Every Monday at 4pm my street takes on a whole new life. A 'road closed' sign is erected and bunting is hung over some bins at each end of the road to act as a barrier. For an hour and a half the children from the 60 or so houses take over the street. With the help of adults acting as stewards, they are free to play in the middle of the road.
My five-year-old daughter Amelia is learning to ride her bike without stabilisers and she gets to do it right outside my front door. The sound of kids playing in the street
is so unusual these days; it feels like a blast from the past.
Now if you are reading this with a view of cows outside your kitchen window and the chirping of birds in your ear then this might not seem like a very big deal.
But if like me, you live in the middle of a city on a street of terraced houses, this is probably more significant.
The closing of our road is part of a scheme called 'Playing Out
' and my road in Bristol was the first in the country to gain temporary play street status.
For 90 minutes weekly the lorries have to take another route and the children bring out chalk, scooters, bikes and skipping ropes.
Footballs and huge games of catch have become the norm.
The idea is the brainchild of two local mums, Alice Ferguson and Amy Rose. The scheme, which is now nationwide, helps residents organise temporary residential road closures for children to play outside after school.
"I have strong memories of playing in the cul de sac where we lived as a child and I wanted my children to experience something similar," explains mum-of-two Alice.
These days it is much less common; a 2007 poll found that 71% of adults played out on their street every day compared to only 21% of children today. (Play England). Predictably the main issue is traffic.
"When you're in a city the chance to play directly outside your house is unusual yet the children gain so much from it," she adds.
"We wanted our street to become more than just a car park. The problems of overweight, sedentary children
are growing and giving them the chance for regular, semi-supervised outdoor play in their own street is one powerful solution to this.
It also helps children to feel part of the place they are living in and connected to those around them.
That is certainly a huge bonus for mum of three children under four, Emily: "My kids know all the neighbours now – it has given them a kind of ownership of their street. It really adds to their sense of local community."
And for Emily it's also a chance to meet neighbours too; "When you are busy with work and family, it can be easy to feel isolated from those that we actually live nearest to but playing out in our street has helped remove some of those boundaries."
Inevitably there are some detractors – teething problems have included speeding cyclists and slightly reticent motorists on occasion but on the whole it has been really welcomed. Some older residents like the idea so much that they help with stewarding, even though they no longer have young children themselves.
What I love most is that new relationships are forming all the time. Both my girls love the older kids. And those older children seem to thrive on having younger ones to look after.
I thought my daughters were going to burst with happiness the other day when a Year 6 girl came and called on them as a result of knowing them at Playing Out. When you're aged five and three, life doesn't get much cooler than that.
For more information on Playing Out visit www.playingout.net
- Beat a drum
<p>Learning how to play the drums is both satisfying and healthy. Drumming increases the heart rate, encourages you to use the whole body and helps with co-ordination and muscle control. It's also enormous fun. Choose between lessons or family drumming days and unleash your inner rock star.</p>
- Go walking
<p>Walk to school, walk to the shops, walk to the park and just keep on going. Little ones can handle a fairly steady pace and, if it's quite a hike, take along some water and a healthy snack.</p>
<p>The simple stride has oodles of <a href="http://www.ramblers.org.uk/info/everyone/health.html" target="_blank">health benefits,</a> is easy to do, doesn't need special equipment and it's free.</p>
- Get gaming
<p>A study by a professor of Exercise Science at BYU proved that <a href="http://www.parentdish.co.uk/2011/07/01/why-my-children-dont-need-wii-hab/" target="_blank">exergames</a> (exercise games) burn sufficient calories to form part of a valid exercise regime.</p>
<p>This means that you can enjoy Wii Boxing without feeling guilty. Most fitness and dance games are available for all three consoles (Wii, Xbox 360, Playstation 3) and some of the best include <a href="http://www.amazon.co.uk/Take-2-Nickelodeon-Fit-Wii/dp/B004KJECWO" target="_blank">Nickelodeon Fit,</a><a href="http://www.ubi.com/UK/Games/Info.aspx?pId=9410" target="_blank">Dance Juniors </a>, <a href="http://www.majescoentertainment.com/games/display_game.php?PLTFRM=kinect-for-xbox-360&GN=zumba-fitness" target="_blank">Zumba Fitness </a>, <a href="http://www.ubi.com/US/Games/Info.aspx?pId=9808" target="_blank">Just Dance 3</a> and <a href="http://www.konami.com/games/walk-it-out" target="_blank">Walk it Out</a>.</p>
- Try yoga
<p>Yoga is a brilliant way to keep fit and supple and it is available in all sorts of flavours. You can start out healthy with <a href="http://www.nct.org.uk/courses/antenatal-courses/nct-yoga-pregnancy" target="_blank">pregnancy yoga</a>, follow up with baby yoga, upgrade to classes for kids aged two and up, and even use <a href="http://www.google.co.uk/search?q=yoga+for+kids&tbo=p&tbm=vid&source=vgc&hl=en&aq=f" target="_blank">YouTube</a>.</p>
<p>You’ll find classes in your area through the NCT for pregnant mums and the well known <a href="http://www.yogabugs.com/home.aspx" target="_blank">Yoga Bugs </a> offer courses across the UK.</p>
- Create an obstacle course at home
<p>Whip up an obstacle course <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00gmmv8)" target="_blank">Total Wipeout</a> style and prepare to be amazed at how much fun you all have.</p>
<p>Suck in your gut, sweep your legs back and forth and convert yourself into the Crazy Sweeper while giggling offspring jump over your limbs.</p>
<p>You'll get a whopping workout while they burn off energy. Turn yourself into the Sucker Punch, jump from one cushion to another, or clamber around the room without touching the floor.</p>
- Take a dip
Swimming falls into the category of vigorous exercise and is excellent for buoyant workouts that allow for all levels of fitness.</p>
Whether you hover in the shallow end playing with your water wary children or throw down some lengths, you will be moving muscles and burning fat. And thanks to lovely heated pools you don't have to plunge your shivering body into icy water in winter.</p>
- Skip to my Lou
According to the <a href="http://www.brsa.org.uk/pages/skip-yourself-fit.htm" style="font-size: 10pt; line-height: 12pt;" target="_blank">British Rope Skipping Foundation</a><span style="font-size: 10pt; line-height: 12pt;"> a ten minute session of skipping has the same health benefits as a 45 minute run.</span></p>
If you can't remember how to skip, your kids will only be too happy to help, and laughing at a parent is a great motivator.</p>
- Don't spare the horses
Horse riding is great for improving posture, burning fat and keeping the body active. If you've never clambered aboard one of these amazing animals before, then one hour of riding will soon see you groaning at the aches and pains in new places. Horse riding can be tackled by anyone at any age except, of course, pregnant mums and newborn babes.</p>
- Try two wheels
Cycling is something that the entire family can enjoy and children love it. Teaching kids to cycle can be a tad challenging, fortunately <a href="http://www.sustrans.org.uk/assets/files/leaflets/sustrans_cyclingwithchildren_March08.pdf" style="font-size: 10pt; line-height: 12pt;" target="_blank">Sustrans </a><span style="font-size: 10pt; line-height: 12pt;">has a handy guide on how to introduce your kids to cycling and tips on keeping safe while on the roads.</span></p>
Then took a look at the <a href="http://www.sustrans.org.uk/what-we-do/national-cycle-network)" target="_blank">National Cycle Network </a> for scenic and traffic-free routes in your area.</p>
- Just roll with it
<p><span style="font-size: 14px; line-height: 22px;">Scooting is a fantastic way to keep fit, have fun and enjoy the outdoors together (and it’s kinder to your purse - they don’t require pricey petrol!). Check out </span><a href="http://9nl.it/MicroscooterTrixx/" style="font-size: 14px; line-height: 22px;" target="_blank">Micro Scooters</a><span style="font-size: 14px; line-height: 22px;"> for wheels suitable for all ages. The range can help improve your child’s balance and co-ordination skills, plus the products are not just for kids – the brand also has a </span><a href="http://www.micro-scooters.co.uk/mums-fit.php" style="font-size: 14px; line-height: 22px;" target="_blank">Mums' Scooter Club</a><span style="font-size: 14px; line-height: 22px;"> (you know you want to…!). </span></p>
<p><span style="font-size: 14px; line-height: 22px;">A recent study by Mirco Scooters also found teachers who scoot to work garner greater respect from their pupils and the pupils' parents. </span></p>