Rolling to fitness

September 21, 1994|By Anne Werps

ONE OF the joys of parenting is rediscovering old childhood loves. The latest for me is roller skating. I no longer skate outside on the pavement, careening down hills. Now I enjoy skating indoors to music. And my children like it, too.

A party at a roller rink unlocked the joy of skating for one of my children. Although a few improvements could be made, it remains a pretty good choice of activities. The music could be more varied and sometimes I don't care much for some of the lyrics. The snack bar could provide healthier choices and the video games aren't necessary; I figure children are exposed to those things at home anyway. Besides, they don't provide the exercise that skating does.

As a teacher who cares about students' general well-being, one time I asked my class what they like about skating. One student said she liked the feeling of power it gave her over her body. That called to mind something I once read about children and the link between physical activity and brain development. Author Jane Healy writes in "Endangered Minds" about how modern lifestyles may actually be harming children's brains.

In the chapter "Why Can't They Pay Attention?" she discusses attention-deficit disorder -- the symptoms of which usually include difficulty performing in the classroom. The book includes a list of items that may cause or aggravate the condition, including: "toxic substances, some foods, noisy environments that cause children to tune out, sedentary lifestyles, and failure by adults to act as constructive, thoughtful coaches for their children."

In her elaboration on the hazard of sedentary lifestyles, she examines the rising rates of obesity among U.S. children and adolescents over the past few decades. Whether you compare today's children to their parents and grandparents or to children in other nations, physical fitness is poor.

Ms. Healy contends that attention-deficit disorder may be related to the fact that so many children have their natural energies bottled up in schedules and unrealistic adult expectations. In years past, children had more free, unstructured play time. That type of play helps with body coordination as well as visual and auditory skills. Many in the field of physical education believe that a lack of free play and body movement is slowing down the learning potential of today's children.

Today many children are tied to their parents' schedules, often resulting in going from the structured school environment to another structured one in after-school care. When children are involved in physical activities, they often are laden with schedules, rules and competition. When they do get home, it's homework, probably television and to bed.

The next day, the structured routine begins all over again. They get up early and may go somewhere for before-school care.

Which brings me back to roller skating -- it allows children to exercise according to their own inner clocks. They can skate or they can sit down and rest and reflect. They may have a snack when they want, not at some scheduled time determined by adults. There isn't any competition or emphasis on winning and losing. There isn't a coach to rebuke anyone's performance. They often laugh at themselves when they fall down. My student's remark about feeling a sense of power over her body is one we should all heed. A little sense of empowerment goes a long way for children, no matter how trivial it may seem to adults.

I was in a group of several adults watching children at a local roller rink one day, when the discussion turned to how much children love to skate. We talked about how different they are to be around when we take them skating. We watched some of the more challenging children enjoying themselves and interacting with us in a refreshingly different way. One teacher turned to me and said, "We should take them skating every day!" I couldn't have agreed more.

Anne Werps writes from Perry Hall.

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