“Program” Your Children for Maximum Learning, Beat Winter’s Doldrums, And Keep Your Sanity – All At Once

Baby, it’s cold outside.

If you’re like most, you’d rather hibernate inside than be forced to dress like a mummy to take a walk, go to the gym, or do much of anything outdoors.

Yet there’s no doubt that exercise is good for your children – and for you, too. And it’s not just good for you when the weather is to your liking.

Plus, your children will be more attentive if they’re more active.

James Sallis, professor of Family and Preventive Medicine at the University of California-San Diego, says, “This is a very consistent finding, that physically fit kids do better in school.”

And a recent report from the Institute of Medicine states that “children who are more active show greater attention, have faster cognitive processing speed, and perform better on standardized academic tests that children who are less active.”

Other studies seem to show a correlation between physical fitness and test scores. While compelling, do they actually prove that fitness is the cause of higher test scores? After all, there’s also a correlation between physical fitness and socioeconomic status, the latter of which also tends to be linked with academic achievement.

All of this begs the question: Does adding physical activity into the school day boost a child’s capacity to learn?

A Kansas study tried to answer that question. At 14 elementary schools, teachers were trained to teach academics using movement. For instance, students might solve 2+2=4 using their bodies in place of blocks. Or they might run to letters on the floor to spell words.

This had a positive effect on body weight, as nearly 22% of those at risk for obesity returned to a normal BMI – 5% more than in control schools. It also benefited students academically.

Studying students’ academic performance was actually an afterthought in this study. The researchers added the measure of academic performance “to show, at minimum, that we were not disrupting the classroom.”

And they were surprised by their findings. Students who did active lessons scored highers on a 30-minute standardized test of reading, writing, and arithmetic were higher in schools that did active lessons than those that did not.

While homeschooled children have more freedom of movement than their counterparts in structured school environments, you’ll want to consider these findings when you structure your lessons.

This also suggests that during winter – when it’s hardest to stay active – you may need to work harder to keep your children active.

Otherwise, they may become so wild and unruly that you’ll be ready to enroll them in the nearest public school.

My sons had a tendency to start fighting when they weren’t getting enough exercise.

Instead of doing their math, they’d be throwing spit wads at each other.

My solution was to make them don their tennis shoes and run down the hill to the end of our subdivision and back up (about 1 mile). And they responded by invariably being more attentive to their math when they returned.

So here’s some great winter activities – inside and outside – that can keep your children active (and focused) when appropriate.



14 Winter Activities – Outdoors

1. Sledding or snow tubing. You’ll need a snow-covered hill, plus a sled, large inner tube, or large piece of sturdy cardboard or smooth flexible plastic. Advantage: no expensive equipment or lessons. Just watch out for rocks and trees.

2. Become a “sled dog” and pull your children across your back yard or a field at full speed on their sleds. Kids love it when mom and dad pretend they’re sled dogs. You can even make it a race if you want.

3. Go snowshoeing. You can do it close to home, and it will both entertain and wear out your younger ones. Don’t have snowshoes? No problem. Strap cardboard cutouts or shoe boxes to your boots with twine.

4. Build a big fat snowman. Let your younger children create the face and other accessories, since they may be unable to push a giant snowball across the yard. Or let them use sandbox toys to create a city made entirely of snow.

5. Build a snow fort, and re-enact old fort activities. Or build a couple forts and have a giant snowball fight.

6. Take a nature walk at a nearby preserve or park. Read a book about winter wildlife before you go, so you’ll all be more aware of winter’s sights and sounds.

7. Have a winter treasure hunt in the snow.

8. Have a snowball pitching contest. You’ll need nine large plastic drinking cups or empty tin cans, and a fair amount of snow.

Build three bases of snow about two feet high, three yards apart. Level off the top of each, and make a pyramid of three cups or cans. Make the pitcher’s mound about 20 feet from the bases (closer for younger children).

Players take turns trying to knock down the three pyramids by throwing snowballs from the pitcher’s mound. The player who knocks all of them down with the fewest pitches wins.

9. Make snow angels. Keep them looking nice by trying not to step right next to them.

10. Go cross-country skiing. In the north, parks and golf courses become cross-country ski courses during the winter. Fees are usually minimal or non-existent. So your only cost is the skis. A great family activity.

During our years in Washington State, we spent one Christmas on the east (cold/snowy) side of the mountains. We stayed in a cabin and cross-country skied for two days. At the time, our youngest was just three years old. He was an amazing little trooper. Even though he fell a million times, he kept getting back up and trudging on. I dare say he was more tired than the rest of us at the end of the day.

11. If you live near mountains, go downhill skiing as a family. Budget breaker warning though… this is an expensive activity, and it isn’t something you can do in 30 or 60 minutes. If you live near mountains, buying a season pass will be far less expensive than paying per time – as long as you know you’ll use it. Calculate your break-even point and make sure you reach (or surpass) it.

12. Take a walk in your neighborhood. Take heed of snowy and icy patches to avoid serious falls.

13. Create your own ice rink, or use a public one. In the Midwest, public ones are common. In Minnesota, everyone has a hockey stick in their hands by the time they’re four. In Michigan, where we live now, many of our neighbors create their own rinks using fencing… if you can do that, your older children can skate while you tend to younger children.

14. Try snow painting. Fill cups with water and a bit of food coloring. Using an eyedropper or squirt bottle, splash some color on the snow! Or use it to decorate snow sculptures, forts, or snowmen.

If you live in the south, you may get rain instead of snow. Or luscious sunshine.

For sunshine, you don’t need much creativity. For warm rainy days, let kids splash about in rain boots and raincoat. If it’s cold, take a lesson from the following playbook of indoor activities.



13 Winter Activities – Indoors

It’s inevitable that there’ll be days when the weather is so frightful that no one wants to go outside. So what to do inside?

1. Have a dance party. Crank up the music, move the furniture to the perimeter of the room, and have a blast! March, stomp, twirl, jump, hop, polka… Get your rhythm on and just rock and roll.

2. Bring outside toys inside. Not the entire outdoor play set, of course. But jump ropes, small slides, balls, hula-hoops, and push toys all qualify. Even riding toys can work, if you have enough space.

3. Do an exercise video together. When my daughters were about five and two, they absolutely loved to exercise with me. Fortunately, we had ample space in our great room for the three of us to exercise together.

4. Go bowling.

5. Bounce on a mini-trampoline. We have a small high-quality mini-trampoline made by ReboundAir. Over Thanksgiving, our 3-year-old grandson was almost inseparable from it. And when he wasn’t on it, his older brothers were.

It’s perfect for three-minute breaks to get your blood flowing, and full-blown exercise routines. I’m an authorized reseller for these mini-trampolines, so if you’re interested in getting one for your family, email me at ForHomeschoolMomsOnly@gmail.com with your contact information, and I’ll get back to you with the details. To get credit for the purchase, I have to be the one to actually place the order on your behalf.

6. Play active games, like Twister or Simon Says. These were some of our family’s favorites.

7. Play Ping-Pong (table tennis). We’ve owned Ping-Pong tables in the past, and then left them behind during cross-country moves. Now it’s on our wish list again.

8. Do household chores. They provide a break from sitting, and accomplish essential tasks at the same time.

9. Race up and down the hallway.

10. Let your children make a pillow pile and fall or jump into it. A favorites of my grandsons. Supervise well to avoid crashes.

11. Create an obstacle course. Especially fun for toddlers; make it more challenging for older children.

12. Have a calisthenics competition. Demonstrate an exercise, and have your kids complete a specific number of repetitions, competing to see who finishes first. Good examples are jumping jacks, sit-ups, and lunges. Of course, if you do them too, so much the better. They love to be like mom and dad!

13. If you allow video games, make sure they’re interactive ones.



Indoor Activities Away from Home

Last, but not least, there are organized sports programs available outside your home. These often involve fees, which can deter many parents. Other possible activities:

  • Participate in sports programs, such as Upward (www.upward.org), which focus more on exercise and skill development than on competition.
  • Swim at an indoor pool.
  • Roller skate instead of ice skate. (It’s warmer!)
  • Visite science centers, aquariums, children’s museums, or other fun places that encourage movement.
  • Head to the zoo.
  • Visit an indoor rock climbing facility (if your children are older).
  • Find a bounce house in your area.

If you partake in some of these outside-the-home activities, why not meet up with another homeschool mom and make it a social event for you, too?

Disadvantages of outside-the-home activities may include cost, disruption of your school schedule, and exposure to everyone else’s germs.

However, I’m not suggesting you sit (or even exercise) inside your house all winter. We all need a break from the routine. Enjoy!

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