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For Parents

Dame Sarah Storey’s Tips for Encouraging Your Child to be Active

Britain’s most successful Paralympian and Fennies partner, Dame Sarah Storey shares her top tips for encouraging under 5s to be active.

sarah storey talking to child at fennies nursery

How do I encourage my child to be active if I’m not?

It can be quite hard because if  physical activity doesn’t come naturally to us, then we can worry that our own insecurities will rub off on our children and put them off too. The good news is that we are never too old to learn ourselves and children will love to help us to master something we haven’t done in a long time.  

Children are very tuned in to helping people too, so honesty is always the best policy. I remember my mum always being petrified of water and the deep end when we went swimming as a family, but she was determined this wouldn’t hold us back, so she regularly faced those fears and very honestly with us too. I always admired how she did this, so take confidence that children do understand and want to help.  

The other good news is that it doesn’t have to cost a fortune to be active with our children either, and we won’t be holding them back in any way if we decide not to sign them up for every available activity at the local sports centre, dance school or outdoor activity centre. Both my husband, Barney and I, took the approach that we would wait for our children to ask about doing formal classes or lessons before we signed them up, and so far, this has proved a good approach.  

Our trips to the pool as a family focused on making sure they enjoyed their time in the water, were never afraid of water but always had the utmost respect for it. Talking about the dangers of water and looking out for each other was as vital as helping them experiment with being able to float on their backs and kick across the pool.  

Dame Sarah Storey cheering at fennies nursery sports day

We have always tried to prioritise spending our spare time together as a family and so focused our time on the things we could all do together. Whether that’s swimming every week, cycling together, hikes in the hills near where we live, or visiting the playground at the local park with a picnic, we have always tried to make sure that our focus is on enjoying activity together as a normal part of our week.

It’s been very interesting to watch them independently work out how to do things like ride a bike too, with my daughter preferring to mix in her bike with stabilisers along with the balance bike, whereas my son had the focused time of lockdown to learn to ride by only briefly using a balance bike and then very swiftly moving to pedals. 

How can I encourage my child to be more active?

As we all know, children’s personalities are truly unique, which means they all learn how to do things differently. The best thing we can do as parents is to provide space, opportunities, give support, guidance and reassurance for them to explore and learn. 

The reassurance part is a critical tool we have as parents. This is something that can be done in lots of different ways depending on your child. Children learn best when it is on their terms, so if reassurance isnt working, we should always trust their instincts and never insist they carry on. Coming back to something in different circumstances is always far more productive than insisting they keep on trying something that they don’t like the idea of that day. 

Sarah Storey with child at fennies nursery

The most important part of the whole experience for any age though, is that the time spent as a family being active is fun. Whether the activity goes on to being a more formal sporting opportunity in later life is the last thing we need to worry about and any type of movement counts!

The winter can be one of the hardest times to keep up the activity levels. In our family, we find we go swimming more in winter, but equally creating obstacle courses inside at home can be just as much fun and effective for burning off some energy! If we keep in mind that children love an adventure, they love to be in charge and they thrive off free play and exploration, then the options for creating active days, in or out, are endless. 

As children get older, they often want to bring their friends along too. We have found an offroad route that connects us to our friends who live about 12 miles away and halfway along we can meet at the halfway point for a picnic at a local park. Sometimes it’s these types of adventures that get the whole family active and are the most memorable. So, get creative and involve your friends and family too! 

My top tips

Here’s my top five tips for families wanting to get more active with under 5s in tow: 

  • Look for the cargo bike option! Bikes are a great way to get out and about as a family, visit the local park and climb in the playground. Some places have cargo bikes for hire too, and your local bike shop will always be able to advise. 
  • Don’t assume you have to spend a fortune on regular classes for under 5s. Waiting for children to choose the classes or sports instruction they want to do is fine. My daughter asked for swimming lessons at the age of 4, whereas my 4yearold son has told me he has taught himself to swim and will continue to do it himself! 
  • Doing activities as a family helps the little ones learn from you, and they love trying new things when you are trying it with them! 
  • A picnic and a “treasure map” might be a simple way to do a family walk in your local area when you haven’t had time to plan anything further afield. 
  • There are often lots of hidden walking and cycling routes that lead to green spaces and hidden gems. Try and spend some time every month getting to know where you live better. One of the best parts about this is that you don’t have to go through the stress of car seats and parking, plus children love to explore and even more so when they don’t have to be strapped into anything! 
Olivia Jones

Olivia Jones

Content Writer

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