BILLINGS - Keeping kids from catching COVID-19 is just one of the challenges during this pandemic. It comes with other health issues and concerns as kids miss out on classroom time.
“It’s always important for kids to have physical activity, whether they are at home, or at school. I think at school it’s easier for kids with recess and gym class, for them to get that recommended amount of 60 minutes a day of physical activity. So at home, it’s really important for their mental health, for their overall cardiovascular health, and just their muscular health to get up and move their body,” said Krista Bakkedahl, Billings Clinic pediatric physical therapist.
The 60 minutes of physical activity a day is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and is a general school guideline.
Planning physical activity throughout the day could help children focus on their schoolwork.
“Setting a timer for your child, to give them that auditory reminder of – I gotta get up and move, I gotta get up and stretch. It’s easier for them to focus on their schoolwork once they’ve gotten their wiggles out. Kids tend to be wiggly, they’re supposed to be wiggly, so it’s best to give them that reminder to get up and be active for a few minutes, and then they can sit down and focus better on their school work to do their best academic learning,” Bakkedahl said.
Attention spans vary by age, so Bakkedahl recommends younger children get up and move every 15 minutes, and older elementary students should move every 30 minutes.
A few home activities she recommends are running in place, jumping jacks, marching, frog jumps, and stretching.
She also said guided videos are easy to find online by searching for “kids at home exercise” on YouTube.
Roku also streams a program called “Go Noodle” that guides children through home movements and exercise.
Parents should also encourage their older kids to get in daily physical activity.
“It’s really, really important for middle school and high school kids to also take that into consideration, that they also need to get up and stretch,” Bakkedahl said
She recommends they do burpees, squats, or even getting outside and shoveling some snow.
“I know it’s not fun, but it’s good physical activity, and it’s helpful to your parents,” she said.
Pediatric speech-language pathologist Katie Sam is concerned about speech development.
She said kids are having a harder time being understood by their peers and teachers because masks conceal visual cues.
“As kids are learning to communicate effectively, there’s just so many sounds they need to make and our tongue has so many complicated movements to make some of those sounds, and some of them are really challenging. In particular, T, H, and R. And then sometimes they can be hard to understand, even in kiddos who aren’t having difficulty being understood. Behind a mask, the sound ‘f,’ as well as the sound ‘th,’ essentially sound the same. So we usually use a visual cue to see those when we are talking,” Sam said.
Lack of visual cues can be especially hard on children with hearing loss and autism.
Sam suggests using clear masks, and over articulate when lip and tongue movements are not visible.
While Zoom and FaceTime are used for education and catching up with family and friends, Sam recommends using them to communicate since it’s a safe way to observe expressions and mouth movement.
Pediatric occupational therapist Tanya Sciuchetti reminds parents to include sensory play.
Schiuchetti describes it as anything that’s fun, creative, and movement based.
“Try to make it a priority because that’s what’s going to help keep your child more calm and regulated. And we need these sensory experiences just for overall good development and development of our coordination, better attention, better focus. They’re just so important for our overall development,” Schiuchetti said.
Sensory play also helps develop cognitive skills used in math, science, and problem solving.
Some of Schiuchetti’s recommended activities include:
- Create an obstacle course in your home
- Visit the playground when the weather allows
- Get down on the ground and act like an animal. Try a bear walk or crab walk.
- Play limbo in the living room
- Roll around on the ground
- Create sensory bins with objects hidden by sand, rice, or beans
- Create a water play station in the kitchen sink, bathtub, or in a bowl
- Blow bubbles with a straw to create a bubble tower, or jump on bubbles to pop them, and catch a bubble on your body then pop it
Like any other activity, children should be supervised for safety during sensory play.