Tag Archives: Youth

Teaching Kids (and Youth) to Play

by: Andrew Stewart                                                                                                   Published 08/08/13

street_hockey_by_a_puffsSince I have already touched on the amount of physical activity experts have recommended for kids and the youth it only makes sense in this following post we explore ways of encouraging this behavior. Unfortunately, finding resources on this subject are difficult; verifying their credibility even more so. As a result the majority of this post will focus on theories which may or may not apply in all cases.

As children are developing they are constant learning. While this fact may not come as much of a surprise, one aspect of this that isn’t often considered is the fact this also applies to the way kids play. The act of playing is a complex physical and social action, when we are young the activities we are exposed to by our parents shape the way we engage in physical activity and how we incorporate it into our lives.

In our current society it appears that a large amount of emphasis is put on “organized sport” as a way of getting, and keeping kids active. In general, organized sports programs are highly specialized and regulated. Adults set practice times, buy the necessary equipment, pay fees, and enforce the rules.

play_by_iosa-d4d4uerThere is nothing directly wrong with organized sport but in many circumstances it limits input from the child. We must remember that children do things that are presently fun, training specifically for future athletic endeavors is often the opposite. In fact, a large proportion of successful professional athletes don’t choose to specialize in a sport at a young age ( Baker 2003).

How do we give children more freedom while keeping them active? We must consider the lost art of the “pick up” game. In an article by Peter Gray (a professor at Boston College) it is proposed there are a few key elements present in informal sports that children need to be exposed to.

Here they are:

“There is no real difference between your team and the opposing team”

“To keep the game going, you have to keep everyone happy, including the players on the other team”

“Rules are modifiable and are generated by the players themselves”

“Conflicts are settled by argument, negotiation, and compromise”

“Playing well and having fun really ARE more important than winning”

–        Peter Gray 2009

While Dr. Gray does appear to be using the article I used to promote his book, after considering the points he raises it does appear that each of these elements have the potential to increase the levels of fun inherent in sport. They also create the potential for a child/youth to take ownership of the activity.

Multiple studies have proven that children engage in more physical activity if they feel that they have personal control over it (Welk 1999).

In conclusion I would like to say that while the article I have ended up writing is far different than the one I set out to write I think the topic of informal play/ physical activity is important to consider. To wrap up this post I just want to emphasize that children aren’t born knowing how to organize leisure activities with their friends. Initially it is something they will need help doing it but at some point, for kids to get the full effect the training wheels need to come off.


Baker, J. (2003). Early Specialization in Youth Sport: a requirement for adult expertise? High Ability Studies, 14(1), 85-94.

Gray, P. (2009). The Roles of Play and Curiosity as Foundations for Learning.  Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/200911/some-lessons-taught-informal-sports-not-formal-sports

Welk, G. J. (1999). The Youth Physical Activity Promotion Model: A Conceptual Bridge Between Theory and Practice. Quest, 51(1), 5-23. doi: 10.1080/00336297.1999.10484297

Image: “Play” by Iosa (©2011-2013)

Image: “Street Hockey” by a-puffs (©2008-2013)


How Much Physical Activity Do Children Need?

by: Andrew Stewart                                                                                                   Published 08/06/13


To Kick off August, and our Physical Activity Theme I figured it would be a good idea to start by focusing on children and youth.

Unbeknownst to the majority of the population a disease epidemic of massive proportions is occurring in most first world countries and it is going almost unnoticed – it is an epidemic of obesity in the young.

Results from the 2004 Canadian Community Health Survey indicate that ~18% of children ages 2 to 17 in Canada are overweight with an additional 8% of these individuals being obese. This is not normal and is a fairly recent and startling development.

While to some “weight” is a controversial subject, from medical standpoint obesity is clearly a disease that threatens the long term survival of an individual. It is good idea to try to nip it in the bud. With a few rare exceptions an overweight child is the result of the environment they are raised in. There are some genetic predispositions but through physical activity and a balanced diet they can be suppressed for a lifetime.

To get this week started I would like to introduce you to the currently accepted physical activity guidelines for children (As recommended by The Canadian Society of Exercise Physiologists). As the week progresses I will then provide you with information on why they are important and some good ways of getting kids moving.

The following recommendations are taken from the Canadian Society of Exercise Physiologists (CSEP) for levels of both sedentary and non-sedentary activities in children which we at the lab (generally) trust to be accurate.

CSEP recommends that children (ages 5-11) and youth (ages 12-17) should limit recreational screen time to no more than two hours per day. On top of this in an official press release they stated that “children and youth should also limit sedentary transport, prolonged sitting and time spent indoors throughout the day”.

Secondly, CSEP also indicates that for health benefits children and youth should partake in at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity daily (moderate to vigorous activity means that Kids need to be getting their hearts and lungs working hard).

dandelion_____by_mechtaniyaHow often have you driven by a children’s soccer game to see half of the team sitting on the field picking the dandelions instead of chasing the ball? While there is nothing wrong with this widely practiced form of amateur horticulture; to get that 60 minutes a day we need to make sure that every once in a while they engage with the game and run as hard as they can after that ball!

It is also important to take into account that the recommendation is for 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity – not 60 minutes total of physical activity. With a maximum of 2 hours of sedentary activity, even with time spent at school and completing ever growing piles of homework children and youth need to be filling up their free time with as many active pursuits as possible.

Now that you know how much physical activity a child needs, how can we make sure they get it? Look for my next posts as I attempt to find some answers for this question. In the following weeks look forward to articles by my colleagues who will try to figure out how you can fit in the physical activity you need as well as a guest post on the challenges which face cancer patients who are attempting to remain active while battling disease.


Starky, S. (2005). The Obesity Epidemic In Canada. Library of Parliament.

Teed, L. (2011). New Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines Released: Canadian Society of Exercise Physiologists.

Teed, L., & Pacheco, M. (2011). Cutting down on sitting down: the world’s first evidence-based sedentary behaviour guidelines released: Canadian Society of Exercise Physiologists.

Image: “The Athlete” by Bill Fleming (©2010-2013)

Image: “Dandelion” by mechtaniya (©2010-2013)