Donya Currie is the editor of The Free Lance-Star's Healthy Life section and Healthy Life Virginia newsletter.

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Keep kids busy, fit over the summer

School’s out all over the region. So kids should sleep in, watch TV, eat ice cream and relax, right?

Everyone deserves a little downtime after a busy school year. And kids who swim a lot or play other sports are likely to stay fit and happy during the break – even if they indulge in more junk food and TV than usual.

But kids whose only exercise is running out to meet the ice cream truck aren’t likely to fare as well. A recent story in The Baltimore  Sun reported that summer break is a prime time for gaining weight and eating poorly. Another story, from NBC news, also linked summer break with weight problems.

Like much in life, summer vacation calls for striking a balance. So here are some strategies for keeping kids healthy during the lazy days of summer:

Limit and monitor screen time: The American Academy of Pediatrics says children and teens should spend no more than two hours a day in front of a screen — whether it’s a TV, computer or phone. And anything kids watch should be non-violent, the AAP says.

Electronics should be shut off at least an hour before bedtime. Shows and games can overstimulate kids, making it tough for them to sleep. And the glow of the screen can fool the brain into thinking it’s too early to start secreting melatonin, a brain chemical that’s associated with sleep.

Don’t get too lax about bedtimes: A bedtime is still a good idea, even if the kids don’t have to rush off anywhere in the morning. It’s natural to stray from the school-year sleep schedule.  But kids do best (as adults do) when they stick to a generally consistent sleeping and waking schedule and get plenty of rest. Teens need at least 8-9 hours of sleep to be at their best; younger kids need 10-12 hours. (Here’s a sleep schedule through the ages, from

Provide structure: People generally feel better when their days include some structure and sense of purpose. School-aged kids are used to sticking to classroom routines, producing work and being challenged. Suddenly having too much time on their hands can be difficult if they don’t establish some sort of routine.

So, create a reading hour, or do morning calisthenics. Encourage the kids to organize a neighborhood talent show. Or — and my kids would pry the laptop from my hands if they knew I was typing this — assign morning chores. Do something to give the day a little purpose and activity.

Keep them fit: There are so many reasons to make sure kids are active in some way – including that exercise wears kids out and releases endorphins, happy brain chemicals that help bring out the best in everyone.

In the city of Fredericksburg, all children can swim at the Dixon Park pool for free, thanks to philanthropist Doris Buffett, who has covered the cost of admission for all city residents since the pool opened several years ago.

But you don’t need a pool to exercise. Make your kids go for a bike ride. Or jump rope. Or do push-ups (see the video). Or run up and down the stairs. Or crab walk around the house. Or vacuum the floor. Or pull weeds. Or wash your car.

Be creative. Aim to help your kids experience that wonderful feeling of falling into bed at night tired — good tired — from a day well spent.

For more ideas for keeping busy this summer, check out Fredericksburg Parent & Family magazine. The website has all kinds ideas for fun things to do in the Fredericksburg area. You  might also check out this list of ideas from the Spotsylvania County school system: