Get going in the great outdoors
Once your child starts all-day kindergarten, you're left with a narrow window of time during the day — between 3 and 6 p.m. — when you or his after-care provider can encourage your kindergartner to exercise. And at this age TV, videos, and computer games can compete for his attention. One of the best ways to make sure that your 5-year-old gets all the exercise he needs is to head outside, says David Bernhardt, a sports medicine pediatrician at the
Set a good example
You probably already know that what you say has an impact on how your 5-year-old talks, and that what you eat affects his diet. Same goes for exercise: Your child's future fitness and activity level are influenced by how you spend your spare time, says Bernhardt. So when you can, walk to school, the shops, the library, or a friend's house rather than piling into the car. At home, take the time to do yoga stretches or follow along to a workout video — and encourage him to join in. If he sees you keeping fit, he'll be more likely to develop this healthy habit too.
Build in some time each day to exercise together — just as you try to have a family meal and keep a bedtime ritual. Even venturing out after dinner for a walk to search for stars or chase fireflies counts. What's most important is that you come up with a flexible routine that works for your family. On the weekends, make sure some family outings are active ones (for instance, swimming at the local pool, sledding in the park, or riding on a bike trail) instead of sedentary ones, such as taking a drive. Head to the beach to comb for hidden treasures, or hike a nearby nature trail and keep an eye out for curious creatures. Any activities that also promote free play — such as tag, kick ball, or Marco Polo at the pool — are excellent ways to weave in exercise.
Support your child's favorite sport
Researchers have found that young children whose parents actively encourage their physical pursuits — by driving them to soccer practice, say, and cheering them on — are much more likely to stick with these activities than are kids whose parents show little enthusiasm. It doesn't matter what the activity is — swimming, ice-skating, or shooting hoops — the important part is that you encourage the exercise. The main focus at this age, though, should be making fitness fun and developing skills — not producing future Olympians or beating the other team. You don't want to pressure your child to perform or force him to do an activity he doesn't like. Both strategies almost always backfire, and you risk turning him away from physical activity altogether. Whether a child chooses an organized sport, which can teach leadership and teamwork skills along with improving overall fitness and motor skills, or a solo pursuit, which can foster self-sufficiency, the goal should be an exercise routine he'll enjoy. "Competition should be discouraged at this age," says Bernhardt. "If your youngster enjoys the peer relationships and social aspects of team sports, though, take advantage of this as a way to promote fitness and exercise."
Family fitness vacations
Make your travel plans with physical activity in mind. Look for family-friendly vacation spots that make exercise easy. Find a cabin by a lake, for instance, that includes a canoe to paddle in, a rope to swing from, and some biking trails to explore. Plan a summer getaway to the shore so you can swim, sail, or boogie board together. Or take a winter break in the snow and go sledding, snow boarding, or cross-country skiing.