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Getting Kids to Move

By Margaret Yen-Chuang Matthews, PT

Incorporate little ones into your exercise routine. Mags engages her daughter during yoga. Photo by Brooke VanBuren


With distance learning and home schooling, children are spending more time on screens and indoors than ever.  Our community sports teams, pickup basketball games, swimming pools, park playgrounds, summer camps, dance studios, and physical education classes are all closed to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. With these and so many other venues for children and teenagers to exercise, how can we get kids to move? Even without organized activities parents can help get their housebound children moving and have fun doing it.  As families shelter in place together, keeping active is a great way to spend family time.  


Physical activity is still important for their health, and young children have lots of energy they are eager to release. Exercise has many benefits for youth from improving concentration and sleep, as well as reducing anxiety and depression. The CDC recommends children between 5 and 17 years old get at least 60 minutes of rigorous exercise daily. Short spurts of exercise throughout the day are just as helpful and easier to work in between lessons or other activities.  


During this time, it’s important to get creative to reimagine physical education, and keep on top of our personal exercise routines. Invite children to join in on your exercise if appropriate.  Let kids pick out a song for warm up or cool down.  For young kids often just clearing space or getting them outside is enough to start them running, skipping, and jumping.


Play catch with a twist, literally, have each person spin around, touch the ball to their toes and jump up high before throwing.  For very young kids,  have a special ”workout toy box” of things only played with during parent-workout time. Make an obstacle course with household items such as chairs- to climb, run around, crawl under; blankets-to pull items or people, make tunnels, non breakable cups and containers- for cones to run around, side walk chalk- to draw agility ladders, lines or arrows to follow, baseball bases, or hopscotch.  If you only have indoor space, use tape to mark indoor areas.


Teenagers can be engaged with some creativity and flexibility. Invite teenagers into competitions for jumping jacks, push ups, or balance. Use a reward system to allow trading exercise time for screen time. Let them have some choice in what they want to do and have the rest of the family join with them. Co-choreograph a family dance to their favorite pop songs.


If your creativity feels tapped out, we are blessed to have trails open at our local parks for running, cycling, walking, and enjoying nature.  Try a collection or I spy game while hiking.  There are also many online exercises classes geared towards kids and resources for parents such as:

Cosmic Kids Yoga

The game library at (en espanol)


Regardless of what you do, don’t worry too much about it and have fun! Make your activity specific to your child, allow freedom for them to give ideas, make changes, and listen to music you hate. Little spurts of movement through the day add up. The smiles and laughs you share are worth more than how any stress you might have about “getting the job done.”

Move Better, Live Better!


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