By Andrew Kardon from Mommy’s Busy… Go Ask Daddy
My kids love videogames. They will sit and stare at a screen for hours upon hours. Thanks to the Nintendo Wii and Xbox 360 Kinect, at least some of this game play is active. You should see the sweat I work up playing Boxing on the Wii! But I struggle to get my kids engaged in other types of physical activity, especially activity outside the house.
Recently I’ve started to incorporate video game themes into outside playtime. I’ve noticed that the more I do it, the longer my kids stay engaged in outdoor physical activity.
Take baseball for example. They love playing Mario Sluggers on the Wii. (Okay, fine. I love it too!) When I suggest we practice baseball on the driveway, Jason usually responds with, “I know how to play baseball. I play Mario Sluggers and I’m really good at it!”
Not exactly the same thing, Sport. But Jason will be a bit more amenable to playing outside if we can somehow relate it to Mario. Granted, it results in some rather… odd parts of the game.
Ryan likes to pitch a “special,” which means he pretends to throw a fireball at Jason. In reality, a “special” is a large kickball instead of a baseball. It’s not exactly America’s traditional pastime, but if it keeps them engaged and outside, I don’t care what type of balls they throw.
We use the Mario approach on neighborhood walks, too. Inevitably there is some point in the walk where Ryan’s legs will start to hurt. He’ll ask, “Are we done yet?” That’s when I pull out the video game card.
“Look, Ryan! Mommy and Jason are almost a lap ahead of us! I see a magic mushroom by that stop sign. Let’s move!”
His head will snap into videogame mode. He’ll grab a “speed-inducing” magic mushroom and start running towards his mother and brother, pretending he’s zooming up the track in his souped-up Mario Kart.
Sometimes it’s tough for me to relate to the apathy my kids feel about playing outdoors. My wife and I love being outside; my kids, on the other hand, hate it. But it’s such an important part of life, that we try to connect with them at their level. Lots of parents are quick to point out the “evils” of videogames and blame the Nintendos and Xbox 360s of the world for their kids’ laziness. I don’t think labeling videogames as the “bad guy” is the right approach. My goal here is to teach my sons to live healthy, balanced lives. Videogames can be a part of that, as long as exercise is, too.
That’s why I’m overjoyed whenever I see Ryan and Jason taking the initiative to make their own “videogame” out of playing outside. Sometimes they set up obstacle courses by dragging just about every toy in the garage to the backyard and then making up a game that is loosely based on the Mario and Sonic Olympics games. They’ll see who can toss a football the farthest or run around the house the fastest. Or who can hop on one leg while making their way through a maze of baseball bats. It’s wacky for sure, but at least they’re outside!
Anything that encourages my kids to get outside and be more active is okay in my book. Rather than trying to force my kids into a traditional societal mode of outdoor sports play, I choose to work with what I’ve got. I’d much rather have them enjoy their time playing outside than to force them to do something they hate. Besides, this way, my kids have some of the best trainers and coaches around. Their names just happen to be Mario and Luigi.