Kids are naturally active and do not need much encouragement to get up and move. Keep them interested in physical activity with fun exercises that are also appropriate for their physical skill level, intellectual level and maturity level. Encourage exercises which involve movement, balance, coordination and teamwork. Running, walking and bike riding are exercises which kids learn early and are not quickly (if ever) outgrown. Other exercises including jumping rope or playing hopscotch will be abandoned by older children who want to be seen as mature and not as babies. All children can learn how to do sit-ups and push-ups, to build strength and stamina. Keep these activities as warm up exercises for older children, and encourage them to increase their stamina by adding more repetitions.
Show children how to do somersaults, to hop on one foot and to jump. Introduce jumping jacks into unstructured play time or into dance time. Unstructured play for toddlers, preschoolers and kindergarten students is recommended by the Mayo Clinic. At this age, children are full of energy and are not skilled enough for most sports. Encourage exercise by running around with the child, indoors or outside. Play a child’s favorite song and dance, moving the hips, raising the arms overhead, and moving your feet. Children will try to imitate you but they will definitely put their own spin on dancing at this age.
Visit the playground and allow them to climb the rope ladders or slide ladders, with you behind them. They can be agile climbers, and with you behind them for safety, you will feel okay about letting them test out their climbing skills.
Enroll a child in a class for a specific exercise or individual sport. Classes are available for gymnastics, dance, cheerleading, martial arts and kickboxing. These classes encourage children to enjoy exercising and socializing, while focusing on individual achievements and goals. Children who are goal-oriented and enjoy reaching for levels of achievement will thrive with these types of exercise classes.
Ideal for elementary and early middle school children, these group exercises teach children how to follow specific instructions and sequential movements. Following instructions is precursor to learning the more complex rules of team sports. Babies and toddlers can enjoy movement classes, tumbling classes or Mommy & Me yoga classes. Also consider martial arts classes, which include warm up exercises and movement, and teach children self-awareness, self-esteem and perseverance, according to the American Taekwando Association.
Exercising as a family is a rewarding activity. Take a short drive or walk to a scenic location and involve the entire family. Take a nature walk or go for a more challenging hike on a weekly or monthly basis, to exercise with kids. Teaching kids to walk down steep hills is one way to improve their balance and build strength in their legs.
Play for the day at the local water park, go canoeing or kayaking, or use a pedal boat at a local park. Go mountain biking or biking on a paved trail. Take kids to a miniature golf location with batting cages, for some fun exercise.
Sports and Games
Games involving exercise may be introduced to toddlers and preschoolers, and often include “Duck, Duck, Goose,” “Hide and Seek” and “Simon Says.” Any of these games may be played indoors, giving children exercises they can do during bad weather or winter months.
Preschoolers and elementary school children in a group setting can exercise with relay races involving eggs, potatoes or cups of water. Potato sack races and two-legged races are also fun for children at this age. Elementary school children can also play soccer, T-ball or hockey if they have skating skills. Parents can get the ball rolling by kicking a soccer or dodge ball around with a child.
Middle school children and older or mature elementary school children can start to join team sports. Introduction to team sports is recommended for children six and seven by the Mayo Foundation.
Exercising with Equipment
Children who have acquired some coordination skills can be introduced to exercises involving equipment. Keep the exercise fun by finding the exercises which might pose a challenge to a child rather than be too hard. Throwing a Frisbee, for example, looks fun when it’s done right, but it can be frustrating to children who are not adept at moving their wrist in the right direction. Practice with the child, but know when they have had enough and move on to another exercise or activity.
Exercises for kids which use the whole body include bike riding, skate boarding, roller blading, cross-country skiing and ice skating. Activities like sledding can provide exercise, when you do not carry the child back up the hill yourself.
Dancing and moving around with hula hoops is a fun exercise for children. Setting up a basketball hoop, soccer net, badminton net or volleyball net, at heights appropriate for children will also provide the child with fun ways to exercise.