A recent article in The Los Angeles Times, reminded us how physical activity can contribute to academic success according to expert studies. I have always known this, but for some reason I could not pinpoint how I learned it. As I read the article, childhood memories came to me. I sent my tía Ernestine and my Daddy, who are my angels in heaven, a BIG thank you, as they taught me this without having expert articles.
At the age of seven, I walked to my second home after school, ate a snack before dinner, and my tía Ernestine, who took care of all kids in the family, sent us to play outside. We rode bikes, I tried learn how to skate, but since I was much too clumsy, I preferred to play ball in the street and fly a kite when the weather was perfect. Tía Ernestine made it a point to keep us active and away from Atari, Nintendo and my all time favorite show, Punky Brewster. We didn’t have money to play league sports so we made our own teams, and winners would get ice cream from the ice cream truck. We ended our evening with a shower, dinner, homework and reading, she had a system. Now as an adult, I realize it was the only way she didn’t let the five to nine children that she was responsible for on any given day drive her up a wall in that one bedroom apartment. Her system worked wonders, as most of us did well in school while we were under her care.
My dad, on the other hand, took me out of school early a few times a month without an excuse, during my elementary years. He would check me out of school, and we would head to the race tracks. Ask me about horse race tracks, and I can tell you all about the tracks in California. He would tell me, kids needs a breather from school and need to get outdoors and have fun. I didn’t argue with that, I played at the playground, learned how to place bets, and made friends with elders. Those are some unforgettable times that I experienced with my father.
In middle school, things changed, my dad became sick. I walked or ran to school when I didn’t have a ride (1.8 miles each way). Since I was in charge of tube feeding my dad, I normally sprinted home. I also joined ballet folklorico to make him proud and because it was a low cost activity. It would have been great to have access to a gym since I loved being active, but I didn’t, so I used resources available to me and my grades were excellent at this time. I recently read UCLA started donating state of the art gyms to underserved middle schools in an effort to promote good health and prevent obesity. I’m glad that kids who don’t have access to a gym will have the opportunity to work out.
My tía and my father both passed away when I was in high school, less than two years apart from each other, and my life changed quickly. My mom worked double shifts to provide the basics, and I no longer had a sitter or a dad. The fun outdoor childhood days were over.
Staying active helped me cope, I was able to fundraise enough money to be part of drill team and cheer during the early years of high school, but life was never the same. Two of my biggest supporters were gone. I stopped exercising and my grades also started slipping, and I was in a funk for a long time. My coping mechanisms were self-taught, and I made some irresponsible choices.
When I became a parent, all those outdoor memories must have lived in my unconscious mind because I signed my daughter up for ballet at the age of two. She then played T-ball at the age of four and played baseball for six years consecutively. She took a three year break from baseball in middle school and tried cheerleading and basketball. She gave softball a shot in high school; along with swim, volleyball, and cross country. I didn’t know the experts suggested activity for academic success, but I knew that keeping her active and involved kept her happy and helped her focus on her other achievements.
If you have a child in your life, think of how you can incorporate physical activity into his or her routine and make it a habit. Since we are spoiled with perfect weather in Southern California, it’s relatively easy for us to enjoy hiking in the mornings and bike rides along the beach at sunset. Finding what interests your child can lead to beautiful memories and a refreshed mind to hit their studies with more focus.
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