Monday, June 11, 2012

How to Encourage Kids to Exercise and Have Fun Without Competing

Although many children participate in sports and competitive activities for physical exercise, many kids prefer to exercise without without comparing themselves to others. Finding fun and engaging ways to exercise without involving competition may encourage those kids who tend to fall by the wayside in sports while encouraging self-esteem as well as giving more options for maintaining physically active lifestyle.

Have Fun Exercising © Katrena
Fun Ways to Encourage Non-Competitive Exercise

I have had many adults to mention that they disliked physical education and even field days in school. "I was never good at it," many of them claim. From an early age, many people learn that they would be one of the last picked for the team nearly every time. They might not have the natural talent, opportunities to practice, or self confidence of more athletic peers. Those who perform best often reap the benefits while the efforts of the others may be ignored. As a result, many children and teens may avoid group exercise or even all forms of organized fitness into adulthood because they are afraid that others will laugh, that they will fall behind, or that they will somehow fail.

I can relate to these folks. In high school, I was a bench warmer on the basketball team. It didn't matter that I had lost 25 pounds during the summer before – the coach didn't want me to lose the game! I ran track because they never cut anyone who tried out for that team at my school. I was better at algebra than I ever was at playing volleyball.

But I loved and still love to dance! I enjoy a good song and want to get up and move when I hear a good beat. Equipped with this desire, I have found that children and adults can engage in a wonderful non-competitive and often musical workout while enjoying a sense of accomplishment while exercising!


Dancing is a form of exercise that many people find enjoyable. Find some great tunes and simply move! Freestyle dancing can bring out one's creativity. Learning the most basic steps of different types of dances can be a great opportunity to study other cultures, songs, and the origin of the related dances. Examples include a wide variety of dances such as:
  • Twist
  • Jitterbug
  • Swing
  • Cha cha
  • Waltz
  • Ballet 
  • Jazz 
  • Tap
  • Tinikling
  • Hula
  • Breaking
  • Hip hop
  • Country line dance
  • Contra dance
  • Square dancing
  • African dance
  • Drumming
  • Latin dance
It often works best to have the kids learn one basic dance step before adding on or pairing with a partner. Start with the simplest steps and give the children a chance to master each one slowly at first. You might challenge them to add more complicated steps, but it is helpful to always give the option to continue at a slower or easier pace. Readers may wish to look at a fun music playlist that my kids have enjoyed.

If I incorporate something like freeze dance, I encourage everyone to continue dancing once the music begins again to keep it fun and to provide more exercise opportunities for the entire group. You can also spark creativity by having the kids to dance like a chipmunk, clown, the principal, rock star, or other zany ideas while playing the game!

Snail Game and Other Fun Kids Exercises - photo by SteGrifo27 at Wikimedia Commons
Follow the Leader

This simple exercise has worked in my cardio classes time and time again. Have the kids to line up while you take the helm with instructions to do whatever the leader does. As you begin walking, move your arms in various ways, such as up/down, swinging side-to-side, circling, clapping hands, etc. Move the line in a snake-like fashion to add interest. Add leg options such as lifting your knees, walking on your toes, hopping, skipping, galloping, walking like a penguin, etc. This can be a great way to eventually move the group into a circle or to line them up to leave the room.

Echoing-type games also work nicely, such as going on a bear hunt or singing active repeater songs like Boom Chicka Boom. This can also provide a wonderful opportunity for creativity. Have the kids "play" a tune by hopping on imaginary piano notes on the floor together.

The snail is an activity that the kids request over and over. Start in a circle with everyone holding hands. Release one child's hand while everyone else continues to hold hands throughout the game. Begin to slowly circle around on the inside, making smaller and smaller circles. Once to the inside, turn around and circle your way back to the outside while catching the last child's empty hand – the group ends up in a circle facing outward. Repeat the process in the opposite direction to return back to the starting point. Remind the kids to go slowly and to avoid jerking, pulling, or running during the game.

Jump Rope and Jumping Jacks to Keep Fit - Photo by Todd Macdonald from Wikimedia Commons
Circuits and Stations

Exercise skills stations and circuits work well, especially if you have a fairly large group of children. Demonstrate or explain each skills station, offering low impact alternatives for each. Ensure that the kids know which direction to move at the signal to move – I ask them to point to the next station before beginning to make sure that all the children understand how the circuits will work.

Music can add a fun element to this format as the kids visit each station for a designated period of time and then switch to the next. After the kids have had the chance to do exercises at each station, I add one last opportunity for the kids to choose their favorite circuit station. Some of the exercises that I have used include:
  • Jumping jacks
  • Abdominal crunches
  • Pushups
  • Mountain climbers
  • Squats
  • Lunges
  • Knee raises
  • Kicks
  • Jump rope
  • Jogging in place
  • Freestyle dance (often the favorite choice of many of the kids)

A similar format that can work well with groups of kids is to place different colors around the edge of the room. Select a color and a specific exercise to perform at that station. For example, Hop five times at purple. Add an additional challenge by making this into a Simon Says-type game.

Imaginary Sports and Games

Everyone can shoot the perfect freethrow in an imaginary basketball game! I have found that many kids love to pretend to dribble and shoot a basketball, swing a golf club, spike a volleyball, serve a tennis ball, row a boat, swim various strokes, and more. You can also add a bit of humor and added exercise by shooting a few "Granny" shots, adding a goofy victory dance, or even putting the kids on a pirate ship where they can practice swabbing the deck, dancing a jig, climbing the crow's nest, or walking the plank.

Obstacle Courses for Kids - Photo by Travis D. Eisele from Wikimedia Commons
Obstacle Courses and Team Building

Obstacles courses can be made with a variety of objects that encourage kids to maneuver over, under, around, and through various areas. You might create a sort of circuit where the kids remain in one area of the obstacle course and practice until the signal to move to the next area.

Pairing kids can build teamworking skills and may help kids to feel a little less intimidated and provide a platform for encouraging others. Having the entire group to work together toward a common goal can give a sense of accomplishment as the kids encourage and help one another, such as passing a hula hoop around a circle while all the kids keep holding hands or playing parachute games.

Kids Learning Yoga - photo by Daniel Case at Wikimedia Commons
Yoga Can Build Strength and Self-Confidence

I have found that even preschoolers are drawn to yoga. As kids learn various breathing techniques, balance positions, stretches, and strengthening moves, they often begin to shine from within. Many children who excel in the cardio activities may struggle to relax, but this is often where kids may begin to find a way to strengthen their hearts and souls from within.

Encourage Kids to Get Fit and Have Fun

Exercising with children can be a renewing experience for everyone. Helping kids to realize that they can enjoy physical activities without competing may be a life-changing event if they choose to incorporate healthy lifestyle choices into their daily living for years to come.

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