Summer fun

Eight healthy ways to keep your kids active

MCEP students

Brooke Ramoutar having fun at the Central Park splash pad.

Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, July / August 2016

School’s out, the kids are home and the summer months beckon.

And, for many parents, that means it is time to find some activities that can help keep the kids moving until the fall.

Fortunately, that is not a tough thing to do in Manitoba.

In fact, summer is a great time to let kids explore options for physical fitness that will continue long after the summer of 2016 is just a memory, says Darren Brereton, Director of Health and Fitness programs at the Wellness Institute at Seven Oaks Hospital.

The value of doing so cannot be overestimated. Study after study shows that our kids are not active enough. The latest Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth, for example, reports that only nine per cent of kids between the ages of five and 17 get the 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity they need six days a week to remain healthy.

One reason contributing to inactivity among children is that kids spend a lot of time in front of televisions, on computers, and using hand-held electronics. “Kids are becoming overweight, and Type 2 diabetes is on the rise, as a result of lack of exercise and good nutrition,” he says.

Of course, there are steps parents can take to help ensure their kids remain active during the summer. Perhaps the most important thing, says Brereton, is to make sure your kids are participating in an activity or sport they enjoy. “Or else you may find yourself battling to get your kids to go do the sport.”

And whether your child likes swimming or batting a tennis ball around, or is really into swinging a golf club, it doesn’t really matter as long as they are moving and having fun. Brereton says that ideally you would like them to participate in activities that help them achieve three physical fitness goals: strength training, cardiovascular workout and improving flexibility. But keep in mind that any activity is better than sitting on the couch for an extended period of time.

“Exercise should ideally involve all the big muscle groups. It should get the heart rate up and burn calories,” says Brereton, adding this will help ensure kids maximize the health benefits from the activity.

Going outdoors gets kids into fresh air and nature. This is good for their mind, mood and health. “By learning to hop, jump, kick a ball, and throw a Frisbee, they learn co-ordination and improve their motor skills, which translates into success in other areas, he says.

Hand eye co-ordination and the ability to perform basic movement patterns will allow kids to successfully participate in a number of activities that, in turn, will improve their confidence and enjoyment of movement. This also increases the chances that they will be active throughout their life.

Parents can help their children become more active by being good role models. “Take them swimming, play games in the park, or go on a bike ride with them,” he says. “It shows them that it’s important to build in activity. And you’ll be having fun with your kids.”

Children naturally want to play their favourite sports or activities. That’s fine, but parents need to make sure that their kids are participating in a variety of activities so they use all the muscles of their body. If a child only plays one sport or activity year round it can lead to overuse injuries in the muscles that are dominant in that sport, says Brereton. Cross-training works different muscles, teaches new skills and avoids repetitive strain injuries. It also keeps things fresh and helps with motivation, he says.

There are certain safety concerns to keep in mind, such as outfitting kids with bike helmets, applying sunscreen and bug spray, and providing age-appropriate supervision for them while they’re swimming. But on the whole, it’s better to get them outdoors, exploring their world. “Kids need help to cultivate curiosity and a sense of adventure,” says Brereton. “So get them into an activity this summer and, above all, keep it fun.”

Susie Strachan is a communications specialist with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.

Cool down

When the temperature rises, wading pools, splash pads and outdoor swimming pools are a great way to cool off.

Splash pads can help introduce young children to water, says Darren Brereton, Director of Health and Fitness programs at the Wellness Institute at Seven Oaks Hospital. “These don’t involve swimming, but get them moving and cooling off at the same time.”

Older kids will enjoy wading pools, and teens who like swimming will love the big outdoor pools at Kildonan Park, at the Freighthouse, in St. Vital, and at other locations.
“Swimming is great exercise. It’s good for the lungs and heart, and it’s easy on the joints, yet moves all the major muscles,” says Brereton.

“All kids should take swimming lessons, in order to be competent in the water. Parents of younger kids should remember to always stay within an arm’s reach of their kids while they are swimming, and remember to apply sunscreen, as it’s easy to get a sun burn.”

More info:

A lark in the park

A day in the park, in the fresh air, with the prospect of a picnic or an outdoor barbecue in the offing – it doesn’t get much better than this for younger kids.

Running, playing tag, and flying a kite are all unstructured activities that don’t cost a lot, and build positive interactions between parents and their kids. Rather than sitting on a bench and watching your kid on the slide and swing set, why not toss a Frisbee or play a little soccer with them, says Brereton.

More info: City of Winnipeg’s Parks and Open Spaces,


Playing a racquet sport such as tennis, badminton or pickleball is a great cardiovascular workout. The sports can be played following the rules of the game, or kids can make up their own rules as they go along.

“It’s a lot of fun to hack around with badminton, just hitting the birdie back and forth across the net. No need to keep a score, or worry about the boundaries of a proper court,” says Brereton. “Tennis and pickleball are popular sports, and you can find courts and leagues around the city.”

The main concern about racquet sports is that they typically are one-arm dominant sports, says Brereton. “It’s important to warm up before playing, by doing stretches and swinging your arms around. You don’t want to overuse one set of muscles.”

More info: Kids can play tennis at any number of city courts. In addition,
Sargent Park Tennis Garden offers free membership to kids under the age of 16. For details, visit

Swing into action

Think the game of golf is expensive and, worse, frustrating to play?

Think again, says Brereton. The City of Winnipeg runs learn-to-golf camps for kids in which they learn about the equipment, the playing field and how to play a round of golf under the guidance of a golf professional.

There are three golf courses inside the city, including the 9-hole Crescent Drive course, and the 18-hole courses at Kildonan Park and Windsor Park. Many of the courses offer a discounted fee for junior golfers.

“Golf is a life-long activity that many kids take up, and continue to play decades later,” says Brereton. “It’s outdoors, involves walking and has a great social aspect. Younger children enjoy scaled-down golf, like mini-putt courses.”

Again, the same as for racquet sports, care has to be taken to cross-train in other sports, to avoid overuse of the muscles used in the golf swing.

More info:

Off the beaten path

If your kids love scavenger hunts, take it up a technological notch and try geocaching.

Kids love their hand-held electronics, so it’s not a big step to interest them in using a hand-held GPS device. The added bonus of geocaching is that in order to find the “treasure” in the hunt, everyone has to go on a hike, says Brereton.

Tourisme Riel offers a geocaching kit that takes you on a tour of St. Norbert Heritage Provincial Park, using the GPS unit to explore the historical landscape of the park.

MORE INFO: For a free sign out geocaching kit, visit

Reach for the top

Climbing a tree is a childhood standard. But it’s not easy to get to the very top of the tree.

Chris Barkman helps kids go higher, taking kids on climbing expeditions to the tops of elms, ash and cottonwoods in Winnipeg.

Barkman is an arborist who is also trained in how to teach tree climbing. He takes kids as young as seven, gives them an orientation to the gear used to climb a tree – including rope handling, knots and safe climbing techniques – and then leads everyone up to the canopy of the tree.

“Kids get to experience nature when climbing trees,” says Barkman. “They feel it move, they get a different perspective when at the top, and they’re away from their (electronic) devices. Sure, some kids are scared to climb so high, but we can always stop and lower them down. But if they do make it to the top, they think, ‘Wow, it’s great.’”


Born to ride

Riding a bike is a great way for kids to have fun and help get the hour of activity they need every day to maintain good health.

“It’s great for your balance, and it gets your legs going, and your heart pumping,” says Kristine Hayward, a physical activity promotion co-ordinator with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.

To make cycling more accessible to all, a group called WRENCH has a program that allows kids to learn how to build and repair bikes. “There is an Earn-a-Bike program where kids take an eight week course in bike building and maintenance. There are also bike safety classes for kids,” says Hayward.

Speaking of safety, under Manitoba law, it is compulsory for all those under the age of 18 to wear a properly fitted helmet. If travelling at night, the bike must have a white light on the front and a red or amber light on the back. It’s important to wear brightly-coloured clothing, in order to increase visibility. Always use hand signals when turning and stopping, and obey traffic signals and signs. Encourage teenagers to not wear headphones or use any electronic devices while cycling.

Children under the age of 10 should be accompanied by an adult when riding in traffic. Children over 10 need a lot of training before they can ride on the road. They need to practice their skills in safe places while adults are watching and helping them. It is legal for children to ride on the sidewalks, as long as the rear wheel of their bike is 16 inches or less in diameter.

Parents should teach their children how to stay safe on the sidewalk by watching for cars pulling out of driveways and safely crossing the street.

MORE INFO: Learn about the Build-a-Bike program, skill-building workshops and access to tools at

New camps for children with disabilities

Physical literacy – the ability to master all sorts of fundamental movement skills – applies to kids of all abilities. This summer, Society for Manitobans with Disabilities (SMD) has introduced a new camp to help children and youth build up those basic skills.

Billed as a sledge hockey camp taking place at the St. James Civic Centre this summer, it encompasses a lot more than just the ice sport, says organizer Bill Muloin, Supervisor for Leisure and Recreation with SMD.

“There will be wheelchair tennis, a drumming section, swimming, and a dietitian talking about nutrition, among other things,” says Muloin, adding that the camp grew out of the fall and winter sledge hockey program he runs.

“Children and youth with disabilities live higher sedentary lifestyles. Offering an adapted sport camp provides children and youth with opportunities to exercise various muscle groups, make friendships, learn about a healthy lifestyle and, most of all, participate in a sport camp just like their peers without disabilities.”

SMD also runs Summer Access day camps for children and youth, which feature a one-on-one ratio of child to support staff person. This year, the camps are aimed at both disabled children and youth, and also kids who are deaf or hard of hearing.

“The day campers go all over the place, including to places like Camp Manitou, canoeing at FortWhyte Alive, and Birds Hill Park,” says Muloin. “They’re based out of the North Centennial Rec Centre, which has a kitchen, so we can teach things like adapted cooking, and fall back to, if it’s a rainy day. The more mobile groups can go to Assiniboine Park and the Forks, and will use the St. James Civic Centre as a base.”


For sport and recreation subsidies, get the Everyone Can Play Guide at

How many minutes?

For health benefits, children 5 to 17 years of age should accumulate at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily.

Moderate physical activities will cause you to sweat a little and to breathe harder. Activities include:

  • Brisk walking
  • Bike riding

Vigorous physical activities will cause you to sweat and be “out of breath.” Activities include:

  • Running
  • Rollerblading

Being active for at least 60 minutes daily can help kids:

  • Improve their health
  • Do better in school
  • Improve their fitness
  • Grow stronger
  • Have fun playing with friends
  • Feel happier
  • Maintain a healthy body weight
  • Improve their self-confidence
  • Learn new skills

Source: Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology,

Wave: November / December 2015

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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