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Hook ‘em While They’re Young

About a month ago I added an article I had written nearly two years ago for a startup app that wasn’t ever really able to get started. I hate wasting what I write when I think it’s good, so here is another, this one geared towards parents. Enjoy and share, if you like.

Hook ‘em While They’re Young

by Terri Klaes Harper

I recently acquired a four-year old. That’s a strange way to put it, I know, but it’s true. My husband and I had no children of our own and suddenly found ourselves as the caretakers of a four-year old girl. Since our only in-depth experience with four-years olds is having been four once ourselves, you can imagine we’ve been scrambling to figure out the best this and that for her, especially in developing a well-rounded young lady, so I sought advice in what would be best for her long-term. The common theme with each person was the idea of forming good habits. “I’m no doctor, but I do know it all comes down to habits. If [kids] form healthy habits early in life, they will stay healthy as they get older,” says youth soccer Players Development Academy’s (PDA) Reg Monsanto.

One area of concern for us was physical activity and involvement with other children; after all, we do not want a zombie child who responds only to the stimulation of electronics while her muscles turn to goo. “Physical activity and social interaction are critical for children. Unfortunately, we are living in a time where our children are bombarded with homework, social media, and other obligations that tremendously cut down on both their physical activity level and their human-to-human (not human to hardware) social interaction. Physical activities like competitive sports, dance, gymnastics, and martial arts provide all of these,” says Sensei George Rego, Chief Instructor of Jukido Academy. Not all of these issues are a problem yet for a four-year old, but when I went back to the idea of developing good habits, I realized I could not begin that too soon. Even setting up play dates with other children at a local park is a good start. We were still, however, wanting something a bit more structured than that, yet still fun.

Some of the soundest advice I found came from Chris Knox, a yoga for kids instructor at Hot Yoga Lounge, who also happens to be an elementary school teacher in our county. “The biggest thing with getting kids to be active is to allow them to choose their activities. Expose them to a variety, but don’t force them to do something they don’t enjoy. If an activity stops being fun, allow them to move into something else.” Flagler County offers much for sports and activities for children, so it really comes down to finding the right fit for the individual child.

For our girl, we chose dance. We wanted something that crossed over into more than just a physical activity, and with her love of music, creativity, and vision to dance, it was the perfect fit. According to Jeanna Reiter, new owner of and long-time instructor at Flagler School of Dance, “Dance education not only provides students opportunities to learn a healthy lifestyle and technique, such as posture and pointing their toes, but also life skills necessary for success. For example, dancers learn hard work, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, team work, accountability, and so much more, all while de-stressing and cultivating a passion for the arts… It is a physical workout intertwined with camouflaged life-lessons and an appreciation for music, movement, and artistry.” When she heard me talking about dance class, the mother of one of our girl’s friends mentioned to me that her daughter’s pediatrician recommended dance for her to help build strength and proper use of her leg muscles as she currently walks a bit pigeon-toed. In this sense, dance could be used as a developmental therapy of sorts, and it is commonly recommended as a therapy for scoliosis, making it a non-medicine approach that prevents and corrects.

Though each activity or organized youth sport can boast its own unique advantages, most offer children these common qualities: socialization, confidence, and stress-relief. Most youth sports and physical activities have the added bonus, as mentioned about dance, of relieving tension, something more adults need. In today’s fast-paced society, this is a clear advantage of good habits more adults could use. Why not start early? Knox says he tells his yoga students “to use their yoga breathing techniques when they are stressed (especially before a test).”  Kimberly Hale, Director of Flagler Sheriff P.A.L. says in her experience she sees that, “healthy, physically active kids also are more likely to be academically motivated, alert, and successful…and physical competence builds self-esteem at every age.” Again, socialization is a common thread in almost all organized youth activities. It isn’t just about learning to play and have fun together either; kids learn how to be part of a team and to build up one another and to get along with different personality types, a skill that will be required of them for the rest of their lives.

Also, in order to keep your child excited about this endeavor, and wanting to continue, Kimberly Hale suggests, “Parents should volunteer and be part of the program [when possible] to keep kids interested. It supports bonding with the families and the kids feel safer when they have someone they know around. I also feel kids strive to do better at something to impress their parents.” Children do learn by example and they watch every move we make, whether we realize it or not. As they are learning about life, they want to know they have the support of the ones they love and respect.

Again, consider the personality and interests of your child in order to begin testing what fits best. Give them choices and do your research. Rego says of martial arts, “There are a lot of schools…but there is a lot of fast food too…it doesn’t mean that it’s good for you. Look for quality and substance.” Obviously this could be said of many activities choices out there. The right experience can make all the difference, so we must be able to guide our kids into what is best for them as individuals. What works for some may not work for others, but there are enough choices around Flagler County to find at least one good fit for your child’s needs and personality. Clearly, it is up to us to help today’s youth, the next generation of leaders, to form good habits now. As parents, aunts and uncles, cousins, neighbors, and community leaders, we should be able to break the trend of childhood obesity and sedentary lifestyles by mixing healthy activity with fun.

Copyright Terri Klaes Harper 12-2-14


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