With the news that schools are to close from today, parents nationwide were supplanted with too many worries to count. An indefinite school holiday is the stuff of nightmares in the best of circumstances, but with the already confusing conundrum of social distancing and working from home added to the mix, keeping children entertained – and also active – is going to be an almighty challenge.   An inevitable worry is how social distancing may well lead to reduced activity, and how the end of PE lessons and disbanding of sports clubs and teams will impact children across the country. Primarily, from a health standpoint.

Ali Oliver, the chief executive of the Youth Sports Trust, stressed the importance of this earlier this week, when news of the school closures first broke. “Physical education is compulsory in the national curriculum and, as [schools] move to a remote curriculum, let’s also not forget about that lesson,” she said. “It may feel like it’s not the biggest priority at the moment, but actually the whole coronavirus dialogue is about health and illness. What better time to talk about how we keep young people happy and active?”

For mum and dad, cold, wet Saturdays spent shouting on park touchlines, or obscenely early morning starts, ferrying kids to swimming lessons or gymnastics, are now a thing of the past – at least for the next few weeks. But that same unending energy your children brought to their cherished sport sessions will need to be spent somehow. To find a happy medium between your children lazing about on the sofa, mindlessly gaming, or otherwise bouncing off the walls, here are some suggestions to help them get their recommended 60 minutes of active time a day.

First, go outside

Simply going for a stroll in your nearest park and getting some fresh air is the easiest way to keep everyone in the house active and avoiding cabin fever. Chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty advised on BBC Breakfast on Thursday that this can definitely be done under the current guidelines. “It’s very important that both children and adults take exercise and enjoy themselves as much as they can. Being outside in the park is a very good thing to do, and taking exercise is always a good thing to do. The thing that we’re trying to avoid is people meeting up unnecessarily or having unnecessary social contact.

“So going to the park, yes. Crowding together with lots of friends for long periods of time? That’s the sort of thing we’d rather people did not do. The key thing is to avoid the close social contact – but if it’s in the open air and people are keeping their distance then we would certainly want people to enjoy themselves.” British Cycling have also encouraged getting on your bike to keep healthy, an activity you can enjoy with kids as well – especially since outdoors spaces are likely to be less busy or traffic congested.

Play balloon tennis

A classic, sort of. But it is simple, cheap, does not require more than a few feet of living room space and it does not run the risk of a television getting smashed.  All you need is a pack of balloons, something sturdy like a chair or sofa to act as a net, and at least two players to whack the balloon back and forth across the room. Parents might even find themselves getting involved, for the stress relief of hitting an object as hard as possible, as much as anything else.

Do the keepie uppie challenge – with a loo roll

Children can now, more than ever, feel a kinship with their favourite sports stars, in that everyone is in the same boat when it comes to self-isolating. Emulating the skills of football’s finest need not include a pitch, cheering crowd or even a ball, as players have substituted it all with a humble roll of toilet paper. The viral social media sensation has the best footballers in the world posting videos of their attempts at the keepie uppie challenge, using a single loo roll, launched in an effort to encourage people to stay home.

It is an easy way to keep moving, and gives kids the opportunity to try to match or even beat their sporting idols’ highest score.

Invest in a smart football

If you deem your loo roll stockpile too precious to be kicking around, you might want to invest in DribbleUp, a smart football or basketball designed to help improve skills. Connected to your TV or phone/tablet, the DribbleUp allows you to access one-one-one virtual coaching, set your kids hundreds of challenges, and work on ball skills that will help them ease past defenders when they finally get back on the pitch or court. And it is all doable indoors. It is not just for kids either, so could help you hone your footwork or bouncing skills for when your five-a-side team is back up and running.

Do PE in your front room

It did not take long for ‘The Body Coach’ Joe Wicks, always a beacon of enthusiasm and energy, to get involved in offering a public service amid this global health crisis. As school closures were announced, he pledged to bring physical education to the living room, in launching ‘PE with Joe’ on his social channels.  

“Don’t worry, I’ve got you,” he said in a video posted on his Twitter, addressing a nation of worried parents. “I’m going to get your kids moving, energised and positive and optimistic. “I’m going to be the nation’s PE teacher starting Monday. Our kids need this more than ever.” Wicks will begin hosting a live PE class to anyone child who wants to take part from 9am on weekdays on his YouTube channel, The Body Coach TV.

Specifically designed for “little kids right up to secondary school”, the 30-minute sessions will offer structured activity from a qualified personal trainer, and some semblance of a schedule for children too. Online resources are also available on Primary PE Planning (primarypeplanning.com), where they are offering ‘Home PE’ programmes free to download.

Get trampolining

If you have enough garden space, the benefits of bouncing around on a trampoline cannot really be counted. Not only will it keep children entertained for hours on end, it does not require more than one person to be involved, and you can keep watch for safety purposes while getting work done.

Go online for ideas

Sport England have relaunched their sportengland.org webpage to advise how to keep active while at home. It now includes resources on workouts you can do indoors with your children. If you are tight for space, their Disney dance-along videos created by This Girl Can are a fun and compact way to exercise. They also have links to games and activities for indoor play that means kids will be up and moving throughout the day.

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