Many a proud new parent dreams of buying their kid’s first mountain bike/skateboard/kicks. But babies are pretty hopeless – they can’t even tie their laces. Yet, when it comes to getting active, you don’t have to wait until your baby can walk. In fact, the sooner you start the better.
You don’t need to be told about the rising tide of obesity. The figures are alarming and they paint a pretty bleak future. If you own a toddler you’ll know that it’s hard to keep them still. But if you have a teenager, you’ll know the opposite is true, and getting them going can be nigh on impossible.
The answer is to make activity and sports part of your child’s everyday life. The sooner you do that, the more normal it is growing up, and the more likely your child is to have an inclination towards sport as they get too tricky (lazy) adolescence. It’s a long-term investment.
Make a splash
I’m not suggesting you go shopping for baby’s first skateboard. The place to start is in the pool. I started Water Babies classes with my precious first born when he was 12 weeks old. Now 12 years old, he plays football three times a week, swims once a week and takes part in triathlons.
Swimming is pretty marvellous. Unlike on land, in water, even the most helpless newborn has a full range of movement, fully supported by the wet stuff. While you may not think that your tiny baby needs a cardio workout, they do – it helps strengthen their growing muscles, core and head control, regulates feeding and sleeping patterns, aids coordination, and even helps their developing brains make important connections. Babies have much more freedom in water, and that helps almost every aspect of their development.
It’s also the one activity you can do from birth. Babies have this affinity with water that’s quite incredible to see. They have reflexes to hold their breath, kick and move their arms. Most of all, they love it.
The proof is in the pool
So, by making exercise and activity an integral, fun part of family life from as early as possible, you’re making it normal. All three of my children exercise every week and have done since before they can remember. Baby swimming lessons continued into childhood, and then came football, adventure playgrounds, soft play (read this guide first!), playgrounds, scooters, bikes, surfing, karate, netball, roller skating, etc.
But there’s actually scientific evidence for this too. Water Babies is part of a group of experts in children’s health and well-being that has produced a report for government campaigning for more sport and activity for children. A Fit and Healthy Childhood kicks up a lot of figures, and the picture for our children is quite depressing.
A few terrifying facts: 1 in 5 children start primary school overweight or obese, rising to more than a third by the time they leave. Recent studies on activity levels show that preschool children as young as three have more than four hours a day ‘screen-time’. But the figure that I find most shocking is that children spend less time playing outdoors than prisoners are required to have outside by law,
On top of that, Water Babies’ research shows that swimming babies reach physical and cognitive milestones ahead of their non-swimming peers.
So what are you waiting for? Get those exercise habits firmly rooted now and you’ll be setting your child up for a healthier life.
I’ve been teaching Water Babies for eight years (which is why I have access to its stats, and think its swimming programme is the bomb!). Baby swimming classes are a great way to learn how to get the most from pool time with your little one, and baby swim schools use warmer private pools with lower chlorine levels.
If you want to go it alone, look for pools with special family splash time sessions because the pool will be warmer. As a rule, the pool should be warmer than 30 degrees. If your baby is under 12 weeks or 12 pounds, it should be 32 degrees.
To find a Water Babies class near you, look here.
For older children’s classes, check out Swim England here.
About me: Rowan Clarke is a baby swimming teacher, outdoor swimming adventurer, and all round semi-seal. www.finsandgoggles.com