Saving the endangered species of children who know how to play

In the “old days,” a column about kids’ fitness in a gay newspaper would seem odd, to say the least. But, because of adoption and surrogacy, many in the LGBT community now have children. Maybe same-sex marriage hasn’t arrived in Pennsylvania, but all around us lots of same-sex couples are suddenly faced with the challenges of raising happy and healthy children, which means they are parents who want healthy activities for their young children. In a time when more Americans are obese than in any other country, and Philadelphia is one of the fattest cities in America, it’s important to get young children into healthy habits of eating right and exercising.

When we were children, we would play outside with the neighborhood kids. We would meet on the corner with our bikes, decked out with playing cards, and round up the whole gang for a day of fun. We’d go to the local pools every day in the summer or, if we happened to live outside the city, hike through the woods, building forts and storming other kids’ forts.

Activity facilities for kids are popping up all over Philadelphia and now they’re making the most of our dollars. Philadelphia’s Kids On 12th was the first activity club in Philadelphia to provide multiple choices of activities in one space for children of many ages. Now activity clubs can be found in many Philadelphia neighborhoods, many offering several activities under one roof. They’re all expanding to bigger and better facilities with more space, more expensive equipment, gymnastic floors, one-way mirrors and parent cafés. But what’s best for the kids? The best fitness formula for children today is, and has always been, balance, safety and fun! Fitness should never be work for a child. The age-old rule is true: Children won’t do it if it isn’t fun! And remember: Besides health and fitness, play has countless social and emotional benefits. With parents or teachers always nearby, children never need to solve their own problems. They have consistently busy schedules and spend most of their days either at school or at camp. Kids don’t feel the need to be creative because the adult will direct the activity for them and they don’t learn social skills. Leadership, cooperation, self-confidence, empathy and friendship are all naturally learned through play.

When looking for childcare for either a preschooler or elementary school-aged child, a parent needs to consider: Is there convenience of hours, location, flexibility of time and schedule changes? Is the facility clean and well-maintained, not necessarily with expensive equipment and loads of bells and whistles? Do you like the staff and the director? What are the safety rules and do the children understand the rules? What is the play-to-structure ratio?

For busy parents with hyperactive schedules, finding active play opportunities with other kids is sometimes a major-league challenge.

I took my kids to gym classes where they had to walk like cheetahs and slither like snakes and fly like an alligator — their imaginations got to play along with their young bodies! Sadly, I’ve been to art classes where children had to draw a face with perfect dimensions, regardless of how they saw the face from their own perspective. Even at the playground there was a group of concerned mothers telling them to go down the slide slowly, don’t climb up or down the monkey bars, don’t jump from the top and then giving me sideways glances as if to say, “What kind of mother are you to let your children play like that?”

This is why I opened Kids On 12th, so kids can jump, play and learn safely, with enthusiasm and creativity every day. At Kids On 12th, we are truly committed to saving the endangered species of children who know how to play!

Forerunners of kids’ fitness in the metro area, Kids On 12th opened its doors seven years ago in the 12th Street Gym Complex. Today, Kids On 12th helps children (and their parents!) enjoy the benefits of quality kids’ fitness with activities as far-ranging as swim club, trampoline fitness and arts and crafts. Find out more at www.kidson12th.com.