By Kimberly Bloom, Character Strength Department Editor
Creative and colorful fitness can begin with an energizing family run in the park and then go much further. When you learn to color outside the lines, God defines exercise and faith through memorable adventures both simple and grand.
As physical fitness has matured into a science we’ve created parameters, measurements, processes and matrix. Terms like Target Heart Rate, Body Mass Index, Range Of Motion, Optimal Performance Training and many more help us very specifically define limits, ability and potential. Parents too have a cadre of concepts and resources to help guide them in developing the physical and emotional growth of their children. Terms like motor skills, cognitive skills and adult/child attachment along with tools like height and weight charts or developmental assessments are used to establish guidelines for family growth.
These are the defined lines. But – families can navigate to greater physical fitness and a richer social and spiritual relationship when we give ourselves the license to color outside the lines. Parents and caregivers should not limit the impact that they have in helping children explore their physical beings by helping them move beyond the boundaries of traditional lines.
THE ART OF FREEDOM
As a little girl I recall struggling with coloring inside the lines. In the sixties, coloring books and dittos were pushed to help a child color Inside of the lines. I remember one night taking my crayons and breaking the coloring rules by using a plain piece of paper and doing my own abstract work. The page was full of different colors with lines going in every direction.
I proceeded to take my artwork to my daddy who was sitting in our living room. I nudged him and handed him my artwork. While he was looking at it I asked him if he liked it, his response was no. To this day this is still one of my most painful childhood memories. I don’t fault my father for wanting his child to follow society’s rules and color inside the lines, but it did leave an indelible mark on me.
When I was seventeen I gave my life, my hurts, my resentment, my regrets and my gifts to Jesus. Part of my healing process was being placed in an art class my senior year of high school. I was totally nervous and felt like a failure in the class before the first day. However, God had a plan to resurrect my creative nature and heal my wounds.
My art teacher not only taught me how to use paint, watercolor, and all arts muses, she built back my self-esteem. As I sat painting at an easel, brush strokes moving all across the page, I felt released, relaxed, and had such a sense of peace. If you are wondering if I grew up to be some amazing artist, the answer is no. However, I did become an early childhood educator who placed plain paper, easels, crayons and paint in her classroom.
DISCOVERING NEW LINES OUTSIDE
Over the years God has used His creativeness to heal and restore my soul. A few years ago one very late night, I rose from my bed and decided to go outside to look for shooting stars. Early that evening the local news announced that the east coast sky was going to be a great place to watch a meteor shower.
On this night I had a full house of children and grandchildren. However, everyone was asleep. I tiptoed in the dark trying to find the much needed jacket and shoes. I went out into the cold crisp night to the front of my home. I looked up to view a very sparkling sky. Shooting stars were all around me. I reflected back over the years of the many times I’ve looked up at the sky and wondered about my Creator. Thou I have shared this type of experience with my husband, children, and others. Tonight I was alone, enveloped in a sky that seemed to join me in a dance that praised God. It was my time to fully engulf the majestic Creator of Heaven and earth, to be a child again resting in the bosom of care.
To fully embrace creativity and help your children understand that creativity is not just about art [creativity fuels exercise, nutrition, family relationships, our interactions with others and our faith in God], it is important to understand how we are designed. Two important messages that I give as an early childhood specialist during trainings to teachers and parents are the following:
1. Children are born to move. Research tells us that infants are born with “lose it, or use it” neurons. Unfortunately, new research tells us that sixty waking hours of infants are now spent confined. Confined in a bouncy, swing, car seats, and more. Babies need to move, they need lots of safe floor time. It’s Zumba, jazz dancing; running for a baby when it’s allowed to move freely on the floor to roll over and move his/her arms and legs. If you watch a baby close during these activities, you can watch how their breathing increases to aerobic level.
2. By the age of five children have learned 95% of what they will ever know. Let that sink in for a minute. It is hard to imagine the early impact we have on children. Even in the early child world society pushes the cognitive side of learning. However, children learn best through meaningful play experiences. Children make sense of their world when allowed to pretend play. They learn math skills when allowed to build with blocks and play with sand. Children learn to corporate and play with others when you play with them. Children learn to help others when the opportunity is facilitated by an adult.
Our little ones, tweens, and teens need to experience the creative world to fully understand the scope of God’s creative nature. Often times we as adults get caught up in our very busy worlds. I have even penciled my own family into my monthly calendar. However, I cherish most the off the beaten path moments.
It’s difficult being a parent as well as exhausting. It is a job --- a calling that is often daunting. There are days you have to tell yourself it’s time to put your big boy pants on. However, it is by far the most exhilarating adventure you will ever have.
I also believe firmly that it is important for any caregiver of a child to have a joyful attitude. It is important for you to show your children what joy looks like, and remind them how much joy they bring to you and others. It builds children’s self-esteem and confidence. Take time to get on your child’s physical level, eye to eye [both socially and when you play and exercise]. Hold them in your lap, provide generous opportunities for outdoor play and be excited when they bring you their new discoveries.
Help children learn about God through nature. Experiences in the natural world are the first steps in leading children to Christ. These natural world experiences can include day hikes, even with infants. I can’t count the numerous times my husband and I went hiking with our children; from the hills of Owen County [Indiana] to the Colorado Mountains. Outdoor experiences like gardening can build cooperation, and perseverance. Even those who don’t live in a rural area have found that urban gardening can cultivate a better life. Each age of childhood takes on its own unique possibilities to find God thru the art of experiencing life outdoors.
OUT OF YOUR MIND PARENTING FOR OUT OF THIS WORLD KIDS
One time my family of five went on a hike in the Smoky Mountain National Park. My oldest child at the time was around fourteen. At that age, needless to say she was not happy about climbing a 2000-foot increase in elevation. In fact she was so disgusted by the prospect that she set down on the ground and refused to move. My lovely daughter was so upset she told me that no parent in their right mind would take a hike on a vacation, and that my husband and I were the weirdest parents ever.
I laugh now and quite honestly had to work hard not to laugh at my daughter then. I couldn’t get too upset with my daughter, because I knew she would eventually love the trail we were hiking. Children are naturally curious researchers, and explorers. Given time and space they will be the adventurers they were born to be.
As we moved up the trail I could see my girl weaving in and around trees. Next I would see her stop to look at something more closely. Eventually, she was running up beside me smiling and carefree. She was coloring outside the lines. As we neared the top of the trail the terrain became rocky. Hiking by foot became climbing rocks using our hands*. We adapted because we wanted to reach the top and see the beautiful majestic mountain-view.
*For more insights into building strong families through hiking read Great Hiking Secrets Revealed.
This time it was me who was putting the brakes on and making statements like, “I can’t do this”, “let’s turn back”. However, it was my young teenage daughter that now turned to me with the voice of confidence, and said “you can do this”; “I will help you”. Looking into my daughter’s eyes I took her hand. Clear as the blue sky that day, character traits became real and memories like a beautiful painting were completed. Years later now our daughter and her husband are taking their children outdoors for vigorous hikes of exploration and family fellowship.
HOW TO COLOR OUTSIDE THE LINES
Let’s wrap up key points to coloring outside the lines with your children, or children you influence:
1. Creativity looks different in all of us. Each of us is unique and has gifts that God can use creatively.
2. Creativity can be structured and unstructured
3. Art for little ones is about the process, not about a finished project.
5. Be who you want your child/children to be; don’t sit on the side lines, be active, fully use your gifts, and mind your manners as well. My pet peeve is when adults are constantly telling children to say please and thank you, but I never hear the adult say please or thank you to the child.
6. It is highly important to provide experiences that are safe and age appropriate. Then as your children get older ask, “What are we built for” and color outside the lines again by redefining your risk vs. reward matrix.
7. Build your relationships with your children and God, by simply spending time alone with them.
This article appears in the April/May 2015 issue focusing on the theme The Colors Of Fitness.
Anytime, Anywhere by Nikki Espina
Called Out Upon The Water by Krista Fox
Dad Time by Tim Turnquist
- Building A Healthy Start -www.adph.org/healthystart/assets/physicalactivitytrainingguide.pdf
- Active Early -http://fns.dpi.wi.gov/fns_cacfpwellnessaehb
- Kids Health - www.kidshealth.org
- Child Care Quarterly – www.childcarequarterly.com/fall13_story5.html
- Children’s Health System (Nemours) – http://www.nemours.org/service/health/growuphealthy.html
- American Academy of Pediatrics – www.aap.org