Erica & Mike Hill with their boys, Hyde (2), Kade (7) and Pierce (8)
When my son was young, we frequently took bike rides together. In elementary school, just going around the block could open doors to a cool adventure, allowing us to discover our neighborhood while getting fresh air and exercise. I wanted to make a positive connection for my son, to help him see that making healthy choices could be both fun and beneficial.
But those choices aren’t always easy to make. Most of us face an uphill battle to combat the ever-growing hours our kids spend in front of a television or computer. We’re distracted, too, with smartphones giving us far too easy access to texting and social media 24/7.
If we want our kids to choose a healthy lifestyle, we’ve got to model those choices for them. What does that look like? Read on to learn what some families have discovered when you make health and fitness a priority.
For Elizabeth and Josh Phillips, keeping their two boys active and outdoors means being unplugged. Play stations and Wii are exotic toys that reside elsewhere — at other peoples’ homes. “We don’t even watch much TV,” admits Phillips. “Mostly I want them to be outside.”
For exercise, the family rides bikes at Overton Park, or goes for walks around the neighborhood. Hiking is also a popular choice when they camp, as is taking a ball with them wherever they go. “It’s sometimes irritating, but we always have a chance to play,” she says with a laugh.
Their love of the outdoors has also led to bigger things. At Maria Montessori School, the boys learned how to kayak as part of their studies. The family built on that activity, paddling the Wolf River and other locations on family vacations.
This past summer, after much research on destinations and outfitters, they took their passion to new heights with a four-day canoe trip on the Buffalo National River in Arkansas. They put their skills to the test as Gus (11) and Solly (6) each manned his own kayak for the 34-mile paddle. Mom and dad followed with provisions in their canoe.
Naturally, the worst that could happen did, with everyone overturning at the first rapids. “It was sort of scary for Solly, he was crying and a bit terrified,” says Phillips. “But five minutes later, we thought, ‘Well, that’s as bad as it’s going to get, so we got it out of the way.’ ” Ultimately, the trip was a huge confidence booster for both boys and something they talked about for the rest of the summer.
Swim and play
For Lyssa Beth Zimmerman, exercise is an important part of her weekly routine. “It makes me feel better about me,” she says. With four children ages 21 months to 8 years, Zimmerman often works in her exercise regime, while the kids are getting ready for school. Her high intensity routine only takes 20 minutes, and sometimes, the kids join in.
“I want to instill working out for them. If they see me doing it, they know I’m taking care of my body.”
Zimmerman believes it’s important for her kids to get outdoors, since screen time can be too distracting. Since they live just a few blocks from Rockyford Park in Bartlett, the family often rides bikes to the park for playtime. In addition, there’s a pool in the backyard, “so we’re out there swimming, a lot. My kids live in the pool all summer.”
Making healthy choices
Erica Hill echoes Zimmerman’s outlook: “It’s every day, how you live,” says the mom of three boys and the owner of Fusion Fitness in Memphis. She thinks many parents fall into the trap of overscheduling their kids in sports in order to keep them healthy.
“But that’s not the answer; it’s a family being active together and letting kids be in motion because they want to do it.”
To combat couch time, Hill says she and her husband, Mike, do a lot of activities together with their boys. “We’ll do bike rides together or go to Shelby Farms and go hiking off the beaten path. It’s not saying ‘Hey, let’s go do something active,’ it’s more about what we choose to do everyday.”
Rules at home also reinforce their choices. The boys are limited to 30 minutes of screen time before they have to go outside and toss around a ball. Setting up those expectations has worked to encourage Pierce (8), and Kabe (7) to play baseball and now, to compete in triathlons. In fact, both boys qualified for the Ironkids Nationals held this summer.
Erica says if you’re trying to implement new practices as a family, first rid yourself of bad habits.
“You have to do troubleshooting and set up incentives. Do something outside before gaming to encourage what they want to do.” She also recommends not using food as a bribery or reward. “Learn simple strategies. If kids come home hungry after school, have healthy snacks available. Take advantage of their hunger.”
When exercise becomes a lifestyle
For Sylvia Crum, riding a bike with her young children goes beyond exercise to creating a way of life for her and her family. In an effort to become less reliant on their family car, Sylvia and Teddy, who live in Cooper-Young, bought an Xtracycle this summer, a long-tail cargo bike made by Xtracycle of Portland, Oregon. While the bike and various add-ons cost around $2,000, Crum considers it an affordable alternative to owning a second car.
Sylvia plans to use the bike to pick up groceries or run errands with her two kids in tow. While the children are little (just 4 and 1), she already appreciates the sense of engagement biking brings. “We’re seeing Memphis at a slower pace, so we can see what we’re riding past and take in the sights.” It’s also in tandem with her professional life. Sylvia recently took over the helm of Revolutions, a nonprofit that refurbishes bicycles and provides public workshops on bike maintenance and repair.
“It’s all wrapped up together, this lifestyle — decreasing our carbon footprint, keeping ourselves healthy, and being part of community interaction.”
She’s also created family activities to encourage community cycling. Wee Ride Memphis, which brings families together to bike around the city, started in March. Last month, Wee Ride hosted Kidical Mass, a short ride aimed at getting young kids biking with their parents. “Even though Memphis has more bike lanes, people are still nervous. To do it in a group and ride together makes you more visible,” she says.
The family-friendly ride was a hit, as kids circled First Congregational Church’s parking lot before doing a loop around the Cooper-Young neighborhood and ending the ride with cookies and ice cream. Wee Ride’s next event will be the Tour de Coop (sponsored by GrowMemphis) on September 20th. (See sidebar for details.)
Besides mirroring a healthy lifestyle for her children, Sylvia also comes away with a personal sense of accomplishment. “I feel proud of myself at the end of the ride because I’ve worked hard. I might be tired but with the workout, I know my legs are stronger. Empowerment isn’t something I knew I would get by hopping onto my bicycle.”
Our Facebook Moms Recommend
- Trampolines are great exercise! —Megan B.
- Dancing! My baby LOVES dancing. She also takes ballet and gymnastics, so I encourage her to work on both. — Karena H.
- By setting a good example, I don’t have to encourage my child to exercise. He chooses to participate all on his own. — Melissa P.
- We walk or run everyday together (she’s in the stroller). My 8-month-old daughter also loves the Little Gym in Germantown. — Stefanie E.
- We dance every night while I cook dinner. And the YMCA has a great preschool program. I go to work out, and so does she. She loves it! — Becky P.
- Being active yourself is the biggest way to encourage your children to be active. — Scotta A.
Want to Get More Active?
Check out these family-friendly activities
Mommy and Me Exercise Class
- Shelby Farms - Woodlands Discovery Playground
- Saturdays in September at 9:30 a.m.
- $10/per family
- Contact: Coral O’Connor, 767-7275 x315 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Kids Fusion Class
- Fusion Fitness • Fusionfitnessmemphis.com
- Saturdays, 10:45-11:30 a.m. $10/per class
- Designed to get kids ages 4-12 dancing & moving.
Sixth Annual Small Fry Triathlon
- Farmington Park in Germantown.
- Saturday, September 13, Race begins at 10 a.m. for ages 2-3 and 10:30 a.m. for ages 4-6.
- Preschoolers run, bike, and swim (water spray) to the finish line. Bring a bicycle or tricycle. Helmet required. Rain date: September 20. $5. No event day registration.
- Register online at germantown-tn.gov/registration
Memphis Tour de Coop 2014
- Wiseacre Brewing Co., 2783 Broad Avenue
- Saturday, September 20, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
- Suggested donation: $10. Benefits GrowMemphis.
- Self-guided bike tour to see urban chicken coops, beehives, and community gardens. Tour maps emailed to those who register. Ride locations: Binghamptons, Midtown, and South Memphis neighborhood.
- Ride length: 2, 10, and 15-miles.
- For info, go to growmemphis.org/tour-de-coop/
Wolf River Conservancy - Introduction to Kayaking
- Saturday, September 20, 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
- Beaver Lake at Shelby Farms. Ages 16+. Rentals available.
- For info, go to Wolfriver.org
Wee Ride Memphis.wordpress.com – a website dedicated to encouraging families to ride bikes together. Site includes Rides & Routes, and info on how to tow your tot.