KUWAIT: This summer, medical experts across departments at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children (GOSH) in London have come together to raise awareness of the importance of children keeping active and engaged during the summer months, especially for children who have a long-term illness, are in hospital or currently unable to leave the house. Asia Kujawa, Specialist Pediatric Physiotherapist; Erin Hanna , Play Specialist and Caroline Kermarrec, Senior Pediatric Occupational Therapist all work at the London-based hospital which treats 1,500 children from the Middle East every year.
Keeping children active
Asia Kujawa, Specialist Pediatric Physiotherapist at GOSH, helps to enable children to be as active as possible and participate in activities with their family and friends during their stay at hospital. “We all know that activity is recommended for every child in order to stay as fit and healthy as they can,” explains Asia. “This is particularly important in the summer period when children may be less active as they are not going to school or participating in physical education. Exercise has so many benefits for children of all ages and is crucial for physical and mental health.”
The NHS recommends that children under the age of 5 years should only spend very short periods of time inactive unless asleep. They should spend at least 180 minutes a day being active. This helps promote motor development, cognitive development, healthy weight and enhances bone and muscular development, as well as supporting learning of social skills. Children over 5 years should spend at least 60 minutes and up to several hours of vigorous activity a day.
This should include a combination of strength, endurance activity. This provides benefits for cardiovascular health, bone health, maintain a healthy weight, improve self-confidence and develop social skills. “There are many activities that children and families can participate it. Swimming can often be a great form of activity and some swimming pools do have access for children with disabilities too. The buoyancy of the water can make it easier for some children to move, and it is good fun. For some children it may be difficult to participate in activities for a long time, so it’s important to pace activities, and have periods of rest in between,” explains Asia.
Routine and structure
Occupational Therapists (OT) work with children who have difficulties carrying out every day activities due to illness or disability. They help children to learn and develop new skills through play and become more independent with bathing, toileting and dressing. According to Caroline Kermarrec, a senior pediatric OT at GOSH, it is important for all children to keep routine and structure during long periods when not at school, such as during the summer holidays.
“Children need to keep their brains stimulated to encourage learning of new skills and to prepare them for their return to school,” explains Caroline. “Children who are in hospital or who have mobility problems may have weakness, fatigue and reduced bone density. It is particularly important for these children to play and be active to increase their muscle strength, bone density, balance and coordination and increase their mood.”
Play is important too
According to Erin Hanna, play is also just as important for children to keep engaged and active during the summer holidays because they can experience learning loss when they do not engage in developmental activities. Children also thrive on routine, so when summer comes, and regular school activities have finished, this may cause children to become bored.
Erin explains that children instinctively play and it is through play that they learn new skills and develop. “Play is important for healthy brain development and it is through play that children engage and interact in the world around them. As a play specialist, our job is to normalize the hospital experience and provide play opportunities to support their natural learning through play,” Erin concludes.
Tips from GOSH experts
Do research into what is available in your area: You may find there are children’s play groups and on-going sports activities in your nearest indoor leisure centre. Find out if there are swimming pools or centers which also have disabled access to encourage children to participate more in activities over the summer months. Also, joining groups and societies where other children may have a similar condition will allow you to speak to other parents in a similar situation, share ideas and equip yourself with a larger support network.
Compile a timetable: Plan how you will spend your days prior to the holidays starting. This will ensure you get the most out of each day and is great way to stay organized. If your child is able to then you can get them involved in helping you design the timetable and ask them to help suggest activities.
Use your imagination: To carry out some of your activities, you may need to change your home environment for example, putting your sofa pillows on the floor for a soft play activity or placing blankets between dining table chairs to create a tent.
Inspire communication: Encourage communication and socialization with friends and family. If your child is in hospital, invite guests to the hospital to play with your child, although always check with ward staff about visiting times and how many guests can come. If this isn’t possible, try and connect with family and friends virtually.
Plan engaging activities: Engage your child in appropriate cognitive and craft-based activities, such as reading stories, “I spy” games, pairing games like “Snap”, coloring, drawing, cutting, sticking and playing board games. Try to have a balance between rest and play and avoid passive screen-based activities during your play.
Physical activity is important too: Engage your child in appropriate physical activity. This could mean positioning your child into their standing frame to play a game, encouraging your child to play whilst they are on their tummy, playing a physical game in the house such as hide and seek or throwing and catching games.
Have fun yourself: Use this as an opportunity to have fun and join in with the activities with your children.