Bring back play (and maybe some more sun…)

Statistics from Safe Food show that Irish children are not getting enough physical activity: four out of five kids get less than the recommended sixty minutes per day.  

office mum post: safe food iinfographicIt’s hard to pay attention to all the statistics that are sent out over the airwaves. We often switch off – we can’t fix everything, we can’t possibly get it all right all the time, so we stop listening. Well I do anyway. I think to myself “they’re fine, they look fine, and sure didn’t we survive for millennia without being told to get our kids to play more”

Except things have changed. It’s not the same now as it was when we were kids, or when our parents were kids. We hear it all the time, the “when we were young, we were sent out to play and told not to come home till tea-time” remark. Roads were quieter, we all knew our neighbours and newspapers weren’t filled with the kinds of storiesthat make today’s parents want to keep kids in and lock the doors.

And while the outdoor world was more accessible, the  indoor world also didn’t hold the same attraction as it does for kids today.

When I was growing up in Cork, we had two TV channels, and I don’t remember watching much apart from Anything Goes on a Saturday morning (and never missing an episode of The Fall Guy on Saturday evenings). Of course there were no iPads or smart-phones or X-Boxes – the most addictive thing in my house in 1982 was the tin of drinking chocolate powder up in the high press that I regularly dipped into when no-one was looking (dry, straight off the spoon. I know. What can I say, it was the 80’s)

Kids have to do a lot more resisting today than we ever did, and if mine were left to their own devices (no pun intended), they would evenly split their hours between television and iPad, with some chocolate raiding on the side.

So it’s up to me to make sure that doesn’t happen; to try to get them outdoors, to get them moving. And much as I might feel like switching off when I hear that four out of five kids are not getting the recommended amount of physical activity. I have to face the fact that mine are sometimes in that category. And that’s in spite of the fact that their TV time is controlled and they’re not allowed on the iPad during the week (when we need some extra sleep at the weekend, all of these rules go out the window – we’re not complete masochists)

But on any given day, between school, homework and inclement weather, it’s not always easy to fit in sixty minutes of physical activity. And mostly, for me, it’s the weather. I have to admit that I’m not a huge fan of running around outside in the freezing cold – especially the wind. I do it because the kids like it, because it’s good for them, and because I can tick the box and feel like a better parent. Like yesterday for example. I took the kids out on their bikes for an hour – because they wanted to, because we all needed to get out of the house, and because I was conscious of the statistic about physical activity and am making a renewed effort.

It was cold and windy. The two girls immediately started to complain that their bikes felt weird, Emmie couldn’t cycle up the hill and started to cry with frustration. Clara raced ahead, adding to her smaller sister’s annoyance. Sam sat in his tricycle while I pushed it – fairly sedentary as physical activity goes, now that I think about it. A car was heard, a good half a kilometre away, and the two girls screamed, immediately trying to get their bikes off the road. Eventually, when we ascertained that the car wasn’t coming our way, they got back on the saddles. Then Sam fell off his trike, and at the same time, Emmie’s bike started to roll backwards down the hill. Both cried at the same time, while I stood in the middle, one arm stretched in each direction, trying to save both of them.

Then just as I was thinking “Forget it”, the sun came out, the wind died down, and they decided to abandon the bikes and do tumbles and handstands on the green instead. Thus followed fifteen minutes of (almost) no crying and lots of laughs – even from the grumpy grown-up.

office mum photo of Sam playing in the sun
Sun and smiles – finally

I know for sure that there are lots of parents who happily take their kids out in the cold and the wind and genuinely enjoy it, and I feel bad that I’m not one of them. But, taking a six-year-old, a four-year-old and a two-year-old out on their bikes in a hilly cul-de-sac is probably front-loaded for trouble. All of this might be easier when they’re a little older – when the two-year-old can actually cycle a bike and when the three of them are less prone to regular bouts of tears (that time does come right?). So I’ll keep trying, I’ll keep targeting that 60 minutes per day, and I won’t beat myself up too much for not enjoying every single chilly minute. There are medals for effort right? Right?

office mum kids playing in the sun


This fact sheet from Safe Food captures the problem and the solutions very well, with common sense tips, and their information hub has a list of childhood games, including rules – for all of us who have forgotten exactly how “What time is it Mr. Wolf” works 🙂


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13 thoughts on “Bring back play (and maybe some more sun…)”

  1. Great post! I remind myself of this often and as mine are a bit older I often just kick them outside into the garden… But they often just keep coming back in 🙁 After a weekend spent visiting family with a lovely big garden and lots of cousins I delighted to see my children spending hours outside doing what kids do best… Playing! and as I didn’t have dinners to make and chores to do I even joined in. Turns out I make a really good swimming mermaid and I now know how to play 40/40. I am returning to the project of keeping my kids active with a renewed enthusiasm!
    Naomi Lavelle recently posted…It is International Earth Day – and this is what is on my mind!My Profile

    1. That sounds brilliant Naomi! I’m being very mindful of it too since I read the stats – and the long evenings are helping. My three have started playing football in the garden each evening now but oh my god, they burst into tears in turn every two minutes. We’ll struggle on 🙂

  2. Oh you’ve brought back a drinking chocolate memory!!!!! ‘Cept we used to blow it out of our mouths like a chocolate cloud. One of my sisters used to inhale the stuff to make herself cough. She was mad like that! We used to wet ourselves laughing at her purple face. And the bicycles. I feel your pain!!!!!
    Wonderful Wagon recently posted…The Two Day HangoverMy Profile

    1. Now I’m going to have to try the chocolate cloud thing – I feel I’ve missed out all these years!
      And yes, the bikes wreck my head. My children will be the last ones to lose their stabilisers at the rate we’re going…

  3. You’re not alone. I HATE going out in the cold and especially the cold and rain. The southern hemisphere will always remain my fvourite weather section on earth 🙂 I am very grateful at teh moment that my other half is very outdoorsy and is a SAHD. they both come home tired and fully exercised every day. And oh, memories of growing up in the eighties! I used to sneak powdered milk. yum.

    1. Oh that’s brilliant – she gets all her playtime and you don’t have to suffer the cold – I’d love that! Except during the upcoming heatwave of course – then I’m delighted to go out to playgrounds (there is a heatwave coming right?)

  4. My gang were swimmers so all activity finished before starting school at nine am. On a real note though I think it is not necessarily how much exercise they do it is the family attitude to it that lasts, just like healthy eating. My eldest got up at five for years. Now as an early twenties girl she says she “cannot” lie in and has got involved in GAA and likes to run, but mostly her motivation comes from her hating feeling unfit.
    Personally I think we exhaust our kids when they are young and naturally active, and yet three out of every four girls over the age of 14 are not involved in sport or exercise of any sort. We are doing something wrong somewhere.
    Very interesting, thought provoking sport.
    tric recently posted…A conversation in silence.My Profile

    1. It’s a very good point Tric – I worry that if I get my kids doing too many activities they will be put off all of them. At the moment they only do swimming and gymnastics and they love both. But then I worry that they’ll be the only kids who don’t know how to kick a ball or Irish dance 🙂

  5. That was a long winter alright; I hate the cold, and with all the effort it takes to leave the house it starts pouring two minutes into the “fun” outdoor time. It’s been nicer this week, and a trip to the playground takes up a whole afternoon. Great way to get through a long afternoon. Here’s hoping it stays nice and our children stay free range 🙂

    1. Or we will have to move en masse to Spain April – I would be a great mother in Spain, I know it 😉

  6. I had this stored in pocket to read all week. Playing catch up now. Wonderful post. The weather is a huge thing isn’t it. Today we walked up a local hill because we were meeting two other families to do it. I probably wouldn’t have brought the kids out in the slightly misty day otherwise and you know everyone was delighted for the fresh air and exercise. Now that I know of the 60 minute a day target, I am more conscious of trying to achieve that for the boys. The added benefit of the adults getting in the exercise too is great. We need to use the old saying more ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing’. If we wait until the nice weather we’ll rarely get the exercise we need. Great message, thanks for highlighting it!
    laura @ dairyfreekids recently posted…Our Week in Dairy Free DinnersMy Profile

    1. Oh thanks Laura for the lovely comment! I am really hoping we can do a daytrip tomorrow to Glendalough but looking at the forecast, I’m not sure… it’s so hard!
      But I agree, having a target of 60 minutes is good, and if there are days when it just isn’t going to work out, so be it – we’ll try again tomorrow.

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