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How to Keep Kids Moving When School and Sports Are Not in Session

A roundup of resources for parents who want to help their young runners to stay active.

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School is canceled and sports are on hiatus, including spring track practices. Parents are stretched thin, but want their kids to remain active—especially their young runners. But how to squeeze in kids workout time when we’re all just trying to get through the day together?

Healthy kids need about 60 minutes of physical activity a day. And we also know that they’re easier to live with when they’re able to release pent-up energy (this isn’t unique to children, of course). Older kids might get out for a run, but elementary and younger middle schoolers require a little more creativity, some structure, and supervision, so we rounded up some resources we hope are helpful for families trying to implement fitness routines.

Younger children can play games while tween or teen runners might have more tangible objectives. But if your budding track star isn’t able to log miles or just doesn’t want to, know that’s okay, too, says Jane Benson, vice president of youth programs and marketing at New York Road Runners (NYRR).

“Be aware of the effects of stress and anxiety on your body,” Benson says. “We know there’s a connection between mental health and physical health, so we advise young runners to give themselves a little bit of a break—not every run is going to be your best run. Be okay with that and go with a pace that feels good, listen to your body, let it do the talking.”

NYRR offers its youth running programs and curricula for free on its website and has created a special program, led by Olympian Jenny Simpson, geared toward kids currently stuck at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It utilizes common household items as equipment and takes into account that some may only have small spaces in which to workout. The videos with ideas for games and mobility exercises are categorized for age, from younger children up through high school seniors.

“It’s a really great time to focus on a different part of training,” Benson says. “What a perfect time to build things like strength and balance and flexibility. There’s so many ways to do that now.”

Here are three ways to keep kids moving and motivated at home:

1. NYRR Active at Home

Want an Olympian to be your kids’ PE teacher? NYRR has put together a series of videos featuring Simpson, who leads games, strength, mobility, and balance exercises for young runners of all ages. The videos are categorized for which ages they’re most appropriate. Some come with PDFs with more ideas and information for parents or kids to add to them. NYRR will continue adding longer videos for activities that will keep children occupied for 30 minutes at a time, allowing a little less help and supervision.

The program also offers a printable activity tracker to encourage young runners to log their activities each day.

2. Project Play

The Aspen Institute, an organization with an mission to develop and share knowledge that helps build healthy communities through sports, has created a portal for youth sports participants whose practices and competitions have been put on hold. The resources are vast—from ways to implement physical fitness into the daily routine to how to help young athletes who are suffering emotionally or struggling to cope with the loss of their team and sports.

Notably, the Aspen Institute says that the pandemic is a great time to take a break from specialization. “With organized sports on hold, take advantage of this time by encouraging your child to creatively enjoy sports,” by reintroducing free play.

“Children who spend more time in less structured activities in general are better able to  set their own goals and take action on them,” according to research at the University of Colorado. 

“This is a good time to take a deep breath. Talk to your child, and think to yourself, about what he or she is getting out of sports,” the Aspen Institute advises. “Is your child having the best experience possible? Have you followed  your child’s lead and asked what he or she wants?”

And after you’ve taken that time, explore an exhaustive list of activities that are safe to do right now.

3. Marathon Kids

Marathon Kids is a run/walk program for children of all ages and abilities. They set goals and track progress as they log four marathons (104.8 miles) over the course of a season. The organization is offering its resources during the pandemic with ideas on safe activities to do while quarantine and stay-at-home orders are in place. Everything is available in English or Spanish, including a mileage log (for those able to enjoy outdoor time or have access to a treadmill), walk and talk conversation starters, stretching and cool down ideas, and games.

Marathon Kids also created a list of activities like family dance parties and activity circuits for the backyard. It’s also selling a structured at-home physical education program ($10), which includes an incentive reward (a t-shirt). 

“Tackling physical activity  as a family will help your children make moving their bodies a lifetime healthy habit,” according to Marathon Kids, “and will help you stay physically and mentally healthy as well.”