Why we need to play catch (and skip) with our kids

how much exercise do children need?

Now that the weather’s warmer, my kids are playing in the garden more frequently. The trampoline is seeing more action, and toys are strewn across the lawn. Meanwhile my eldest daughter, who loves gymnastics and goes to a class after school, spends every spare moment doing handstands, cartwheels, bridges and other ultra-bendy moves, most of which are beyond me.

I love seeing the kids being active. Regular readers will know that back in January, I posted a blog asking how much exercise kids need in winter as I was finding it so tricky to entice my children to the park when it was cold and grim outside.

But with the emergence of the daffodil buds, there are now three eager faces turning to me when they hear the word ‘park’. And I don’t have anyone’s freezing fingers to battle with.

New report

Yet those battles aren’t in vain. Parents do an extremely important job in keeping our kids moving, according to the latest Start Young Stay Active report released today.

But the report warns that mums and dads need to take a greater lead in making sure our kids get enough exercise – a generation of children is growing up less fit and healthy than their parents.

I found the report interesting – and scary – reading.

It reveals two main problems with kids and exercise nowadays:

  1. Poor fitness in children. This is far more common than obesity – of the 8550 children who participated in the East of England Healthy Hearts study, 11% were obese, but 20% had low fitness levels. Apparently the media’s ‘obesity obsession’ has overshadowed the problem with lack of fitness.
  2. Poor physical skills. Lots of kids now start school without having developed crucial physical skills, including throwing, catching, jumping, running, agility, balance and coordination.

Parents need to monitor their child’s physical development just as they do their kids’ homework, according to the report.

child playing football

Here’s some more interesting info that I pulled from the report, by UK Active, a not-for-profit health body:

  1. It now takes a child on average 90 seconds longer to run a mile than it did 30 years ago.
  2. Children aren’t born ‘naturally active’ or ‘naturally inactive’. Instead their parents are role models in terms of exercise habits, according to a study in the US journal Pediatrics. So children from families with less active parents are likely to follow a similar path.
  3. Exercising with family, as opposed to in school or a club, has advantages for some children. With no social pressure or fear of stigma, children can try any activity they want.
  4. Schools are important in helping children to exercise too. But parents’ role is crucial.Sports toys to invest in
    For work,  I recently interviewed child fitness expert Nicky Kay of FitKid, who told me how surprised she always was by the number of children unable to use a skipping rope, or catch a ball.To help kids develop physical skills, she recommends investing in four essential toys for kids to play with in your garden: a ball, a pair of cheap tennis racquets, a space hopper (in the US, a hoppity hop) and a skipping rope.

After reading the report, I asked myself when I last played catch with my five and seven-year-olds?

I honestly can’t remember.

Luckily, I score a point for having thrown and caught a ball with my two-year-old recently.

I know what I’ll be doing this Easter holidays.

Stuck for active ideas? These websites have great physical games for kids

- The Change4Life fun generator. It has lots of ideas for activities, both inside and out, and for up to six kids. Just spin the dial.

Set4Sport. This is an app and website launched by Judy Murray, mum of tennis champ Andy, based on games she played with her kids when they were young.


apple illustrationI’m Carole Beck, a health and parenting journalist and mum of three small children (aged eight, five and three), and I have long tried to live a healthy lifestyle, but I’m not always successful.This blog follows my trials and tribulations as I try to boost mine and my family’s fitness, sharing some of the bumps and cracks that I’ve walked into along the way. Do follow me on Twitter too, and you could also check out my blog for HealthistaThe 30-Minute Cook.
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A lot of new parents these days are lazy… sad but true… put your child in front of TV or a game console seems to be a perfect entertainment… it is NOT!

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This reminds me that I need to play catch more with my children….on the plus side, we do have a space hopper outside!

Louisa says:

I have to admit that I’m terribly unfit myself. Luckily my kids are all active. I love to see them all playing outside and running around with their friends. I should make the effort to join in!

healthiermummy says:

It can be very tempting to get another cup of tea when they’re running around, but yes, sometimes we should join in

Jenny says:

I read about this in the news. My children are quite active but there’s always room for improvement!

Lori says:

This is a great post! We tend to be outside a lot but I must admit I don’t really play ball games and such with F, more climbing really. I think I might need to mix it up a little bit. x

healthiermummy says:

Climbing sounds fab. We’ve started taking our older two to a climbing wall occasionally and when our little one is bigger, we can all climb together.

I really need to get out and do some hand eye coordination ball games with Wilf! x

Michelle says:

A great informative post. I’m overweight, but try to keep fit by doing zumba, walking and swimming. My son (and my own fault) is not as active as he should be once he’s home from school. He plays football etc at school, but not much more than that. That’s my fault for being quite inactive when he was younger. That said, there is always time to change

kara says:

It is scary how inactive some kids are these days. I am lucky with mine that they love to be outside although not as often as i’d like over the winter as it was so wet. Currently teaching Isaac to ride a bike which mostly involves me running behind him at the moment

Emmys Mummy says:

Great post.
We all concentrate so much on teaching reading, writing and other skills that it’s the simple ones which get forgotten

Kirsty says:

I read something the other day that suggested that the more active the Mum is, the more active the child. I make an effort to ensure that we do a bike ride, park trip or footy kick about every afternoon and we scoot to school and back. I also love playing catch and it develops essential skills. Our children’s physical development is just as important as their social, emotional and academic development.

healthiermummy says:

Sounds like you’re doing a fab job. Well done!

Such a great amount of useful information. Thank you for sharing it with us x

Eileen Teo says:

I always send my husband to play catch with kids. I am naughty. Now I need to get out more with kids.

Brilliant post – I like to try and get mine as active as possible which isn;t always easy these days now that children would rather play on the Xbox than kick a football about.

My best investment ever is a 10 ft trampoline in our garden which is used almost daily!

healthiermummy says:

Thank you and how I wish we could squeeze one of those massive trampolines into our garden. Sadly, not enough room for anything bigger than a mini one-child job.

oana79 says:

Great post, I haven’t played catch with my Emma yet(and she is 4!!). I have read the statistics myself but always find the weather as an excuse to stay inside…

healthiermummy says:

Now that it’s getting warmer, we need to stop making those excuses!

I try and play catch and other little physical activities with my son as he struggles with these. He has autism so possibly some elements of dyspraxia too. We try catch with a balloon at first to grab his attention. Great article and the links are useful too.

healthiermummy says:

Thanks, Sam. Glad the post is useful. I like the idea of playing catch with a balloon.

Excellent post – (beautiful picture btw!) and great advice. Key skills that many children still haven’t learned by Primary school, unlike not so very long ago when they were all very proficient by 5!

healthiermummy says:

Thank you, Kate – I think it’s all really important stuff too. But sadly I didn’t draw the pic – I’m not that good at drawing.

Katie Albury says:

This is really interesting…as I’m not yet a parent, I do feel my outlook on fitness is totally down to my parents. As an adult I’ve struggled to make myself do more exercise, but I don’t want my children having the same troubles and turmoils when it comes to weight and fitness.

Mummy of Two says:

Really interesting post. Although my two like to play out in the garden I didn’t really think about certain skills, particularly things like throwing and catching. I will have to get out there with them and a ball!

healthiermummy says:

I’m going to be busy with the ball this weekend too!

Victoria says:

as long as i remember myself at school i never did PE lessons was always off sick, and mum unfortunately didnt have time and money to take me to different classes after school to keep me fit, but i dont blame her. Anyway now I think im as fit as i never was before thanks to my pregnancy and i hope to keep this routine postnatal and with my little one

healthiermummy says:

Well done with being so fit now – I hope you manage to keep it up.