When exercising, it's best never to outpace one's toddler

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The Independent Online
There's been some brilliant media coverage recently on the need for kids to exercise and adventurise. In the olden days, kids like Enid Blyton's Famous Five rampaged about the countryside without a care.

Nowadays parents and carers are so stressed out about socially disadvantaged types roaming the streets that they won't let their kids out of the house. If the house is small, children get little scope for exercise. If they don't exercise they get obese and there's even less space in the house. See, mums, how these spirals begin.

There is also the emotional cost of restricting kids and endlessly saying "No" to their need to adventurise. How would Julian, Dick, Anne, George and Timmy the dog end up if Aunt Fanny was for ever telling them it was safer to stay in and watch videos? I'll tell you how they'd end up: the Fuller-Figured Five.

My partner, Chris, and I have been very strict about making sure the kids adventurise in a controlled environment. Chris is a wonderful role model; when he is at home in England - three months of the year - he does weightlifting and kung fu every night. He is quite happy to take Timon with him to the leisure centre, just so long as I don't mind looking for Timon's reins!

While he's abroad, I thought it would be a good idea if he talked Timon and Esme through some exercise jumps on the mobile. So far he hasn't been too keen.

Chris: "What do I say while they're jumping?"

Me: "You just say 'well done'."

Chris: "What if they fail?"

Me: "How long have we been life partners Chris? There's no such word as failure. Hallo?"

A happy and healthy attitude to adventurising begins with mum's attitude during toddlerhood. When your toddler first starts "cruising"- hauling herself around the furniture - it is vital that she feels secure and welcome in every room. Try re-arranging tables and chairs to create a transport chain throughout the house. Chris was not at all happy with me re-arranging his desk and chairs to create a chain through his study. Looking back, it's lucky he decided to go to Namibia shortly after Timon's first study cruise.

Trips to the park with your toddler can be extremely enriching, but do go at her pace: carers guided by their toddlers have discovered great joys in the minutiae of the plants and trees. By the way, always have in mind that you are the home base. Your toddler will stray to a distance of 200 feet, then she will come back to you provided you stay in the same place. If you move you will thoroughly confuse her - I always made a point of sitting entirely still until my kids returned. Obviously a bit of restricted movement is fine: if you have an itch, for instance.

Up till last week the Sinclair family exercise programme included a weekly walk for the kids - never less than 10 minutes - which I infused with adventure by changing routes. The kids never quite knew if we were going left or right out of the door, or even whether we were going to cross the road. Since Timon ram-raided the local sweet shop with his babywalker seven years ago I have found it more convenient to keep him on reins. While Chris is away, his fellow weight-trainer, Kerry, acts as Timon's guide and controller.

Last week's walk was full of adventure. We saw a host of golden daffodils and Timon specially asked to be let off his reins to pick some. By mistake, he trampled most of them underfoot but I couldn't stop my heart swelling with pride when I heard him telling the park ranger later that he was picking them for his mum.

Fifty yards past the daffodils Timon and Esme spotted an ice cream van. They both ran and neither Kerry nor I were able to stop them - in fact these "gentle giant" children of mine dragged us across three roads. I was deeply moved by their sense of purpose in pursuing those vividly coloured ice creams. I couldn't help remembering how much the Famous Five loved ice cream.

Kerry's leg will not be better for several months so I've asked him to talk the kids through some indoor exercises on the phone. Unlike my life- partner - up yours, Chris - he was thrilled with the idea.

My ever-resourceful kids had the smashing idea of exercising while watching the classic video The Animals Of Farthing Wood. Once Timon had pointed out that the woodland scenery would bring the feel of the great outdoors into the living room I could hardly refuse. And there's plenty of exercise to be had from the Video Experience itself - leaning backwards and forwards to reach the on and off switches can be immensely valuable in an all-round workout programme, and the forefinger muscles can become quite strong with constant channel-hopping. Happy viewing!

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