Sport or torture?

Today I watched two five year old girls teach a toddler how to run. They raced ahead and shouted encouragement at her. Then stopped, waited until she caught up to their point on the pavement and then held her hand to help her feel their special running dynamic. It was so sweet  (and so slow). It  made me remember how my daughter Lola learnt to run – simply through a lack of brakes once she started speed walking through autumn leaves down a hilly slope in a north london park.

It’s so easy to take our bodies for granted, as my children have been honing their skills I’ve become a great witness, but I realise that I’ve completely failed to push my body beautiful to any great limits. Downward dog (that’s yoga) is about the best I can manage, or ever did.

But because I have school-age children I’m curious about how to get them to try new things, especially sport – not to play at a champion standard, but just to enjoy or do with friends for a cheap (ideally free) play date.  As you will see if you read my new book (out 1 July 2010) Homemade Kids: thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children, by Nicola Baird, I’m a big fan of being outside assuming that this makes you and the kids halfway to active, but clearly it’s a more complex issue as your children get older.

Over the past two days I’ve seen a whole new way of looking at the ordinary body fit – first watching the runners in the London Marathon (it’s 26 miles over tarmac!) and then at the circus where handstands and tightrope walking are utterly normal.

Prime Minister John Major may have joked that he ran away from the circus to become an accountant, but most of us – especially if you’ve recently read Sarah Gruen’s wonderful novel Water for Elephants  (which is all about American circus life) – long for the freedom circus acts appear to have. All illusionary of course, especially if you are doing two life-risking performances a day.

I guess running offers a more realistic freedom – and could be a lifesaver too at certain times. Luckily most kids love to run so it is a simple task to dream up mini challenges (call them marathons if you want) to boost their stamina.

Keep it moving
Suggest your little kids run to the next tree, or the top/bottom of the hill or the postbox is not only good for fitness and their future sporting triumphs, it is also going to help you get where you want faster, whatever age your child.
To help you on your mission challenging reluctant or nervous children try reverse psycology (bet you couldnt’ do that…); inspire by adapting a familiar book such as We’re Going on a Bear Hunt or simply time them and note when the times get broken.

And keep on praising them too. It’s sport not torture.

As it only takes 16 weeks to train for a Marathon (allegedly) you may find you’ve accidentally honed yourself to such a level of fitness there’s no option but to have  a go yourself… and all because you once successfully tricked your little boy/girl out of the buggy for the last 100 metres, and then had to sprint to catch up…

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