When most adults think of exercise, it usually involves working out in a gym, going to a class or lifting weights at home. For children, however, getting exercise means playing and having fun being physically active, doing things like running around playing tag or jumping rope with their family or friends.
Today, children and teenagers are spending more sedentary time indoors than ever before, and most of this time is spent in front of a screen. This sedentary lifestyle often time leads to childhood obesity and other lifelong health issues that you can work to prevent while they are young.
So, how do you make sure your child is spending a healthy amount of time outside and being physically active? Below are some fun activities that both children and parents can enjoy together!
Children all over the world play this simple game, or something very similar to it, for decades! To play this game, draw a traditional hopscotch diagram like the one shown below, using sidewalk chalk or washable paint.
Number the squares from one to ten. Throw a pebble, twig or bean bag into the first square. If this lands on a line, or outside of the intended square, you lose your turn. If this happens, pass the marker to the next player. Hop on one foot into the first empty space, and then each next numbered space, making sure to skip the number that the marker is on. At the 4-5, 7-8 and 10 markers, jump with both of your feet! When you get to the end, head back toward the start, pick up the marker- still on one foot!- and complete the course. If you finish the course without making any mistakes you pass the marker to the next player. On your next turn, throw the marker to the next number. If you fall, jump outside the lines, miss a square with the marker or skip a number, you lose your turn and must repeat the same number on your next turn. Whoever reaches 10 first, wins!
“Red Light, Green Light”
With enough room, this is the perfect game to play outside. To play this game, pick one person to be the “traffic light” at one end of the playing field. All the other players are sent to the opposite end. The traffic light turns their back on the rest of the group. When they yell “RED light” everyone must freeze where they are. When “GREEN light” is yelled, everyone in the group runs as fast as they can to reach the end of the field, before the traffic light yells to stop again.
If anyone is spotted moving after the red light is called, they are sent back to the starting place. The first person to tag the traffic light wins, and gets to be the next traffic light.
Any game that involves throwing a ball at opponents, and being the smart one by dodging incoming objects, certainly screams “Teenage fun!” The objective of this game is to eliminate all players on the opposite team by hitting them below the waist with the ball. If you are tagged, or if a ball you threw is caught, you are “out” and are sent to the sidelines. You can also be tagged “out” when you step into a designated dead-zone, or if you step over the boundary line between the two teams. You win when all the opposite team members are eliminated, or if you have more players than the opposing team at the end of a timed 2-minute game.
This is a variation of original Tag where if the person who is “it” tags you, you must freeze in place. Another participant can tag you to unfreeze you, but they do so at the risk of being tagged themselves! This game can be played for hours and everyone involved has a good chance of being “it” at least once.
You can find all sorts of backyard scavenger hunt checklists online. However, making your own has several benefits. If you create your own, you can customize it to your own backyard, make it so that all ages can play, and you are teaching the children to be creative and learn how to problem solve.
Related story: Why Unstructured Play is So Important for Kids
Other simple and free ways to keep children active
- Skipping rocks at a nearby lake or pond
- Roll down a grassy hill
- Find the perfect climbing tree
- Study the ecosystem under a stepping stone
- Set up the game of Twister outside
- Have a contest to see who can Hula Hoop the longest
- Check out your local Frisbee golf park
Related stories: Why Recess is So Important for Children
At least an hour a day
In the United States, both the C.D.C. and the American Heart Association recommend that healthy children participate in at least an hour of vigorous activity every day, preferably outside.
This can work to prevent heart disease, cancer, chronic disease, and obesity. Getting your children to play outside isn’t just for fun, it’s good for their growing bodies and minds.
By encouraging your children to spend time outside every day, moving and staying active, you are cultivating a love of exercise that will hopefully carry them well into their teenage years, as well as into adulthood!
For more helpful tips and ideas to get your children active, check out this Ultimate Guide to Exercise for Children in School and at Home from Maryville University.