While a recent study found that older kids are likely to be more active if their friends are – it’s not a stretch to believe the same is true for young children.
The Distribution of Physical Activity in an After-school Friendship Network, published in the May 28 edition of Pediatrics, concluded that friendships play a critical role in physical activity patterns in children 5 to 12 years old. In other words, kids adjusted their activity levels up or down depending on how active their friends were. With terrifying child obesity rates and the need to get kids exercising more, studies like this can lead to inexpensive, easy ideas to get kids moving. (Read a good summary of the study on the CBS News website here.)
Very young children, toddlers on down, don’t really “play” with other children until usually the preschool years — 3 or 4 years old. But young children exposed to older, active children can certainly pick up some pointers. When an older sibling goes out to ride his bike, let your toddler watch. Or take her to the park to see lots of kids climbing the monkey bars and swinging on the swings.
When kids reach school age, they’ll generally start making friends naturally. For younger children, playmates can be a little harder to find. Take your child regularly to places where other families go – story times at the library, community events, the park, noncompetitive activities like art, music or sports lessons (there are often low-cost or free activities offered by local parks and recreation departments). (Read more about making friends in About.com Pediatrics.)
Playing is always more fun with a friend. Get your child used to lots of physical activity, and she’ll want to keep doing it with others. Children keep each other moving, whether it’s through an impromptu game of tag, a bicycle race or simply a walk exploring the playground and sharing what they find with each other.
For more ideas to get your child moving, visit our Get Out & Play pages. Be sure to enter The Get Out & Play Fitness Challenge for a chance to win prizes. The newest Family Guide also has information about public swimming pools and other places to take your children this summer.