Physical Activity

I read two posts today from moms comparing older daughters and younger sons – and in both cases the girls come off as easy and docile while the boys are aggressive and physical.

I’ve noticed that moms very often vastly underestimate the amount of physical activity their kids need and they think there is something wrong with their kids when what they really need is many more hours of physical activity.

My siblings and I played outdoors from morning ’til night, as kids. We ran and jumped and tumbled and skated and biked and climbed and dug and chased and roughhoused like crazy. I also spent many hours in water almost every single day during the summer.

On school days I walked/ran to and from school, had at least two recesses, a class physical education time (we played games like Capture the Flag, dodgeball, and Red Rover Red Rover), and a lunch break (I ran home for lunch and back quickly to spend time playing on the playground), and we had NO homework so the minute I got home from school I changed into pants/shorts because girls had to wear dresses to school in those days and ran back outside to play with neighborhood kids. Play consisted very largely of hide-and-seek, kick-the-can, stickball, kickball, a wide variety of tag games, mother-may-I, lemonade, red light green light, duck duck goose, and a TON of hopscotch. I roller skated and rode my bike and we had rudimentary skateboards (we took apart our skates and nailed them to boards). We had pogo sticks and slip-n-slides and hula hoops. We often went over to the school playground and played on the equipment – rings, slides, swings. We played foursquare a lot. My neighbor had a trampoline and we bounced and bounced and bounced.

Nearly every evening of my childhood I was physically worn out – very grubby and tired and ready to have some dinner, a bath, watch a little tv, have some stories or have mom or dad sing to us kids, maybe play with my sisters with dolls or something for a little while and often fall asleep reading a book.

And “I” was a fairly sedentary kid compared to many! I was a bookworm kid who loved board and card games.

Children haven’t changed – their physical needs haven’t changed – since the 50’s or 60’s. Some kids need more and others need less physical activity, but when a parent thinks a kid is “hyper” or “bounces off the walls” or complains about a kid’s aggressive behaviors and so on –  the parent probably has no idea the sheer quantity of physically strenuous activity that that child needs.

People these days will say, “He’s got soccer 3 days a week,” as if that is supposed to give him enough opportunity for physical activity. First, I love soccer for many kids, but it is a structured-by-adults activity in which a child has to control his physical urges for much of the time. He has to wait, stand in line, use the part of his body he is supposed to use. It is not at all the same as structured-by-the-kids-themselves play. And, a few hours a week is completely inadequate for most kids as an energy burn off. They more likely need a few hours every day.

Yes, kids are different. Not all kids want or need a lot of physical activity. Some will climb a tree and sit up on a branch and read a book for hours – not hang and swing and jump and balance. But ONLY the child can really know how much physical activity he or she needs and the child can only figure that out in the context of having plentiful free and unstructured time for it.

Boys, on the average, need even greater amounts of strenuous physical activity than girls. That they tend to be more aggressive has to do with hormones they experience even in the womb. Again – there is a big range and some girls have greater physical needs than some boys and vice versa – but moms seem to very often have a hard time with how physical their little boys are. The same can be true for moms of girls who happen to have extremely high physical energy needs.

Sometimes dads help the moms understand their boys’ physical needs, but when dads are busy working all day and it is mom who is home with the kids, boys can end up not getting their needs met and moms end up thinking there is something wrong with their little boys.

Of course all of this is made much worse by school, where all kids are expected to sit still much of the time. But homeschooling moms can have unrealistic expectations, too. And I think many of their sons suffer for it (and some of their daughters, too).


5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Christina @ Interest-Led Learning
    Jun 14, 2012 @ 23:30:10

    My six year old son never would have made it in any type of school setting. Even when he eats, he still bounds out of his chair to run around and then come back. But he’ll sit and listen to stories of his choosing for an hour sometimes. Even his twin sister would have a hard time, although she gravitates towards more academic activities. She woke up this morning, grabbed her animal encyclopedia, and spent the next two hours entering animal names into wikipedia and reading about them. But she has mornings where we wants to run outside and swing, too. I’m so very, very thankful we unschool and that the kids can be physical whenever they want to. Boys are biologically built to need lots of physical activity. We’re not only hurting them mentally by keeping them still in schools for so long, but we’re damaging them physically, too.



  2. duospiritus
    Jun 15, 2012 @ 22:58:10

    I’m a pretty low maintenance person when it comes to physical activity, and I always have been (compared to my friends and sibling), yet when I was in school I found myself craving the chance to play and run as well as acting like all the other students who were “hyperactive” and “bouncing off the walls.” In retrospect I wonder how hard it must have been for my classmates who needed more time to play, and I understand how rough and aggressive the games got during PE and recess.

    Yours in Queerness,
    Duo Spiritus



  3. lindsay
    Jul 03, 2012 @ 06:04:13

    this is so perfect and true!!!



  4. Mary Lewis
    Aug 07, 2013 @ 01:54:23

    Great post!! Gage HAS to get that physical energy out before he goes to sleep at night..and there’s usually a final burst which involves wrestling. Physically pushing against resistance satisfies something that he needs and then he can relax and go to sleep. A good indicator that he’s ready for it is fits of giggling. They are very cute fits, but definitely an indication that he’s entering the go to sleep window 🙂



  5. Rebekah @ The Golden Gleam
    Aug 12, 2013 @ 11:57:46

    Amen! I love to see other bloggers voicing the need for kids to have more free play and outdoor physical activity. One of the reasons, I took my kids out of school is because I think the amount of outdoor play time they have is cruel – less than 30 minutes a day for a 7 hour school day. And this starts for kindergarten students. =( No wonder kids can’t sit still.

    One of my children has SPD, and about every hour I have him do at least a few minutes of a very physical activity – bouncing on the bed, dancing, running up and down the stairs, tumbling on the floor, carrying around heavy bags, etc…. This is on top of the hour or two we have of free play each morning and evening along with a movement exercise before the bulk of our “learning time”. No wonder he couldn’t behave in school. He couldn’t move his body enough and was just bursting with nervous energy.

    Thank you for spreading the word. Unstructured play is my passion.



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