Sunday, May 3, 2015

Creating a Home Gym for Children

An old post found in my draft folder, which I am publishing almost a year later. (4/08/2016)

The Problem

Our eight-year-old boy doesn't sit still. This makes school (or prayer time or evening story hour or meal times) really challenging. Watching him is like watching an Indian rubber bouncy ball pinging all over the room.

We aren't at all worried about a label or actual disorder. We've even seen professionals who assured us immediately that there was no concern about a disorder: that this was Normal Boy Behavior. Indeed, I can see plenty of times John will sit solidly still and engaged in an activity for an hour or more, but it has to be something that captures him: a fantastic book, an engineering project in the back yard, shooting a BB gun, or serving at Mass. And no matter how much he is wrestling with his brother or leaping off the bed during story hour, when I ask him (with irritation) what I'm reading, he can literally quote it back to me.

But school cannot be avoided and I've tried so many management and discipline techniques to get the child to sit still long enough to do his work. Our homeschool is rigorous but has been designed to be completed between 9:00 and 11:30, which I remind (during my tantrums) is far shorter than kids in "school-school" have to sit!

A worksheet that should take 20 minutes might take an hour and a half due to resistance to sitting still. There were fights, drama, tears, and often school was dragging into the afternoon, wasting my time and his.

What to do?!

The Solution

I created exercise zones in our home most particularly for John, although Mary could use many of them too. (At six years old, but a more typical girl for which institutional school was designed, she will happily sit still for two and a half hours doing whatever paperwork I tell her to do.) I was seeking opportunities for exercise that would provide heavy muscle resistance or raise his heart rate rapidly, so more than just sending him out in the back yard to toodle around.

Some exercise is great, but I ruled it out:
  • He's not old enough or large enough to safely use our elliptical machine or a treadmill if we had one. Interestingly, child-sized versions of such machines are available for purchase, but seemed to be low quality.
  • What with potentially nosy neighbors and one hearing of calls to CPS for homeschoolers or "free range kids," we do not feel comfortable at this time sending an eight-year-old to jog or ride his bicycle during school hours, even in our very safe neighborhood. It simply draws too much attention.

I can send our son into the back yard to:
  • climb our climbing dome
  • swing (especially on the rope swing from a high tree, which puts him on a 40-foot arc, versus the little kid swings on our jungle gym)
  • climb the rope of the rope swing straight up till he gets above 15 feet and Mama gets too nervous

I can send our son onto the driveway to:

I converted a corner of our bonus room into an exercise area with equipment we already owned and a few new items we purchased for about $130. Some will see that as a lot of money, others as what they drop at one meal at a restaurant. But if one has a boy, a bunch of boys, or extremely active children of either gender, one has to consider serious costs: labels slapped on them, medications, enrolling them in school-school, and so forth. We considered the cost of some exercise equipment to be smart money.

The indoor exercise corner is now equipped with:
A history of the mini trampoline: I requested this gift from a grandparent when John was learning how to read. He could read fine but couldn't bear to sit still long enough to read more than one sentence. So, I began assigning him 100 jumps on the trampoline before we began reading. Then after reading each sentence, he had to do 10 jumps on the trampoline. Even at five, he rolled his eyes at me, feeling foolish, but very soon told me how relieved his body felt and that he liked our new system. He was able to read-and-jump on and on after that! (We don't own one, but know some families with a full-sized trampoline in the back yard that report great success for use during homeschooling hours.)

This has helped our boy get out his energy at a critical age before he truly has the self-discipline to sit still for long periods.

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