Help kids get a jump start on a healthy summer

Apr 21, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. ET

Did you know that children gain weight twice as fast in summer compared to the school year? Here's how to encourage your kids to stay healthy.

Kids playing soccer |

Photo credit: Fuse/Getty Images

By Valerie Lawson

Summer break is nearing, and that means kids and teens will lose the structure of daily lessons and physical activity. Research shows that children gain weight twice as fast in summer compared to the school year. In addition, when school ends, they are at risk of falling behind academically. It’s critical for children to maintain learning and exercise throughout the summer. With a few simple changes, parents and caregivers can help ensure fewer children are at risk for obesity and more children succeed in school.

Even though school won’t be out until June, families can begin to build healthy habits now. To help give parents a head start, the Y is celebrating YMCA’s Healthy Kids Day on Saturday, April 26, at nearly 1,600 YMCAs across the country. YMCA’s Healthy Kids Day is the nation’s largest health day for kids and features games, healthy cooking demonstrations, arts and crafts and more. Millions of kids and their families will be in attendance, walking away with tips and resources on how to live healthier now and all summer long.

For ideas on how to stay active and encourage learning, here are five simple tips for families from the Y.


Make muscle memory

Help your kids build stamina and support healthy growth with vigorous activity for at least 20 minutes, three times a week. Try kicking, catching or chasing a ball, or pedaling and pushing with a bike, rollerblades or scooter. Set and achieve a family health goal by teaming up for community or charity races, walks or bike rides.


Build brain power

Take care of a child’s growing mind the same way you take care of a growing body — with plenty of sleep and smart foods. Doctors recommend between 10 and 12 hours of sleep per day for kids ages 5 to 12, and even more if they are younger. Be sure kids get at least five daily servings of fruit and veggies, the minimum number of servings nutritionists recommend for maintaining healthy child development.


Teach confidence and compassion

With self-esteem and teamwork, kids can feel connected to their family, friends and communities. Volunteer with your kids to help them discover the rich rewards that come from helping others. Help your children learn to both fail and succeed by trying new competitions, taking risks and learning about themselves.


Foster an appetite for reading

Discover the power of knowledge by reading to and with your children. Build an early and ongoing love for books by helping kids read at every age and every stage of their development. Create a summer reading list that will help keep your kids on track for the next school year.


Ignite passion

Kids grow up happiest when they can participate in the activities or subjects they love. Help your children figure out their passion with exposure to a wide range of activities, including nature, sports and art. Allow kids to ultimately decide which activity inspires them most.

Visit YMCA Healthy Kids Day for more information on summer activities and Healthy Kids Day celebrations in your community.

For more than 15 years, Valerie Lawson, an exercise physiologist and registered dietitian, has helped people of all ages make positive changes toward a healthier lifestyle. Valerie joined YMCA of the USA in 2007, and is a program development manager for the Healthy Living department.

More on healthy kids

What's wrong with the "fat" word?
We're losing our kids to virtual worlds
A guide to your child's dental health