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Fun in Your Own Backyard

Using Your Backyard For Family Fun And Fitness

Don't let the hazy days of summer turn into the lazy days of summer. Get up and get moving without ever setting foot to the gas pedal. For family fun and fitness, look no further than your own backyard.

Use The Right Toys

Every backyard should have a swing set or play set of some sort and at least a small wading pool, but it's always fun to expand upon the more permanent toys. What's important for fun, fitness and safety is purchasing the right toy. Here are some ideas that will optimize both fitness and safety:

  • A 2-year-old may not be able to throw a football around but everyone in the family can safely have fun with Patch Product's line of soft balls, discs and backyard game sets. Spokesperson Lisa Wuennemann says foam is great for families to use together. Not only are they good for young children learning to catch and throw, but even Grandma or Grandpa can join in a game.
  • It's never too early for kids to learn how to skateboard, roller blade and balance on riding toys. Insist from the very beginning on helmets, knee pads and elbow pads. Don't buy riding toys that are too big, thinking they'll "grow into it." They may just become too intimidated to ever try! Buy products that suit their height and age and replace them as they're outgrown.
  • Paul Neville, creator of the Kid Fitness television show and videos and a father of two preschoolers, says that kids may yearn for a miniature, motorized SUV, but it's best to buy those they have to push, pull or pedal when they want to move. They'll be driving soon enough, and then getting them moving will be an even bigger challenge.

Make a Backyard Challenge

In his backyard, Neville sets up fun obstacles for his kids. He suggests cones to run around or hoops on the ground so they can jump laterally from one to another. It doesn't take much to create a simple obstacle course. Also, try timing them with a stop watch. Kids love to feel that they're competing, even if it's only against themselves. Other suggestions:

  • Bouncing a ball, or dribbling a basketball. How many bounces?
  • Keeping a blown up balloon in the air. How long?
  • Jumping rope. How many turns?
  • If you have a pool, how many laps?
  • Shooting hoops. How many baskets?

Set a Good Example

Nutritionist Judith Levine, author of Helping Your Child Lose Weight the Healthy Way (Kensington Publishing Corporation, 2001), says the best backyard activities are those where a parent participates. "Children pick up on what their parents are doing," says Levine. "If you spend 30 minutes teaching your child to catch, and then go inside and sit down in front of the TV for two hours, that's what you're role-modeling."

Levine suggests having children help with outdoor chores, which are both good exercise and part of assisting in the upkeep of the family home. Even the very youngest children can walk around picking up toys or sticks and stones prior to someone older running the lawn mower. They can also water, weed and help plant. Older kids and teens can be responsible for mowing and heavier yard work. As they get older and take on more responsibility, reward them in some way that fits your family's value system and your child's interest. Also, don't forget about washing the car, cleaning decks and washing outsides of windows.

Just Have Fun

Really, you don't need a lot of advice or a lot of equipment to get moving and have fun in the backyard. Try these classic games and activities that will work for any group. Some of these suggestions come from the Shape Up America! site.

  • Run through the sprinkler.
  • Play in the sandbox.
  • Hide-and-go-seek.
  • Hop scotch.
  • Red rover.
  • Kite flying.
  • Tag.
  • Croquet.
  • Hula hoop.
  • Hot potato.
  • Stilts (easy to build, hard to walk on).
  • Frisbee (also Frisbee golf).
  • Play with the hose.
  • Red light, green light.
  • Mother, May I?
  • Volleyball.
  • Badminton.
  • Basketball.

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