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Easing kids back into the outdoors

Shawn and Jessica McLaughlin work in the financial industry and have their hands full with busy jobs and three kids: Jack, 10, Fiona, 8, and Henry, who just turned 6.

“The winter is tough because almost everything has to be indoors,” Jessica McLaughlin said. “The propensity is to get very sedentary and sit down and do a movie, or something like that.”

That’s why a birthday party for their youngest last weekend at CrossFit Williamsville made perfect sense.

Henry and two dozen of his friends got the run of the Main Street gym, snaking through tunnels, jumping onto boxes and bounding over obstacles.

“Every single human was powerful and graceful when they were this age,” fitness center owner Rob Vest said as he surveyed the scene.

Especially during indoor season – at home and at school – even many children find limits to their movements. Vest is among a quartet of wellness pros who developed the School Wellness Awareness Project – or SWAP – to help change that equation.

SWAP creator Christina Bleckinger, Vest, yoga instructor Jody Quinn and healthy chef Jennifer Walker worked together to create the program – learn more at – and gave the following tips to get children prepared physically and mentally to the embrace the outdoors ... when the weather improves.

Read about how to build your own obstacle course at home here.


Vest and his wife, Bonnie, a University at Buffalo assistant research professor in family medicine, know the common predicaments faced by busy parents. They have three kids of their own – Kyra, 8, Reagan, 6, and Connor, almost 3 – and are not immune to the temptation to park them in front of the TV, iPad or video game console for some “technology baby-sitting” time. Most Saturdays in their Cheektowaga home are TV-free days. Some weekends stretch into the following week. “You would not believe how much more creative kids become after about three days without TV,” Vest said.


Regardless of conditions, and as long as it’s safe, take your kids for walks to a playground. Bleckinger said the weather doesn’t have to be perfect for she and her 4-year-old son, Henry, to trek to Glen Park near their Williamsville home. “Between my wife and I,” said Vest, “I am fortunate enough to be the parent that most often gets to pick my children up from school. Without fail, after school every day, they ask to play on the playground, rain or shine, and I do my very best to let them, regardless of weather, or time. Give them 3 to 5 minutes. It will make a huge deal.”


Several yoga studios teach Saturday kids yoga classes, including Budding Tree Yoga ( in East Aurora and Little Pretzels Yoga at Power Yoga Buffalo ( on Elmwood Avenue. Family yoga classes also are expected to be part of the outdoor fitness itinerary this summer at Tifft Nature Preserve and Canalside. “Family yoga is a beautiful way to connect with your kids,” said Quinn, owner of Thrive Yoga (, whose company works with SWAP and teaches after-school kids yoga clubs.


Feeding kids right also is an important part of outdoor activity prep. This is a great time to plan a small garden and plant seeds indoors as part of the fun. “This will pique your child’s interest during meal time if they know they are about to consume food they helped grow,” said Walker, SWAP executive chef and a personal chef for busy, health-conscious clients. Look under the Gardening tab at Old Farmer’s Almanac website,, for a variety of helpful ideas, including how to start your garden indoors, and when to plant what seeds.

You also can take kids to a farmers market. Winter markets in our region include the North Tonawanda Farmers Market from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays, Tuesdays and Thursdays on Robinson Street near Payne Avenue; the Elmwood-Bidwell Winter Market, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays through April at SUNY Buffalo State’s Buckham Hall, 1300 Elmwood Ave.; and the Horsefeathers Winter Market at the same hours Saturday at 346 Connecticut St.


At Henry McLaughlin’s birthday party last Saturday, Walker dished out concoctions easy to duplicate at home. She set out bowls of blueberries, grapes and orange, pineapple and watermelon slices, along with wooden kabob sticks for healthy “rainbow skewers.” Salad skewers can be made the same way with lettuce and veggies. Walker also blended blueberries, vegetables, club soda and ice into smoothies. “In a high-powered blender, you can use color combinations that can be disguised as 100 percent fruit,” she said. “For example, blueberries and purple kale, orange and carrot, green apple and spinach, strawberry and beet.”


“To lead by example is probably the best thing a parent can do,” Vest said. “If you’re not moving, it’s going to be hard to teach your kids to move. If you want them to be outside, get outside. If you want them to play, show them, play with them. ... Change your mindset to a movement-based mindset. Your body wants and craves movement. The more you can encourage your children to move, inside, outside, wherever, the better.”


Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon

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