x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Fit fix for summer's couch confinement

Feature With nearly a month to go until many schools open their doors, some creative indoor activities both keep children entertained and help them stay healthier.

Illustration by Katherine Streeter
Illustration by Katherine Streeter

With nearly a month to go until many schools open their doors, stay-at-home-dad Jerry Langton offers some creative indoor activities that will not only keep your children entertained and out of the blistering summer heat, but help them stay healthier, too.

Sometimes when the heat is so bad, it's just not a good idea for the kids to be outside too long. Not only are children far more sensitive to the effects of heat than adults, they also tend to make things worse by running around - like children - and they forget to do things such as rehydrate or even slow down.

So you have to keep them indoors for long stretches. And with school not starting again until late September, you're looking at hours and hours of time inside with the little ones. Having them indoors without them going stir crazy is often more difficult than it seems, especially if you have work to do. Luckily, there are a few things a dad can do that will keep his kids happy and healthy - and, if you sneak it in, you could even teach them something.

The first thing you have to do is get a Nintendo Wii. Ignore your inner geek telling you that the Xbox has better graphics or that the PS3 is more powerful and has more games; just get yourself a Wii. The difference is that while other games are best played from the couch, the Wii literally forces kids to move. In fact, it's so good at making kids move that it's been endorsed by the prestigious Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. "We know if kids play video games that require movement, they burn more energy than they would while sitting and playing traditional screen games. That's pretty obvious even without our data," says Lorraine Lanningham-Foster, an obesity researcher and leader of the Mayo study. "The point is that children - very focused on screen games - can be made healthier if activity is a required part of the game."

Of course, some games are better exercise than others. Wii Fit is designed specifically for exercise, but some kids may find it - especially the yoga parts - difficult. Better bets are sports simulation games. EA's NBA Live 09 and FIFA 09 (which allows you to play as the UAE national team) are fun, addictive and exciting. Although they both have easy-play settings, NBA Live and FIFA may be too complicated for kids who aren't basketball or football fans. They might want to try Mario & Sonic At The Olympic Games. It's fun, it's easy to understand and it's good exercise.

But there's a finite time to how long a child should look at a TV screen, no matter how much it makes them jump around. One activity many children can enjoy indoors is gardening. Although it can take a while for anything to grow, when it finally does, they will get a real sense of accomplishment. While flowers can be nice and decorative, my own children prefer to grow vegetables and herbs. They like to have a goal for their gardening and to know that they are making something the whole family will enjoy. Carrots, onions and beans are particularly easy for them to grown and can yield edible vegetables quickly. Herbs, if your children are inclined, are a cinch and they take up almost no space. My 11-year-old, in particular, is fond of Italian cuisine and is always proud to include his self-grown basil in tomato sauces and bruschettas.

This brings us to cooking. Since you don't want the young ones using the oven or chopping anything without supervision, your choices are generally limited to your level of involvement. One surprisingly easy option is to have them make ice cream. Ice cream makers are available at many retail stores and on the internet for reasonable prices. The only ingredients necessary are cream and some sort of flavouring (like chocolate or chopped fruit) to go in the ice cream and ice and salt to keep it cool. The best ice-cream makers come in a ball shape which children shake until the ice and salt mixture churn the cream into ice cream.

If they still need something to do, art can be fun, time-consuming and give kids a sense of accomplishment. But it can also be messy and require a lot of supplies. Instead, you might want to try the one creative game that never fails with my children: charades. If the concept makes you groan, keep in mind that children don't play it in the same, overcomplicated way adults do. They just act and shout out answers. If you don't mind the noise, it can go on for hours.

And if that gives them a taste for the artistic or dramatic, hand them your camera. Since everything's digital these days, you don't have to worry about buying film or waiting for developing, and the results are immediate - perfect for children. Let them take pictures of themselves, each other and their toys. Should they get ambitious, they could use the camera (or a camcorder if it has a single-shot mode) to make stop-action videos. All they have to do is take a toy such as Lego, take a picture, change its position just a little, take another picture and repeat.

The resulting animation can be fun and fill your children with self-esteem as it will make them feel like little Martin Scorseses. Best of all, it takes your little directors for ever just to make even a few seconds of animation. They will be engrossed for hours. With just a few ideas, extended hours inside don't have to be a jail sentence for the little ones. Or the dads who look after them.