It is known that children are less active over summer break. A recent study among children 6 to 9 years of age showed that physical activity dropped by 53% during the summer months. Moreover, time spent in sedentary activities (e.g., screen time) increases.
There are many possible reasons for these seasonal differences in physical activity. School days typically involve regular physical activity sessions (e.g., recess, PE class) and limited screen time, which may have a protective effect on children’s health behaviors. The structured days hypothesis suggests that disruptions in such routines are responsible for lower physical activity levels over the summer. Declines in physical activity over the summer can have adverse effects on children’s health (e.g., weight gain). Numerous studies have shown that body mass index increases more in the summer than in other seasons. Excess weight gain can lead to obesity and poorer metabolic, cardiovascular, respiratory, and mental health for children. Thus, physical activity in the summer months is critical for children’s health.
Tips for Keeping Kids Active During the Summer:
- Infuse structure into your child’s summer.During the school year, children have to get up and get going, but this may not be the case during the summer. Set up a routine that gets them moving. This may involve going to summer camp, taking walks, going to swim lessons, or just having a standing playdate with friends. Also going to bed at a similar time during the summer as during the school year will help your child to be rested and active the next day.
- Be prepared for the weather.Heat, humidity, and inclement weather are common barriers to outdoor physical activity. Take advantage of mornings before it really heats up. Water activities can help beat the heat, but also have indoor physical activity options ready to go, which will help kids from bored eating. Think games, building forts, teaching kids how to cook, or even helping around the house with everyday chores while trying to make it fun. On bad weather days, check out local climbing gyms, indoor playgrounds, or bowling alleys.
- Place limits on screen time.If given the choice, many kids will pick screen time over going outside to play. However, if screen time is limited, they may find something more active to do. One idea is to set your devices to not be accessible during school hours (even during summer) and only allow a pre-specified number of hours of screen time.
- Find a buddy.Kids are more likely to be active when other kids are around. Scheduling playdates, getting involved in a local kids group like scouts or a sports team are great ways to help kids maintain social relationships and encourage active play during summer.
NOTE: We want kids to get outside and play, and to get fresh air and sunshine every day if possible. But during summer we should take a few additional precautions to help keep them safe.
Did you know that children have a more difficult time adjusting to the heat than adults? Kids are less effective at regulating body heat. Take extra care with kids playing outdoors in the heat.
One way to help keep kids safe is to avoid outdoor activity during midday on a sunny, hot day. Have them play outside in the morning or evening, when it’s likely to be cooler outdoors. Playing in shady areas or doing water activities are also good choices on a hot day.
It’s important to teach children to always stop and come inside when they feel overheated.
Be sure they stay well hydrated with water to help their body sweat and cool down. Help them learn to drink water regularly when active outside, rather than waiting until they are thirsty.
Another important sun safety note is to use sunscreen on children. To help protect from sunburn and reduce their risk of future skin cancer, the CDC recommends applying sunscreen generously 30 minutes before going outdoors. They also recommend reapplying every two hours and after swimming, sweating, or toweling off.