to anticipate the silence and freeze in an "easy" position. When you actually do stop the music, you can more easily catch them in fun or silly positions.

  • Magic Ball. Play classical, hip-hop, Broadway, or your current favorite music. A person holds the ball, which is "magic," and that person will be the only one allowed to move or dance to the music. When it is time to hand the ball to another player, they must do so in a creative way, so that the child starts to think about how many different ways you can get the ball to another person. For example, pass the ball with your feet or while performing a dance move or jumping. After a few exchanges, adjust the music, varying it as much as possible. Ask what music was more enjoyable to move to, what was unique about each piece of music and why it prompted them to move in a different way.

  • Clap ball. Toss a beach ball up in the air and clap once before it is caught. See if the children can do this as many as twenty times; advance to two or three claps before catching the ball in order to improve eye-hand coordination.

  • Don't Drop the Cabbage. This eye-hand coordination game also helps improve catching and throwing skills and takes playing catch to a new fun level. Two partners start very close, facing each other. Toss the ball back and forth while separately saying "don't," "drop," "the" and finally "cabbage." After completing the sentence, both players move one giant step back. Whoever drops the "cabbage" must then do some fun exercise or movement. For example, hop, gallop in a circle, jump and lift the ball overhead or simply do a push-up or sit-up. Use your imagination based on the children's ages and physical condition.

  • Time Out. At the appropriate time, based on your own observations, try this time-out variation. Say, "on your mark, get set, sit down." Relax together for a few moments, take some deep breaths, discuss the games you have been enjoying and drink some water.

  • Fitness UNO. Before beginning this game, choose an exercise for each color. For example, blue equals running around in a circle, green means jumping jacks, red is scissor steps with swinging arms and yellow, push-ups. The number on the card indicates the number of repetitions for each movement. As you flip each card over, the fun begins. (When there is a wild card, go for a "wild" creative exercise.) You also can use a regular deck of playing cards, keeping it very basic and assigning activities to specific cards depending on players' ages.

  • The Dice Game. Use the numbers on each die as the method for determining the particular exercise and the number of repetitions. For example, if a six is rolled on the "repetitions die" and a four on the "exercise die," then the players must do six repetitions of the pre-determined exercise for four. For example, a roll of one might mean hop on one foot, two could require a crab walk and three, jumping jacks. Improvise variations, such as the rolling of doubles means doing twice the number of repetitions indicated.

  • A Trip to the Zoo. Designate different pieces of furniture as cages in a zoo, each with a specific animal. A player selects a cage and runs around the room acting like the animal it contains. A variation is guessing which animal the participant is imitating.

  • Dust Off. This is a variation of the timeless "Red Light, Green Light." One person is the storeowner, whose job is to dust off the mannequins. The other players are the mannequins, and they attempt to change poses, move or dance around without being spotted by the storeowner. If a mannequin is caught moving, he or she becomes the storeowner and the game continues.

Don't forget to play such standards as relay races, hopscotch, indoor volleyball, jump rope, obstacle courses or whatever else your creativity and memory prompt. The motivation to be physically active begins at home. Fortunately, one doesn't have to be a great athlete to do any of these activities. Movement, enthusiasm and energy can go a long way.

Adults are the role models who can encourage and inspire children to be active and interested in healthful nutrition and proper fitness habits. The important thing is to make activities that challenge cardiovascular and muscular endurance, coordination and strength a fun family experience, especially when stuck indoors. Remember, you don't have to wait for a bad day to share all these fun activities. Anything that gets you moving together - indoors or out - will be beneficial.

Kids today are simply less fit than in previous generations. A report from the Surgeon General states that nearly half of young people are not vigorously active on a regular basis. Health risks for adults start in childhood, and lack of physical activity is one of the major factors. The American Council on Exercise stated in a 2001 report, "Between the mid-1960's and the late 1970's, obesity increased 54 percent among children aged six to eleven and 39 percent among adolescents aged twelve to seventeen. Food is consumed because it's cool, fun or comes with a free toy rather than for its impact on health."

The Institute of Medicine, in a report commissioned by Congress, states, "Parents should serve healthy foods, encourage children to exercise, set a good example and limit the time children spend in front of a television or computer screen to under two hours a day."

So make physical activity a family affair no matter what the weather. Rain or shine, cold wave or hot spell. Take walks together. Go fly a kite. Whatever you do, you will be shaping a healthier future for your children.

Bonita Porte's Energetic Juniors is an in-home personal fitness training program for children and teens located in Manhattan,