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It’s late November, and both of my kids really should be in school—grades two and four respectively—but instead, they’re bowling a coconut down the beach and hunting for geckos while I type this from a restaurant on the sand nearby. We’re on Koh Lanta, an island in southern Thailand, and we’re not coming home until March.
The kids are Ciaran, nearly seven, and Chloe, nine. Koh Lanta is just one stop on our six-month tour of southeast Asia and southern India. Together with my husband, Mark, we set off from Ottawa in mid-August for Bali, where we spent the first month helping the kids become seasoned little travellers. After that, we spent several weeks roaming north from Singapore up through peninsular Malaysia. From there we took in Bangkok and parts of northern Thailand before heading to Laos via a two-day slow boat trip along the Mekong River. Descending back south through Laos from Luang Prabang to the capital, Vientiane, we then made our way down to southern Thailand.
November 20 is the midpoint of the trip, so the balance has already tipped—sadly, we’ve got less time ahead of us than we have behind us. Coming up ahead, we still have Cambodia, Vietnam and southern India to cover. So far, everyone is healthy and happy and having a fabulous time.
The kids have stunned us with their infinite adaptability and flexibility. They virtually never complain about missing anybody or anything from home. They can find something to love about even the most hideous of hotel rooms. They can find something to order on the sketchiest of menus. They can see the funny side of any near (or complete) disaster. They can sleep in the strangest, noisiest, most disruptive environments.
Unsurprisingly, they can also fight over the silliest things and be incredibly resistant to the school work we sometimes impose on them, but overall I would say we’ve been amazed and dazzled (and relieved) by how well they’re coping.
Of course, a trip of this magnitude is not without its challenges—and the next one facing us will be how to mark the holidays. While we’re not particularly religious, our family has always celebrated Christmas, and Santa Claus has a reputation in our house for being excessively generous. We’re still working out how Santa will find us in Vietnam, whether or not he will be wrapping the gifts this year, and how he’s going to fly his sled around (and land it) in the absence of snow. More news on all of that in my next entry!
This is the question I’ve been alternately dreading and dodging since I began planning this trip two years ago.
I mean, the answer is obvious: of course Santa comes to Vietnam. I’m not going to impose a trip like this on my kids—taking them to the other side of the world, away from their friends, family, school and everything familiar for six months—and then tell them that on top of all that, Santa will just be giving us a miss this year.
But the question remains: exactly how will we celebrate Christmas, and how will we keep the Santa myth going despite the obvious obstacles? Complicating the answer is the fact that we’re not sure where we’re going to be, other than “somewhere in Vietnam” (we’re in Cambodia at the moment), nor do we know whom we may be spending the occasion with. Here are some of the main obstacles we’ve considered:
At home we eschew church (yes, even on Christmas Eve), but I imagine this year we may go looking for one, just to inject some much-needed ceremony and tradition into the day. We’ll also need to be flexible in our interpretations of traditions: stir-fried chicken for dinner instead of turkey, banana fritters instead of chocolate log, and we can always leave out some sticky coconut rice balls and sweet coffee for Santa.
The good news is that if online reports are accurate, Christmas is actually one of Vietnam’s four most important festivals. I’ve also read that children in Vietnam believe in Santa Claus, and put their shoes in front of their doors on Christmas Eve, expecting to find them filled with treats in the morning. This leads me to be optimistic about our odds of finding Christmas decorations, treats, trinkets and trifles in shops as Christmas approaches.
Meanwhile, we’re not entirely without resources:
And finally, of course, we’ll take some cues from local traditions. If Christmas is Vietnam’s fourth biggest celebration, there’s bound to be some buzz about it no matter where we are.
“What’s for dinner, Mom?” Something nasty you’re going to hate.
Is there any question more hated by moms than this? In my house, with four voices (five if you count my husband and eliminate the ‘Mom’ tag) constantly calling this out to me on a seemingly well-timed rotation from the minute they walk through the front door, I have narrowed my response to the following (learned through trial and error):
“Leftover Buffet!” Their return volley:
“I just got in. What do you think we should have?” (Why, oh why did I ever go there…)
So I’ve learned that, once again, as with Parent/Teacher interviews, just don’t ask the questions you really don’t want the answers to. Now what the hell should I make for dinner tonight? Oops, just did it again.
We arrived in Hoi An, a small town about midway up the coast of Vietnam, just a few days before Christmas. If you read my last entry, then you’ll know we had a few ideas up our sleeves about how to pull off a Christmas that wouldn’t disappoint the kids—but we had been unable to do much to prepare. More than four months into our half-year trip and carrying all of our belongings on our backs, it had simply been impossible to buy very much.
And Hoi An did not prove an ideal place to make up for lost shopping time. Now a UNESCO world heritage site whose quaint old city district evokes Paris in its own uniquely Asian (decaying) sort of way, it does draw thousands of tourists and it did make for a beautiful place to spend the holidays. But modern, it is not. There was not a single convenience store or Western-looking shop in sight despite the seemingly hundreds of tailor shops and souvenir stands selling paper lanterns and wooden Buddha figures.
Undeterred, I began with the first order of business: finding a Christmas tree for our hotel room.
I hadn’t seen any shops in Hoi An selling Christmas decorations, but there was a large, artificial Christmas tree in our hotel lobby, and a small one perched on the front desk, so I figured the manager might know where I could get a tree. No luck, though; when I asked, he said he wasn’t the one who’d shopped for them and he was pretty sure they’d come from Danang, a much bigger city about an hour away. If I liked, one of the hotel drivers could bring one back for me later that afternoon, since he was headed that way to bring guests to the airport.
But I was skeptical about being overcharged, and preferred to choose my own. So the manager went off to make some calls, and returned 10 minutes later with a solution: apparently, artificial Christmas trees were available at a Vietnamese bookstore just outside Hoi An’s old city.
Chloe and I set off in a taxi in hot pursuit of a tree. Pulling up at our destination, we found ourselves in front of not just one, but two little shops hawking Christmas paraphernalia. We rounded up tinsel, stickers, craft supplies and gift wrap at the bookstore, then went to the next shop for the tree.
There were at least six sizes available—all on display, all fully decorated with lights—and the little one we liked, about two-and-a-half feet tall, was just $8. The shop itself was tiny (maybe 8’ x 8’), crowded, busy and noisy, so it wasn’t easy getting anyone’s attention. Finally, after waiting near the cash for a while, I was able to communicate by pointing and gesturing that I’d like to buy that little tree.
The shop owner made his way out from behind the cash, walked over to the tree, lightly touched the strand of lights woven into its branches, and looked at me expectantly. I nodded and smiled. He rifled through a shelf beneath the tree, came out with a package of lights, and handed them to me.
I tried again, getting his attention again and this time actually touching the tree’s branches. “Ah,” he said, and led me outside, to where dozens of strands of tinsel hung on display. He pointed to a strand and said, “Hah? Color?” He thought I wanted to buy the tinsel.
I was going to have to get a bit more dramatic. I shook my head, then went back to the little tree and moved my arms up and down vigorously over the entire length of it to show that I wanted the WHOLE TREE. After a few moments, he understood what I wanted. He unplugged the tree, picked it up whole—decorations included—carried it outside, and plunked it down on the middle of the sidewalk in the rain. Chloe and I looked at each other for a moment, incredulous and briefly puzzled, before both of us ultimately burst into laughter. Who could have guessed that the $8 price tag would include lights and decorations, but no box to take it all home in?
Flagging down another cab, Chloe and I rode back to our hotel with the tree in the backseat between us. She named it Milliter.
Procuring Milliter was certainly one of the more memorable events of my holiday this year, but it was just the beginning of an unusual Christmas. Since the former fishing village of Hoi An is now best known for its profusion of silk and tailoring shops, we solved the Christmas stocking problem by getting some made-to-order in a range of red and green silks. We handed those out, gift-wrapped, on Christmas Eve, and the kids were delighted.
We had brought about 30 photos of friends and family from home, and these we taped to a long string of thin, green tinsel that we draped across the wall over the beds. The kids made the rest of the holiday decorations from the motley assortment of craft supplies we’d managed to find—pipe-cleaner snowmen, sticker scenes, and even a second, small Christmas tree created by stacking cut-out paper snowflakes vertically along a toilet-paper roll taped to the floor.
We just needed a few more pieces to complete the traditional Christmas picture. Back at the hotel, I was able to download our favourite Christmas cartoons—Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. After a beautiful Christmas Eve dinner at an old-city restaurant overlooking the river (during which we ate not a single traditional food), we made our way home to watch some of them on the laptop.
With the fast, mostly reliable WiFi connection at our hotel, we were able to visit the NORAD website on Christmas Eve to track Santa’s progress, hustling the kids into bed when we noticed that he was already over Indonesia.
Despite the dismal shopping scene in Hoi An, we managed a respectably large pile of wrapped gifts under that small tree after all: we got four silk sleeping bags made at a fair-trade shop in the old city, and we’d stored away Lego and new books that we’d picked up in Bangkok some weeks back. Other small gifts included bookmarks, a deck of cards, a Buddha figure, a box of M&Ms, and lots of other edible treats, including mangoes, rambutans and chocolate. There were also some lightweight but big-ticket “promise” gifts: certificates for new bunk beds at home, the promise of a puppy (delivered in the form of a fifth, matching silk Christmas stocking), and one “get out of homeschool free” pass for each child.
The kids were a bit discouraged, at first, by the lack of snow on Christmas Day, but perked up when we told them there was none in Toronto this year either. They happily settled for sand castles instead of snow forts, and body surfing instead of sledding.
We had been eagerly awaiting a Christmas package that my sister-in-law in Ottawa had put together and shipped to Hoi An’s main post office for us. We’d hoped it would arrive in time for Christmas, but it got held up until the day we left Hoi An, December 30. This didn’t cause any disappointment for the kids, however, since we hadn’t told them it was coming. Instead, its contents were a magnificent bonus. “This Christmas just keeps on getting better and better!” was Chloe’s response to the additional books and generous stash of candy canes.
I’m not sure what the kids will remember best, years from now, about this unusual Christmas. But it will be a while before I forget what it was like to wrap all those gifts in the same small room as the sleeping children (freaking out the entire time about the possibility of them waking up while all the loot was still scattered across the floor), cutting the wrapping paper with tiny cuticle scissors, making our own gift tags out of plain white paper and stickers, and eventually running out of both wrapping paper and tape altogether. Whew.
Twelve years ago, before kids, my husband and I travelled around Asia and Africa for a year, spending four of those months on the Indian subcontinent. When we had reached the end of our stint in India, we couldn’t wait to leave. It is a huge understatement to say that India is a challenging destination even for seasoned travellers, and our experience there had been a complicated love-hate affair. In a year of traipsing through a dozen difficult countries, a third of them in Africa, no place had been anywhere near as trying, exasperating or wearying as India. This is probably why many people looked at us with one eyebrow raised when we started planning, two years ago, to take the kids there.
The thing is, a strange thing happened after our first visit to India: we started to miss the place. It turned out that most of the stories we found ourselves recalling and recounting about our year away were about the bizarre, amusing, maddening things that had happened to us in India. We had seen only the north of the country during that trip, and as the years went by I knew that some day, we were going to feel compelled to go back and see the south.
And so here we are—and I have to say, so far it’s nothing like what I remember.
We flew from Hanoi, Vietnam to Chennai, India a few days ago, stayed one night at an airport hotel, then caught another flight to Trivandrum the following afternoon. Trivandrum is about a hundred kilometres north of India’s southernmost tip, a half-hour drive from the small beach resort of Kovalam. Exiting the Trivandrum airport, we caught a pre-paid taxi to Kovalam and began our adventure.
We were prepared for all of the things that had made India so difficult the last time: aggressive touts and beggars, overcrowding, unbearable heat, unpleasant smells, choking traffic, crooked rickshaw and taxi drivers, garbage and cow manure and open manholes to dodge as we walked the streets.
So we were pleasantly amazed to find ourselves in a little piece of India that is like nothing we encountered before. “Have you taken us somewhere else without telling me?” my husband keeps asking me with mock suspicion.
Getting here was easy. People are helpful and friendly. The hotel, although cheap, is clean and welcoming. The beach is also clean, with clear water and vigilant lifeguards. There’s fabulous muesli for breakfast. The coffee is the best I’ve had on this entire trip so far. There are bins along the beach for garbage, and people actually seem to use them.
In other words, it seems we’ve inadvertently stumbled upon India For Beginners—the perfect place to get re-acquainted with (and introduce the children to) the subcontinent.
To be honest, it’s likely that when we recalled everything that was difficult about India on our first visit, we were thinking about our introduction to the country. That time, we flew into Delhi, got dropped off at the train station, and were wildly unprepared for the chaotic scene that greeted us. This time, with the benefit of hindsight, we chose deliberately to begin in a small town after four months elsewhere in Asia—with the kids as seasoned as they were ever going to be—and it has made all the difference.
Since our arrival, we’ve established a relaxed routine that involves a leisurely breakfast followed by two hours of school work, then lunch and afternoon at the beach, where we can rent chairs, umbrellas and boogie boards for about $8. Happy hour begins at sunset—it’s quite spectacular, setting over the Arabian sea—when the kids enjoy mango lassis and we share a few cold Kingfisher beers. The kids know just what they like when it comes to Indian food, and it always gives us a moment of combined pride and amusement to hear them ask for palak paneer, veg korma, channa masala and chapattis when the waiter comes by.
As pleasant as Kovalam is, however, there is something artificial about it. It’s a popular destination for package tourists, which may explain why it seems so familiar and easy to manage. We’ll soon have to move on. Today’s task: deciding whether to head to the next town by car or by train, and maybe finding a yoga class.
We’re into the final six weeks of our half-year trip now, but there are still lots of exciting things to see and do as we move north, including an overnight houseboat tour of Kerala’s backwaters, more overnight sleeper trains, a hill station, a wildlife sanctuary, ruins of ancient cities, more beaches and, of course, our final destination: busy, massive Mumbai. So far, we’re loving India.
The boys and I were at Granville Island yesterday and spotted Team Canada Hockey Coach, Mike Babcock. He was very accommodating to the attention he was receiving from the fans who recognized him, and even helped me to corral the boys for the photo. Other athletes spotted at restaurants or outside events by my friends include Team Canada Hockey Players, Chris Pronger and Martin Brodeur, and US Short Track Speed Skater J.R. Celski. I also met Kaillie Humphries, member of the Canadian women’s Bobsled team on the train ride to the Oval. As she spoke about how hard she trained for her event here over the past year (10 hours/day, 6 days/week), it made me realize just how much is at stake for some of these athletes. Seeing the athletes close up and hearing their stories is great for our kids too: they learn that the athletes are real people with real stories of hard work and lots of heart.
Also spotted: Chloe Dufour Lapointe (Canadian Freestyle Team) who came 5th place. As well, numerous Canadian athletes have been spotted each afternoon signing autographs just outside of the main Canada Post office in downtown Vancouver (Homer & W. Georgia Street). Have you spotted any athletes?
“Say you’re sorry!” you demand of your angry five-year old who has intentionally pulled his sister’s hair. He stands in silence.
You demand an apology again. He manages an unapologetic “Soooory.”
“No, say it like you mean it,” you say.
He follows up with a more convincing apology, but not nearly as remorseful as you would have liked. You let it go.
What are the chances of your son feeling such remorse that he will not pull his sister’s hair again? What are the chances of his taking the initiative to say sorry the next time it happens? What are the chances of his going off to play having learnt a lesson? I’d say pretty slim to none. Saying “I’m sorry” as a result of having been told to do so, is merely an act of compliance. It does not teach empathy, remorse or encourage positive behaviour.
So, what’s the alternative?
Try this: lower your body so that you are eye to eye with your child and say something like “Pulling hair hurts.” Then, wrap your arms around the child whose hair has been pulled and comfort that child. Once you’ve comforted the ‘victim,’ turn to the ‘aggressor’ and say, “Did pulling your sister’s hair help you get what you needed?” By handling the situation in this fashion, you are allowing your child to see you displaying empathy towards the ‘victim’ and helping your child learn to explore different options.
You may also want to talk about a logical consequence if your child were to choose not to consider other options. You may say something like “I know that you are capable of choosing other options in the future, but if you don’t, then we need to consider what the consequences of your aggressive behaviour will be.”
Logical consequences (which must be relatable to the aggressive behaviour) may include: your child having to play alone for a period of time (following the incident) or of having to re-enact what happened prior to the hair pulling so that he can be helped to come up with different options for handling his frustration or anger.
This type of intervention may take a little longer than demanding and getting a hasty apology, but will likely result in better long-term behaviour and a more positive relationship between you and your child.
Rush, rush, rush. No matter how well organized, there’s always that last minute morning scurry as you check that everyone has their lunch bag and homework signed and then hustle your kids out of the door.
Then there’s pick-up. Some days you bring a snack in the car so they can eat on the way to gymnastics or karate. Other days you plan an early dinner so that they don’t have to swim on a full stomach. Some evenings you’re all too tired to persevere through homework assignments. Even weekends, best for catching up and taking a breath from a hectic schedule, are often filled with extracurricular activities for one or more of your children.
Ideally, my recommendation is for parents to explore as much as time and money will allow before their child goes into grade one since that is when both child and parent may have more free time. After that, it’s best to refine the choices according to your child’s interest and aptitude. I advise parents not to enroll their children in more than two extracurricular activities per week. When choosing activities, you may ask your child to choose one of the two. The second choice may be something that you are inclined towards—an essential life skill such as swimming, for example.
Children, like adults, can feel overwhelmed from always being on the run. By occupying our children every waking moment, we don’t teach them the value of down time and enjoying their own company during quiet moments.
Next calendar year, think about what you want for your child, for yourself and for your family. Instead of piano or dance being that extracurricular activity, make family night the activity instead. Having some time to relax and connect with each other can make all the difference.
For some of us (lucky ones), it’s time to take a break from the winter and get some sun. Travelling now with kids means added craziness and complexity—but some things, such as which sunscreen to take and why, remain the same. I am often asked the questions: how do sunscreens work, and which ones should I use for myself and for my kids?
First, you need to understand SPF (Sun Protection Factor). Think of a timeline where 0 minutes equals no sun, and the end point (i.e. 10 minutes) is when you would start to burn without any sunscreen. With an SPF of 8, this becomes a multiplication of that original scale—so now 10 minutes times 8 equals 80 minutes where you could go out in the sun before burning. But if you are very fair skinned and usually burn in that 10 minutes, then with a SPF 8, you would start to burn at around 80 minutes. This is likely not enough protection for you. If that same person used SPF 40, this provides 400 minutes of sun protection, or just under 7 hours. Depending on your day, where you are, and what you are doing, this is probably okay. This also means that when you get beyond SPF 50, there is really not much of an added benefit based on the length of time for protection.
Also, re-application does not mean you can stop the clock and start at 0 again. If during your sun exposure you go swimming or are very active and sweating, re-application is necessary—but you are just continuing the timeline from where you left off. So the decision on what level SPF you will need really depends on how long you expect to be out in the sun (and it’s always best to err on the side of caution).
So which sunscreen to use? Personally, I don’t believe that sunscreens should be used on children under 6 months of age. Put clothing on them and keep them in the shade. Also, you don’t need separate sunscreens for the grown-ups and the kids. I always choose from the kids’ section for my whole family for the following reasons:
Here’s also one last emergency tip. If you are out with your toddler and have forgotten the sunscreen but have diaper rash cream on hand, check if it contains zinc oxide. Zinc oxide is a natural physical sunblock. A 7% zinc oxide content is around an SPF 30. It’s great in a pinch.
No more land border crossings. No more visa applications. No more cold showers, grotty bathrooms, scams to dodge, hotels to research or train tickets to book, and not very many more blog entries.
Finally, we’ve worn out two out of three of our iPods and used up nearly all of the memory on our laptop. Our whites are all grays, our ends are all bleached, our backpacks are weathered and the soles of our shoes are worn flat. We’ve taken all our malaria pills (just about), used up all our Band-Aids, flown our last flight and spent all our money.
We’ve arrived home scruffy, seasoned and rejuvenated, sad that the trip is over but happy to lay eyes on the familiar modern world again and stay in one place for a while. The kids, in particular, are thrilled to see their toys and friends again.
The trip will live on as a family legend, not just a vacation but something more on the scale of an epic accomplishment. It was at turns exhilarating, exhausting, fascinating, trying, thrilling, entertaining, frustrating, surprising and, very occasionally, death-defying. It was a wild ride, a fabulous adventure and often a grand test of our patience, fortitude and immune systems.
When it was good, it was the best decision we’d ever made, and when it was not, we thought ourselves mad for taking it on. When the kids were managing beautifully and the travelling was easy, we thought about what excellent parents we were for showing them the world and spending so much time in their company: 24/7 for six and a half months. It was harder to be smug when they fought non-stop, resisted home-schooling, threw up on their shoes and missed their friends. And when occasionally we found ourselves in physically dangerous situations with them, we were appalled at the poor judgment that had caused us to drag them halfway around the world just to increase their odds of dying in a fiery bus crash.
It was a crazy, unforgettable experience that we’re amazed and pleased to have shared and survived, and so lucky to have enjoyed.
In the end, we visited eight countries, including more than 45 cities or towns. Between us we read more than 150 books in the 180 days we were gone. We had six months to learn what we could about each place we visited, but that time also gave us the luxury to learn about anything else that interested us, including each other. It also gave us the benefit of perspective on the lives we had left behind and would be returning to. It was half a year of new experiences, new languages, new foods, new friends and family bonding.
We’re all a bit wistful about the end of the trip, but maybe it’s best to end on a positive note. Ciaran, never the sentimental type, is looking at it this way. “I’m really looking forward to going home,” he said the other day with great enthusiasm. “Want to know why? It’s because of our three-storey house! We won’t all have to share a small hotel room anymore! And I won’t have to use bottled water to brush my teeth! And it’s been way too long since I ate some of Grandpa Kip’s barbecue chicken.”
Well, there you have it.
One of the most important and stressful decisions a parent can make is choosing the right care for their child. As summer approaches, some parents might be looking for childcare options for their kids. But they need to first decide what type of care is the ideal fit for their child, as well as the family’s needs.
Nanny/Au Pair: Hiring a nanny or au pair is a popular choice for parents with young children, or several children needing care, and for parents who prefer to keep the kids at home instead of going to a camp or daycare. Parents will often choose this option when they have odd or very long work hours. Having a nanny/au pair allows your child to spend their day in a familiar environment with less routine and more flexibility.
Licensed Childcare Centre: These facilities often offer summer programs and group children by age. A daily routine is followed with regular planning of activities. In the summer, special outings are often offered, such as trips to water parks, the zoo, or beach. Parents often will choose this type of care because they want structure for their children and they want to ensure that activities and socialization are geared to their child’s age level.
Summer Camps: Summer camps often give parents the ability to give their children structure while they’re not in school, in an environment catered to their children’s interests (i.e. soccer camp, music camp, or nature camp). Summer camps can be offered as day camps for a week or more, or even as sleepover camps. Families can provide their children with a variety of camps over the summer, allowing children to build new skills and make new friends.
Explore all the options available in your community to determine which ones suit your family’s needs, make you feel comfortable, and cater your child’s interests.
Five days after our son Beckett was born, he was diagnosed with Trisomy 21, also known as Down syndrome. Those first few days were filled with sadness, fear and questions….the unknown is very frightening. Beckett is almost three now, and he’s healthy, loving, smart and kind. Everyone who meets him falls instantly in love. We knew nothing about Down syndrome but we quickly became experts, as did our family and friends. We didn’t know anyone with Down syndrome, now we know lots of people. Beckett changed a lot of things for us, all for the better.
Here are a few facts about Down syndrome:
Here are some things that really irritate me:
We’re all vulnerable to challenges; no one is immune, no one lives a perfect life. My dreams for Beckett are the same dreams you have for your child. I want him to be happy and healthy—I want him to be everything he wants to be. When I look at Beckett and Zoë, I feel so much love and happiness. My children hold my heart—nothing makes me happier.
On a recent summer evening, I was putting my five year-old daughter to sleep when she suddenly turned to me and said:
“When I grow up, I don’t want to be a mom.”
“Really,” I replied. “Why?”
“Because it’s too much work.”
Laughing to myself, I vowed to write this one down. This was a conversation I wanted to remember. But I fell asleep and forgot all about it. Until now.
We all have those moments as mothers—precious, challenging, earth shattering—and by writing them down, we make them into unforgettable memories. When you’re feeling nostalgic, you can go back through your notebook and remember. When your child asks you what they were like when they were two, you can read them a snippet of conversation, or share a funny story.
It’s probably safe to say most mothers want a written record of their journey through motherhood, but there are many obstacles on the path that can prevent you from getting started. Here’s a short list of how to overcome those obstacles.
Keeping your family memories alive does not have to be time-consuming, but it does require some discipline.
Do we blame TV time, diet or busy parents? The failing grade that Active Healthy Kids Canada gives Canadian children each year causes lots of soul searching.
Why aren’t our children more active?
We’re asking the wrong question; it’s like asking “Why aren’t our kids reading more books?” when they can’t read. Canadian children are less physically active because they are less physically literate than previous generations.
Physical literacy doesn’t refer to specific sports skills, rather it is general physical competence and confidence. Think agility, balance, coordination, strength, flexibility, and speed (fundamental movement skills), coupled with a desire to be active.
Just like linguistic literacy, physical literacy is best developed from six months to six years of age when the mind and body are building foundations.
A physically literate child has the necessary motor skills and confidence to play any sport they choose recreationally, and a far greater chance of finding one where they excel.
If a child is not physically literate, they are tied to the few sports they acquired sport-specific skills from when young. If they lose interest, or if this sport doesn’t suit their physical strengths, they often lack the versatility to adopt a new sport.
The best route to physical literacy? According to Canada’s Long-Term Athlete Development Plan, under sixes should spend most of their time at unstructured active (often outdoor) play. Varied movements and the capacity to hold children’s interest make active play the foundation of physical literacy. Go to the park, ride your bike, run in the sprinkler or play hide-and-seek outside. This play can be supplemented with well-structured programs that develop all fundamental movement skills (gymnastics and swimming are two good examples).
Help your child become physically literate by providing them with opportunities to acquire fundamental movement skills, solidify them through repetition and combine them through active play. Most importantly, make sure they are having fun.
Only when our children are given these tools, along with the knowledge that active play is fun, will we raise them to be active for life.
There are some pretty simple things parents can do at home to build their children’s physical literacy.
You can try a bit more structure by putting it all together into an obstacle course. Have your child help lay out the circuit or do it themselves. Unless it’s a matter of safety, don’t worry about showing your child the ‘right’ way to use sports’ equipment. A critical component of physical literacy is the ability to string movements together into different combinations. Building ‘circuits’ and creative use of equipment can jump start this process.
With your support, your child can gain a foundation of physical literacy that will allow them to enjoy a wide variety of sports (recreationally or competitively) for their entire lives. Canadian Sport for Life is a great resource for those interested in learning more.