Too Much Car Time

This article I came across this week about the lack of physical activity in preschools reminded me that I’ve been doing some thinking about my daughter’s car time.  She’s an active three year-old and, like all three year olds, is at her best when she’s been running around and playing outside for a better part of the day.  She eats better, sleeps better, and is in a better mood (which says a lot since she’s a happy kid most of the time anyways).

Since she’s so active and both sides of her family are naturally slender I’ve never worried about the obesity epidemic as is pertains to my own child.  I know she needs to play sports, hike, and dance so she’ll grow into a women with a strong body image.  We are a family that eats very healthy so I also don’t worry about that.  But when I look in my rear view mirror as I drive her to school and instead of happily chatting to herself, kicking the chair seat or day dreaming, she is sitting like a listless pile of goo, then I worry.

We all need time to sit and day dream.  We all need to spend some time sitting in cozy corners reading books and coloring.  But to sit listlessly seems, well, boring and counterproductive to a happy life.

She only sits like this in the car.  When she’s been in the car far too much over too many days.  I shouldn’t feel guilty because it can’t be helped: I have to work, she has to go to school, we like to visit relatives and museums.  All this takes time in the car.  But is it too much time in the car?

According to various websites (both reliable and not) it appears that the typical American spend about 30 minutes commuting each way to work.  It’s safe to assume our children spend about the same amount of time.  That’s an hour every day sitting immobilized in the back seat of a car.

When I notice my daughter turn listless, instead of focusing on my guilt, I talk to her.  We talk about life, sing, tell jokes, make up stories.  Ah ha, and here we are at the point I’m trying to make:  We can’t avoid our commutes altogether but we can use them well.  Tell stories together.  Or, if you’re uncomfortable digging up the remnants of Jack and the Bean Stalk out of your childhood memories, find a CD of stories from your local bookstore.  Children love to listen to stories as much as watch them.  My daughter loves to have me tell her a story while she’s lying in bed; her imagination comes to life. And so does mine.

So it comes down to this: if you’re not in a position to get up and act out stories together, it can be just as fun and beneficial to tell them together.  Stories don’t have to be real; they can be very silly.  And you can revisit them the next day and revise them as you go. Besides, talking about a flying polka-dotted baby monster who eats bats is far more fun than fuming about the traffic you’re stuck in.

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