Share, shape and sustain play through family games

Family fitness revisedIn a special series of articles for Family Times, Jackie Cowan and Nick Draper – primary school and physical activity specialists from the University of Canterbury –highlight some activities, family games and resources that can help families add more fun physical activity into their lives.

Over the summer holidays, we as parents often think about how our children can be occupied and engaged in physical activity over the long break.

When friends are away and children struggle to settle on something to do, it can be difficult to get through a day without being hounded about time on technology or costly trips out and about.

This is our second article in a series of six that explores strategies and ideas for sustainable family physical activity time. Our ideas in this article are based on the concept of “play” through family games.

Play is described in recent research as fundamental to the child’s quality of life and a major contributing factor to overall wellbeing (social, emotional, physical, cognitive and spiritual).

The following ideas support SPARC 2007 and (now)Sport NZ guidelines that suggest children (5 to 18-years) need to engage in 60 minutes of accumulated moderate to vigorous physical activity per day, and adults should be engaging in 30 mins per day, five days a week. We are talking about sustainable change but this time we focus on attitudes and how the outcomes of playing family games can be so much more positive when both parents and children create time to be actively and positively engaged in play together.

As parents, it can be easier showing and teaching children something based on our own personal experiences.  Family games and activities played in the past were certainly valued and are something that our new generation can gain from.

There are a number of advantages in using our own experiences, two of which are as follows: Firstly, we are more likely to be confident in teaching our children how to play these games having experienced them ourselves. Secondly, it can be easier to be genuinely motivated to join in and in doing so model an interest and positive attitude towards being physically active when we as parents enjoyed these experiences in the past.

We can be guided by the following points gained from some recent research related to why children engage in physical play.

1)    Children are more likely to show an interest when others (both children and adults) are involved. Children are motivated by the social aspects of play such as the time to connect with others and share time together. This is particularly so if the others participating are parents and/or a significant adult in the child’s life.

2)    Children enjoy the “fun” element that can be gained through playing games. More often than not, “fun” as described by children relates to participation, the positive feelings they get by being involved and completing an activity or what they may see as a personal challenge. Children also value the idea of competition, but for younger children, this is usually related to the challenges throughout the activity as opposed to winning. This means that the personal challenges emphasised throughout an activity become important in maintaining children’s interest and more sustainable involvement.

3)    Children enjoy experiencing some ownership in the games and activities played. This is evident in school playgrounds where numerous games and activities are designed by children with their own unique modifications and played with very few issues.

Sharing old games and activities with children

Can you remember the following games and activities: hopscotch, jump rope, elastics, four square/handball, patter tennis, chasing games like Go home, Stay Home and Spot Light?

Modifying games – a twist from the new generation

After sharing and playing your game and/or activity encourage children to make modifications for the game. Playing the game with their modifications can indicate to them that their ideas are valued and an increased sense of ownership or contribution can increase motivation to play. You can encourage children to make modifications by asking open-ended questions such as;

How could we make the game faster?

What could we do to make it harder to ……?

What would happen if we changed a piece of equipment?

So much of what children learn is modelled from what they see and how they feel during experiences in and through play. In sharing and shaping games together you will experience enjoyment, improved motivation and more time together.

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