New research from the UK has identified the summer holiday period as the peak time for children to put on weight and become less fit.1 Anecdotal data from a separate survey of Australian parents2 who use formal and informal childcare during school holidays identified a combination of diet and time spent inactive as key contributors to this decline.

The Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) is urging parents – and increasingly grandparents who are used as informal carers - to ensure children maintain or increase their physical activity during the long summer break ahead.

The chair of the APA paediatric group, Nicole Haynes, says that the structure of school days and organised physical activity is good for creating and maintaining healthy routines, but the long summer break often sees good habits fall away. “School days provide children with a consistent routine, both in terms of physical activity and structured eating times that limit the opportunity for unhealthy habits to form. When school finishes for the year, there is often a lot of unstructured time that children may use in front of a screen.”

“Sometimes parents and grandparents are unsure how to fill the days when they are looking after children and grandchildren, and it can be easy to overlook the amount of time that kids are spending in sedentary activities. We want them to know that being physically active doesn’t have to mean going all out with complicated or overly exertive exercises. There are so many activities parents and grandparents can do with children that are fun, simple and cost almost nothing.”

Grandparents are often called upon when parents are required to work over the school holidays, and can feel unsure how to occupy children in a healthy way, especially if they aren’t overly fit or active themselves. Ms Haynes says there are lots of activities that don’t require working up a sweat. “I’d suggest things like planting out a herb garden together and then maintaining it with regular watering and weeding, going for a walk to the local shops instead of driving, packing a picnic and walking or riding to a local park for lunch or dinner or heading to the local pool for a swim. These are all simple activities that keep children engaged and moving which many grandparents will find enjoyable and manageable.”

“We know that regular physical activity, whether structured or not, is a great way to reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and depression. As long as grandparents find something that they and the children find enjoyable, they will naturally be more inclined to keep it up.”  

Some other physio-recommended activities for grandparents (or parents) and children to do together on summer holidays:

  • Build a cubby – indoors or out 
  • Set up an obstacle course
  • Build something together - a bird house, a wooden box
  • Do some chalk drawing or water painting outside on the ground or a fence
  • Play ball games in the back yard
  • Play balloon tennis
  • Go on a nature treasure hunt (there are lots of apps for this such as "Seek")
  • Dance 
  • Go for a walk around your neighbourhood
  • Play some old fashioned games such as tiggy, hopscotch, skipping, elastics, hula hooping.


1 Life on Holidays; Watson, et al, BMC Public Health (2019)

2 Physical Activity during the School Holidays: Parent Perceptions and Practical Considerations; Emm-Collison et al, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (2019)



Nicole Haynes is available for further comment.  


Related tags