“I’ve spent much of the last five years trying to help communities improve the effectiveness of their health and wellness efforts. One of the most stubborn challenges is getting kids to move out from behind the TV and computer screens and exercise. It is one thing to tell them to get 60 minutes of exercise each day, but it is far more difficult to make that a reality.
Last summer, I asked my 11-year-old son Alec about how to help make better progress in this important area. His answer was simple: “You have to make fitness fun.” So, I followed on by asking him what was the most fun thing he did that was a lot of exercise. He answered, “Playing ‘ultimate challenge’ in gym class.” I had never heard of that game, so I asked a few more questions. What he shared opened my eyes to what I think it the ideal activity for communities to embrace to promote youth fitness.
Ultimate Challenge is a game that gets kids of all ages and abilities running more than any game I’ve seen. It is like three simultaneous games of “capture the flag” going on at the same time, and regardless of age (from 6 to 60) or physical fitness level, there is always a motivation to run. Either you’re charging in to capture a football, playground ball or rubber ring, or you’re being chased, trying to catch someone, or trying to rescue a friend. The rules are simple, and it is FUN!
That night, we decided that the best way to promote Ultimate Challenge as a popular activity across the country would be to create kits that contain everything that groups or organizations need to play the game or host an event where kids could play the game. The next day we registered www.ultimatechallengekits.com and started a “social entrepreneur” business to help get kids fit.
Roll the clock forward several weeks, and my son got his first order to provide 20 kits to the Get Up & Go! Campaign for St. Clair County, Illinois. A non-profit hospital had purchased 20 kits to give away to youth groups that joined their community fitness initiative. The kits were an incentive for youth groups (like Boy Scouts, church groups or after-school programs) to embrace fitness, and the kits provided them with everything they needed for kids to get a lot of exercise month after month for years to come.
More recently, a non-profit organization in Minnesota wanted to host a field day for kids from an urban charter school. They rented 3 Ultimate Challenge kits for a day and had about 15 volunteers come to supervise (and join in the fun) with nearly 100 grade-school age kids. It took about 15 minutes for the adults to learn the rules and play a quick game so they’d be ready for the kids to arrive at a city park where the 3 courts were set up. That morning, there were over 80 kids running, laughing and having a blast as they played the game for over an hour. After lunch, the 3rd, 4th and 5th graders wanted to play again, and this time some of the adult volunteers joined in the fun. It was another hour of non-stop exercise and fun. I can’t imagine an easier way to have that many kids get that much exercise, and it was by far the most popular activity of the day.
A couple weeks later, my son brought an Ultimate Challenge Kit to a camp-out with his Boy Scout troop. One father commented that he felt the game would last about 15 minutes and the boys would be ready for something different, but they had to stop the game after over an hour of non-stop action. Then, the group of 12 to 17 year-old boys chose to play Ultimate Challenge again after dinner—and they played full-tilt until 9:00 PM when the adults insisted that they head back to camp for the evening campfire. The game was so popular, they made it the main activity of their troop meeting 3 weeks later."
Here is an article I wrote, featured in Water Safety Magazine this past January, that seems more than appropriate for this hot July weather. Enjoy! - Megan
"Here is some advice on when and how parents can support their children as they learn water skills.
When infants are 6 months old, they begin to have enough body fat to remain warm enough in a pool for up to 30 minutes. From 6 months through age 2 is the best time for Parent-Tot classes. Swim instructors will educate parents on the correct way to hold their child in the water to keep them warm and safe, and parents can demonstrate to their infants a joy for water through facial expressions and body tension. Splash a bit, drizzle water on your face, blow bubbles, and bounce gently while holding your child securely to help him/her feel safe but relaxed in the water.
Nearing age 3-4, when your child can hold the pool’s edge, follow commands, and swim comfortably with an instructor, your support will be most useful at home before and after lessons. Fill up a large sink or wide bowl with water and give your child a straw. Have them blow bubbles in the sink by exhaling out the straw, and then inhale through their nose without drawing water up the straw. Kids can also begin holding their breath and dipping their face in the sink or bowl while safely knowing they can stand up and out at any time.
For ages 3-5, fill your bathtub with 1-2 inches of water and have your child practice lying face up. When they become relaxed in this position, have them look slightly left and right to feel the water in and around their ears and face. Next, fill the tub another inch (face still above water) and have them breathe in and out deeply, filling and deflating their lungs to sense buoyancy and floating. Turn them face down (face still above water) to practice a straight leg or flutter kick. Have your child blow bubbles in the water through his/her mouth, nose above water. Allow them to dip their nose/eyes/whole face down in the water when they have mastered the straw breathing and bowl dips or they feel ready to try.
In any swim class, same age kids vary greatly in personality. In one group of swim students you will see those that are so adventurous they are dangerous, and those that are so fearful they avoid approaching the pool. This is where a trained swim instructor’s knowledge will be most evident, and your sideline encouragement (or discipline) regarding your child can support the instructor. Watch your child enough to keep them safe, but not so intensely they are uncomfortable and distracted. After a year or two of lessons and experience with a few different teachers, you will have more confidence in a selecting both a teacher and additional swimming skills for your child.
Water can be scary for small children. Give your child both encouragement and time; provide lots of love, support, and patience. Lead by example and blow straw bubbles in a sink, dip your face in the water, and model any water exercises your child is learning when possible.
Swimming skills are built over a lifetime of experiences; enjoy as many as you can together!"
Let’s go! contains 26 travel, camp, and car songs to take you and your children on an adventure through music: you’ll explore the woods, star gaze on a cowboy’s range, dig for clams in San Francisco Bay, yodel with an ostrich on a mountain and visit 22 other traditional-now-hip places. As with all Rock Me Baby Records CDs, this CD offers fresh, upbeat styles, real instruments, lots of voices, and interesting takes on the old favorites.
1. Comment Below: Fresh food, a great sunset, or a silly game, tell us what you love about summer. Don’t be Anonymous; I can't find you if you win!
2. Enter Again: Blog about www.meganmerchant.com on your website and/or share our site on Facebook or Twitter to enter multiple times. Comment on what and where you share to receive the extra entry.
3. Be sure to click “like” at Megan Merchant’s Blog on Facebook to view new blog posts and bonus fitness tips; I’ll post the winners on July 4, 2011.
4. Friends and family can participate; that’s the joy of having my own site!
5. THREE winners will be randomly chosen from the comments below and the Let’s go! CD will be shipped to you. I'll send each winner a personal email for your address.
Singer Susie Tallman graduated UCLA with a BA in voice performance. She further evolved her voice in France, singing with the Choeur International and the American Chorus in Paris. Upon her return to the states, Tallman honed her classical training at the New England Conservatory Workshop in Boston. She has sung backup for such acts as Ronnie Spector, Darlene Love and Cheap Trick, and has performed at Carnegie Hall, The Rose Bowl, The Los Angeles Forum and Pauley Pavilion as well as in commercials for Taco Bell, The Coca-Cola Reunion Commercial and the movie Beaches. She is a former member of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus.
*Note: This promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Facebook. You are providing your information to www.meganmerchant.com and not to Facebook. The information you provide will only be used for notifying and mailing the giveaway item to the winner.
It's time for summer vacation! Here are the items I pack every trip to reach my daily fitness goals, boost my mental health, and keep my nutrition on track:
Record Keeping: Pedometer, Running Watch, Note Pad/Pencil: My pedometer also has a clock so I can leave my watches at home. The Running Watchis great for my training runs as it tracks the duration, speed and distance of my workouts and more. I keep my note pad and pencil in my bag for monitoring my food, recording my workout progress, and journaling the fabulous memories during my vacation!
Hotel Room: Resistance Tube with Door Anchor, The Great Stretch Tubing Handbook: These replace the need to find a weight room, I can fit in a workout from 10-60 minutes long in the morning, noon, or night, and they weight under one pound combined in my suitcase. Awesome!
Hotel Pool: 2 Water Bottles, Swim Suit, Sunscreen: If your swim suit is a tank and shorts, they double as workout clothes in a pinch. The water bottles left empty and tightly-sealed create two dumbbells for under water (add water to the bottles to decrease the resistance/buoyancy of the floats).
Nutrition: Breakfast, Protein Powder, Vitamins, Snacks: Packing your own breakfast is great if you have no idea what food to expect on your trip. If you have a free hotel breakfast, hit up the milk section with your empty water bottles to make your protein shake post-workout. If the complimentary breakfast is great, you can save your packed breakfast for a meal replacement if you are on the go later. Also pack small, healthy snacks for every two to four hours to avoid excessive hunger and subsequent overeating.
Hotel Gym or Outdoors: Sneakers, Socks, MP3, GPS, Cell Phone: I like to travel in my running shoes but pack sandals in my suitcase for the pool. Bring double sets of socks; liners worn inside your cushion sockshelp prevent blisters from running workouts or excessive walking on your trip. Load your MP3 with happy, inspirational music to put you in a great travel mode. Try to research the area in advanced but a GPS is always handy for finding local gyms and parks in a new area. I carry a cell phone in case I'm able to sneak off for a run in a new place and run into an emergency.
Relaxation: Inspiring Book or Fun Magazines: Read these before bed or first thing in the morning. It is vacation; hopefully you have a bit of time to read here and there!
For Kids: Pack some Travel Music to entertain your family on long car rides, and pack empty balloons or extra socks and this link for fun travel games.
Recently on Facebook I shared my trial to cut down on my shower time. The main reason is that lately my "to read" pile is growing faster than I can keep up! My 2 year old has quit napping and my 5 year old is two months from Kindergarten. Luckily for the next blissful two weeks, I have 25 minutes of reading time at their combined City Pool swim lessons.
Here is the list on my bedside:
- Getting the Pretty Back by Molly Ringwald, p. 99
- Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, p.7
- Decision Points by George W. Bush, p.11
- A Hand to Guide Me by Denzel Washington, p.256 (almost done!)
- The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts by Gary Chapman, p.33
When I see an interesting newly released book, I place a hold on it within my City library account. Then the library sends me an email when the book is ready to pick up. Often I put books back on to my "future reading list" and place it in the library return if I'm not keeping up, as you can see from the following...
A few of the books I wish to finish:
- My Spiritual Journey by Dalia Lama, p.141
- Lighten Up by Peter Walsh, p.39
- Extraordinary, Ordinary People by Condoleezza Rice, p.80
- The Life You Want by Bob Greene, p.45
- If You Ask Me: (And of Course You Won't) by Betty White
- Little Red Book of Selling by Jeff Gitomer, p.145
It is more unsettling to have a stack of unread books on my table than 3-4 I'm greatly enjoying at the moment. I keep track of unfinished books I return when new ones come in by writing down the page number I stopped at and adding the unfinished book back on to my reading list. And then there are all the magazines left unread around the house... that's a whole other story.
Sunday, May 8, 2011
Below is my Day 13 5k Training Run after ten days of NO running. Not too bad... plus a quote and running game!
April 27: Rest
April 28: Jillian Michael's: Yoga Meltdown
April 29: Rest/Sick day
April 30: Sick
May 1: Sick
May 2: Yard work
May 3: Hot Latin Cardio
May 4: P90X Ab Ripper X, Wood chips in yard
May 5: P90X Kenpo X
May 6: P90X Cardio X
May 7: P90X X Stretch, Lead March of Dimes March for Babies Warm-Up
May 8: Run, 51 F Outside
5:20 AM: Levoxyl, water
5:40: Crackers, water, 200 mg Ibuprofen (stress: headache, stiff neck)
6:00: Warm-Up, walk
6:07-7:15: 5.87 miles, 75 mins
Notes to Self
- End of a hard ten days, stress of illness/prepping Dimes Warm-Up for 1200 people
- Goal to Self: Get out of my head, set new goal to motivate me
- New Running Game: If one of my play list songs comes on the radio, I keep running
- When Kesha's Blow came on and I was 15 ft from the house, and added a 1/2 mile!
- Thought: "If there is a God, I'm a piece in his game. Everyday my job is to figure out how to best play and the game and stay in it." - Who said it?
Our family of four is about ready for some hard-core outdoor fun. But I’m the first to say I know ZERO about camping well. This past Christmas my mission was to find (and impress) my outdoor-adventure husband with an awesome 4-person tent.
Since today is Father's Day, here are tent buying tips I discovered:
- You have to buy a footprint (tarp) for under the tent. It minimizes condensation on the inside floor and keeps rocks and debris from ripping up the bottom on the outside.
- With the exception of a water proof floor, the tent itself is water resistance/breathable. Get an added Rain Fly cover that is UV resistant to sunlight and water proof for rain showers. The Rain Fly should extend to the ground on the outside so sideways rainfall won’t come through your window seams.
- Shape is also important; a Dome is great for minimizing wind resistance but maximizing interior space.
- Bug resistant window mesh allows you to have bug-free fresh air, and a Vestibule is an area additional to the sleeping space for protecting your things, like wet clothes and shoes.
- A 3-season tent is best. 1-2 season is for near perfect and rainless weather; you only need a 4-season if you plan on camping in the snow. (Brr, no thanks!)
- Buying assistance varies on opinion of the sales rep. At REI, the sales man gave me a great tip that the packing weight of the tent could be split 3-ways among 3 people’s packs for long hiking distances. The sales rep at Sports Authority gave me the tip to buy the 20 lb/8 person/6 foot high tent so we could keep it up in the backyard, stand inside without ducking, and insert a king-size air mattress for sleeping comfort. (Oh baby, I was tempted!) The reps at Sportsman's Warehouse left me alone to cruise the display of assembled tents so I was able to climb around in and inspect all the models I saw online.
In the end I purchased this REI 4 Person Half Dome Tent. Fingers crossed that our camping experiences will be light-weight, dry, and spacious! If not, I also grabbed the REI membership for the lifetime warranty and exchange policy (ah, buying comfort!) With the tent (on sale in December), foot print, and membership, the total cost was $210.
- 5:15 AM: Levoxyl, 10 crackers, water
- 5:30: P90X Plyo Warm-up
- 5:45-6:53: 5.6 miles, 61:02 mins, 11000 steps total
- Academy Trail 4 miles, .5 mile loop, Soccer field + 1 street 1 mile
- 6:53-7:22: Cool down and some yard clean-up, drank water
- 7:30: Shake, Oatmeal
Notes to Self
- Happy music drives me better than angry music
- Taking too many breaks, about one every 4 minutes
- Trying to be more mentally positive throughout the workout
- It feels physically awful while I'm doing it, but my run looks great on paper when I'm done!
- My Current Average Speed: 5.5-6 mph, need to build up to 6.5-7 mph by June
My friends and family learned yesterday that we finally bought our dream retirement spot, land in the mountains... yesterday. In my mind it was a dream that was 20, 30, 40 years in the future but it came to us right before our 12 year anniversary.
Some may know we are huge savers, close to the point of insanity and on the line of severe discomfort. I thought it helpful to so many readers right now in financial distress, or perhaps in great comfort but with dreams too far away, to share some of our money savings tips (that were 90% my husband's but I am learning to embrace more every day).
It's not whether you are earning huge amounts or not, but that you take little steps every day to spend less than needed. What's hardest about the below steps is that we don't HAVE to do it, but if we do, the savings are HUGE! And really, we aren't missing out on anything...
- I write all our receipts in a pocket calendar I keep on our desk so I know in a glance what we've spent for the week/month/year. This is especially important with so many "auto pay" bills nowadays with email statements you hardly need to keep tabs on.
- We have the cash for anything before we buy. Cars, furniture, anything. Never carry a credit balance or owe interest on your credit.
- Our cell phone bill is $10-20 a YEAR. We use a prepaid plan (.15/minute) and only make very quick calls. We have a Costco membership we may not need now that we're done with diapers and formula, and a SW Air visa so all our trip flights are on reward tickets.
- Our grocery bill is $100 a week, under $400/month. I meal plan and shop at 2-5 stores to get every deal on fresh foods. We recently bought a freezer that runs $24 a year on our electric bill to store fruit from our trees and meat/veggies when on great sale. The kids and I eat out about once a week with friends, and our family eats out once a month on an evening or weekend.
- We put in a sink water filter for drinking water. My husband turned down the valves in the girls' bathroom sinks because they crank it on high while brushing their teeth. (This even helps me prepare for the water pressure we'll probably have in the mountains!) We use hard water bottles to fill and take everywhere rather than buying bottled.
- We wash and vacuum our own cars; steam our own tile and carpets. We bought a Steam Vacuum Cleaner and tile cleaner, they are built incredibly easy to use and cheap to purchase.
- We have the base cable, phone, and satellite; all our books and movies come from the library. We take the girls to the $1 theater a few times a year for great kid movies. We never buy books; we put a hold at the library and pick it up when it's in.
- Electricity: We replaced all our windows with double-pained, insulated all our walls and outlets, put in energy-saving light bulbs, and installed solar panels (cash ahead) on our roof, and installed a whole-house fan that runs much cheaper than the refrigerated air in the hot summer (at night it runs and pulls in cool, outside air, then we seal the house during the day).
- Our kids are 2 and 5, and our budget for them is $1000 a year. This covered one year at Little Gym (spring/fall), Zoo/BioPark/Aquarium pass, 40 city swim lessons, a Groupon for 1 month at Bounce N Boogie, Spring Music at Gymboree for both, and some friend's music classes. I hit every museum free day, library event, Home Depot project, free reading and story programs (like Dions, Balloon Museum, and Borders), and farm tour. Check out my posts on home preschool.
- Clothing: Our girls get sneakers/boots for the winter/fall, and sneakers/sandals for the summer, my youngest has mostly hand-me-downs but I shop at Kohls for my oldest and combine coupons and $10-back days. We aren't church-goers, so I usually borrow dresses and dress shoes for one-time formal events. I love shopping, and it's been grueling for me refrain so I avoid clothing stores for me and only shop with a list.
- We do home mani/pedis. Polish is $2-5/bottle and we love the decal stickers at Walgreens. I cut our kids hair in between my twice a year visits (girl's hair is easy like that).
- We don't have a gym membership (gasp!). We invested in a home gym about 5 years ago and slowly built up our home equipment, DVD collection, and live close to trails and parks.
Friday, April 22, 2011
Below is my Day 11 5k Training Run.
April 21: Rest
April 22: Run #11!
Sports Bra, 2 socks, black pants
5:30 AM: Yoga warm-up, 500 steps, for upper back/chest flexibility
5:45: Academy Trail, 7100 steps
Speed: 5 mph hr up, 6.5 flat, 7 down, 6 mph flat
40:48 mins, 3.75 miles
6:40: Cooldown, 200 steps
6:52: Stretch (Especially quads, back, neck)
Notes to Self
- Tight R hip, no ab cramps, left knee/pelvis twinges
- Tired legs from intervals on Wednesday
- Gearing up for Easter weekend; egg stuffing, cooking, cleaning