22 February 2023

My family routine: Joe Wicks on time in nature, reading together and mealtime chats

22 February 2023

No screens at mealtimes is an important rule in the Wicks household.

“I’m not against iPads, I just really love using mealtimes as the time to communicate and talk,” says Joe Wicks, aka ‘The Body Coach’, who has three children with wife Rosie – daughter Indigo, four, son Marley, three, and baby girl Leni, born in September last year.

“We have a chat, we ask about each other’s days – and it’s important, that time is so special. I didn’t have that, where we sat as a family as kids, and talked about our days, it just wasn’t like that – it was ‘grab your food, eat in front of The Simpsons, go to your bedroom and watch TV or play the PlayStation’,” adds the fitness pro.

“So, I’m trying to have that routine, really. I think trying to eat together if you can, really helps – and then bedtime just goes a lot smoother. There’s not as much stress because you’re taking your time, it’s not a rush.

“Sometimes, you’ve got to prevent the stressful situation by taking your time and getting a bit organised.”

Wicks, who who helped millions of families get through lockdown with his daily ‘PE with Joe’ workouts, opened up about his own “chaotic” early years last year – exploring his experiences growing up in a household with addiction and mental illness – in the BBC documentary, Joe Wicks: Facing My Childhood.

Alongside cherishing mealtimes, reading with his kids is another important part of family life for him now – especially when it comes to calm bedtimes.

“We love reading. Even during the day as well, we’ll stop for a few minutes and get a little book out,” explains the Surrey-born 37-year-old, who says he and Rosie always try and tuck some books into their bag when they all go out.

“It is the most special time of the day for us… It’s such an important moment to bond. For me personally, it’s not just about trying to push Indie academically, or Marley. It’s more about having a bond, slowing down, not being on our phones, and appreciating those moments.”

So, it’s no surprise to hear he’s “really proud and honoured” to have been chosen as one of the famous £1 authors for this year’s World Book Day, which provides free book tokens for children.

His book – Bedtime For The Burpee Bears, which Wicks co-wrote with Vivian French (HarperCollins Children’s Books) – follows previous titles The Burpee Bears and The Burpee Bears: A Christmas Adventure. As the name suggests, the stories follow a family of bears who love fitness, fun and adventure. And yes – the Burpee Bears are inspired by the Wicks family!

“I am the daddy bear, and the mummy bear is basically Rosie, and our three children, so they’ve all got their own personalities,” Wicks laughs.

Naturally, being active is at the heart of the stories: “It’s about moving your body, it’s about coming together through fitness, through movement, through food – just the kind of philosophies that I believe in,” notes Wicks.

But fun and enjoyment is a big part of the goal, too. As the World Book Day charity points out, reading for pleasure is the single biggest indicator of a child’s future success.

They’ve developed six evidence-based principles that can help encourage kids to fall in love with reading, which include being read to regularly, finding time to read, and making reading fun.

“What I’m excited about is that it’s accessible,” Wicks says, of being involved with this year’s £1 books and free vouchers campaign. “[For] people that may find the cost-of-living crisis quite challenging, it’s a really nice option for people to give it a go.”

Does he have any advice for parents and carers who may not feel very confident about their own reading skills?

“Reading doesn’t have to be really long daunting books,” he shares. “There’s so many lovely entry-level books, like picture books and alphabet books and shape books.”

Even simple starter books for toddlers and younger children: “You’re still teaching them to build their vocabulary, it really helps their speech”, Wicks adds.

“And you’re not being tested, it’s not a homework exam, it’s not an English test. And you don’t have to sit there and do a whole chapter or book – it could be two or three pages a night, and that really adds up.

“Sometimes, I think there is pressure on parents to read the whole of a book, but ultimately, a few minutes here and there really makes a difference.”

Wicks admits he doesn’t have memories of reading with his parents when he was a child (“I wish I had memories, but I just don’t – it was a stressful, chaotic home life”). But reading with his little ones has unlocked a new love for books for the wellness role model.

“Now, I’ve got the whole Roald Dahl collection, me and Indie are absolutely loving it, so I’m falling in love with that type of nostalgic reading,” he says. “I also love The Gruffalo and those modern books by Julia Donaldson.”

And just like the Burpee Bears, the Wicks family love getting out for a good dose of fresh air.

“Nature is our favourite thing. Obviously, it’s really tough when it’s super, super cold, but we’ll still wrap up and go for a walk around the block, or we go on the scooters and go in the garden,” says Wicks.

“Getting out and having fresh air as a family is really important, especially if you’re cramped in the house and you’ve been in all day. Even getting out for 20 minutes a day is really good for us.”

There are nearby parks and lakes they love getting out to as well. “I really feel quite relaxed and calm in nature, and you don’t get that being in an indoor soft play, sports club or bouncing place,” says Wicks.

“Nature does something to all my kids – they sleep better, they’re a lot happier, they release that sort of pent-up energy. So yeah, that’s our favourite thing, to get into nature.”

This year’s World Book Day is on March 2. Free book tokens must be redeemed from February 16-March 23. To download a digital version, visit worldbookday.com/primary-digital-token

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