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Slow down, parents. It’s good for your kids

Recently, I was asked, "how we can make time for play in our busy lives?"

Some people, especially those with younger kids, may balk at the idea that we need to make time for play. I remember when our kids were small, life was all about three things: sleeping, eating and playing. It was a cycle that made up our daily routine. This was a particularly slow time in our lives when we really didn't need to do anything or be anywhere (including work, thankfully, because I was able to be a stay-at-home mom).

As our kids got older the pace quickened and it became necessary to consciously carve out out time for play, because it's easy to get sucked into the vacuum of "busy." Or as Ferris Bueller put it, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."

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Imagine what Ferris would make of the warped the speed we're moving at 28 years after he uttered this famous line.

Thank goodness, Carl Honoré, award-winning journalist, author, globe-trotting speaker, and ambassador for the "slow movement" has taken up the cause and his approach is practical, reasonable and reassuring.

I spoke to Carl once about the connection between slowing down and kids developing physical literacy, a key ingredient in predicting whether a child remains active throughout their life time. The following are 10 tips I have pulled from our conversation on how to incorporate the slow movement into your life in order to raise active, healthy, happy kids.

1. Focus on building a foundation, not on early success We've all heard the expression slow and steady wins the race. According to Honoré, in our quest to raise the next athletic superstar we're pushing kids too fast and too hard without equipping them with the building blocks (like hopping, running, jumping, etc.) they need to be able to continue being physically active throughout their lives. He sees this phenomenon not only in sports but in grammar and math as well and notes that kids who are given the time to master the ABCs will catch up with those that excel early, and eventually surpass them.

2. Resist the mini-me syndrome If you've ever uttered the phrase "we're doing dance camp this summer" it's time to take a step back. Honoré talked to me about how the line has become blurred between parents and children because we've become so overly invested in our kids' achievements. It's a claustrophobic situation for both sides, he says. Kids need the space to find their own interests and passions, make their own mistakes and have their own successes. Parents also benefit from taking off some of the pressure to be on the sidelines or in the stands for every practice and game.

3. Take a break from dinner in the SUV We're moving so quickly through our days that we're losing sight of the unique needs of our families. Pressing the pause button on some of our activities and obligations can help us gain back the perspective that has been lost running around all the time. According to Honoré, slowing down helps us tune back into our own intuition about what's best for ourselves and our families.

4. Schedule unscheduled time Some people might fear that slowing down or taking a break from organized activities means that everyone will retreat to their devices or to the couch. But Honoré says that it's important is to actually schedule slow time into your day. During this time you can do things as a family that help kids develop physical literacy without them feeling like they are being coached or checking another thing off a list of tasks. It's easy to develop skills while spending time together just "…go for a bike ride in the park, or go look for interesting stones at the beach, or build a fort," suggests Honoré.

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5. Follow your own recipe Sometimes it seems as if there is little choice but to follow the way everyone else is doing things, but often, with a little creativity, you can find a new approach. Honoré gives the example of a child that loves hockey – it may seem like you either have to commit to playing four nights a week or not play at all. But if you can see through these two choices you can create something that might work better for your family and still lets your child play the game they love. Maybe it's finding other kids to play road hockey, or engaging an older cousin or neighbour to pass along tips. Not everything needs to be programmed.

6. Pour your energy into the simple things. While many of today's parents are spending a great deal of energy on building their child's "resumés," Honoré is concerned that we aren't spending energy on the simple things that go a long way to helping kids develop into well-rounded people – like having a meal together or reading them a story. Honoré warns that in trying to build the perfect child, we're forgoing the very things that help to create a good one.

7. Look for the balance between structure and space There is a middle ground between pushing a child and leaving them to their own devices. Honoré wants parents to understand that children need a little pushing, training, instruction and competition but that they also need to the time and space to figure things out on their own and direct their own play and interests.

8. Turn down the pressure Not every child who participates in a sport will be a superstar and it's important to realize that they will still get a lot out of taking part, even if they aren't the best. The more pressure we put on a child playing a sport, the more likely it will be that they quit. Because pressure isn't fun – and kids play sports to have fun. Parents hungry to turn out an elite athlete are at risk of "kill[ing] that thing we love, piling on so much pressure and so much organization so early that we squeeze out that space where the child can learn and get confident in herself."

9. Get out of the way of children's play Honoré notes that as adults we can get between kids and their play, even though our intentions are good. But by slowing down we can see when we're needed and when we're inserting ourselves unnecessarily. "Let's help [kids] but let's help them at the right rhythm, the right pace so we're not rushing when we shouldn't be rushing and messing up the thing that we really want to nurture."

10. Know you're not alone Instead of accepting the status quo while complaining about 5 a.m. practices, for example, consider that if it's not working for you then that's probably true for others as well. Honoré emboldens everyone to take stock of what we're doing and if it fits into our lives, he invites us to say, "Is this what we really wanted for our kids? Is it want we wanted for ourselves? You hear these conversations going on in playgrounds, hockey training camps on the sidelines, you know it's everywhere, and sometimes it's to say, well instead of moaning about it why don't we try to think about what we can do?"

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It's all about figuring out if you like what you see when you finally do stop and look around – and if not, making changes that feel right for your unique family.

Sara Smeaton is a senior contributing editor and social media strategist for Active for Life, a not-for-profit initiative committed to helping parents raise healthy, happy kids who are physically literate. Find Active for Life on Facebook and Twitter.

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