Eight Simple Strategies to Get Kids to MOVE More
“I can’t feel my legs!” Nathaniel calls out to me, slightly panicked.
“That’s because they are asleep.” I retort.
And then he went back to his game on my phone.
…Play dates happen in the glow of multiple devices.
…Movie night is every night. And every day.
…Camp is – online.
And through it all, my kid is sitting.
So, desperate to get intel, I did some “me-search” – leading with the question: How can we get our kids inspired to move, in pandemic-times, and especially because they are so darn out of practice?
Here in New York we are looking down the barrel of the school year. Whether you’ve opted for blended learning or fully remote, the truth is that socializing will NOT be part of the schedule. Those pics from around the country of kids sitting 6 feet away from each other at desks and the lunch room just gut me. So, how can we make room for social play, that also counts as exercise, to get kids connecting and bonding together?
To get some practical solutions and ideas for games kids can play on socially distant (un-masked and 6-feet-apart!) playdates, I needed an expert. So I turned to Nathaniel’s PE teacher: Cameron “Coach” Johnson (henceforth known as Coach J), is famous in our circle as a motivator and inspiration.
When school and in-person sports was a thing, he coached the school basketball teams and led games-based sports classes that inspired healthy competition and well…movement! During online school, his weekly videos got kids doing fun circuit training and calisthenics and was a welcome relief from screen time. But don’t take my word for it, here’s a sample of one of his daily videos. Coach J, walks the walk, and even hands off his adorable baby mid set. (minute 3:45!)
Coach J took time out of his busy life, as a dad of two (with one on the way!), and on his summer break no-less, to chat with me about the ways that kids can get inspired to move around.
At Child’s Play NY, we’ve loved doing outdoor games and play in person play pods this summer. After this interview, I feel more armed as a teacher and parent to get kids up off their tush and make the fall groups something really special.
Here are the 8 simple strategies to get kids to move more, even during a pandemic!
- Dance more – and start with songs and music videos that YOU enjoy.
- Use Youtube and Go Noodle as a resource for music, videos and movement. Synch your movement to beats or words.
- If you do it too, the kids will be inspired and uninhibited. Remember, there’s no right or wrong way to move – but don’t be afraid to be silly.
- Let kids lead the games or dance moves. Have them teach you or their friends since when they are in charge they are more motivated.
- Make up a movement story and link the words with a yoga pose or an exercise.
- Use Field Day type games like Tennis Pong, Water-Sponge-Relay, Flip-the-Plate.
- Keep the games motivational, but not competitive.
- Ultimately, empower kids to create the program that works for them.
Below is my interview with Coach J:
Jocelyn: Hi Coach!
Jocelyn: Thank you so much for chatting! I thought of you because we are in that pandemic-pickle: How do you get kids to move around? Especially on playdates or with a group? Kids have to be safe – yet socially distant. So what are tricks that you would use as a gym teacher or that you are using with your own kids to help with that?
Coach: With my kid, he loves to dance…so we like to do that. YouTube is a great resource for music videos and things like that. Personally, when I introduce music to the kids I like to show them music that I actually listen to, so that they get a wide range of different genres. Use any song that is upbeat that will get the heart rate up. Also, I like to use songs that are catchy and repeatable like Roxanne by the Police. You play Roxanne for instance, you give them a little bounce and then every time they hear the word “Roxanne” they do a squat or a jumping jack, but they keep moving and jamming the whole time. If you know the song you are going to want to dance with your kid.
It’s funny, some of them think that this activity might be too “kidd-y” for them so they don’t want to do it. When they see you, as an adult, not afraid of being silly, they will be way more inclined to do it. I do this a lot with my older son, when I set up the workouts he doesn’t want to do it but then he giggles and sees me getting into it and so he actually wants to do the activity with me. There is no right or wrong answer but don’t be afraid to be silly.
By doing this, you are actually taking the time to get along with them and learn more about them in a fun way, and because you guys are sharing the activity they feel more connected to you as well. It’s a great way of getting your parent-and-kid time in.
Jocelyn: At Child’s Play NY, we have groups now that are in the park or in someone’s backyard with around 4 kids. We are doing relay games or motion and emotion-based exercises that are fun and physical. It got me thinking about how exciting Field Day is at Arts and Letters and how great those games are. I want to know how we can make games feel as exciting and special as that day: playful, but super safe at the same time. The ideal is that kids get to do both the social and the gross motor play.
Coach: You know the game “pong”, I’m gonna say “water pong” but I assume you know what I’m talking about….(HA!) If you have little buckets and have them throw bean bags and tennis balls into them, no point system, just trying to get all the buckets done in a certain amount of time. With young kids, I try to make it clear that it isn’t about the score or beating somebody. At this age, they are very aware of their limitations so it doesn’t usually end well if they get too competitive.
Jocelyn: Yeah, they don’t need that.
Coach: I’ll say, “How many tennis balls or bean bags can you get in a minute? Ok, you got six let’s try for seven. Okay, awesome, let’s keep trying.” Make it a motivational thing rather than a comparison.
Jocelyn: Keeping it silly is really great too.
Coach: For sure. I also like Go Noodle. Have the kid teach the other kids or the parents the move. If they are teaching you, they begin to feel empowered.
Also there’s another game where you have a paper plate and a spatula and you are trying to flip the plate with the spatula as many times as you can in a minute.
Jocelyn: That’s great. It’s something they can bring individually, so there is no issue of cross-contamination either. Crazy that we even have to think about that…
Coach: There’s also a fun game with a sponge, bucket and water. You get two buckets and a sponge. Kids sop up the sponge in one bucket and run to the other bucket and try to squeeze all the water out as much as possible. Then you see how full the other bucket you could do in a minute.
Jocelyn: Wow! That’s super fun.
Coach: There is a program I use with the kids called Move to Improve. If you’re with a bunch of kids what I like to do is tell a story to them. They are marching in place and I tell them “every time you hear the word ‘mountain’ you do a squat” and “every time you hear a bird we are going to soar like we are birds.”
Coach: You can do tree pose from yoga, teleport somewhere. They are moving but they are doing yoga poses and stretching as well. You try to keep the story one to two minutes long to keep their heart rate going as well as their imagination. Once again, they are doing a move but they also feel empowered.
Jocelyn: Amazing… thank you so much! This has been so helpful… Anything else to help kids be inspired to move during this moment?
Coach: As long as you keep them empowered and allow them to create the program, you will succeed. When we allow kids to be the leader – and move how they want – they are more inclined to do it. They get tired of being told what to do. They know everything so might as well let them do it! If you repeat activities they can take turns teaching it to the group. The kids will come super prepared and remind you of everything that isn’t right!! Also, if a kid says “I don’t know” ask them to show you a game they do remember (since this builds confidence). Parents can have a couple suggestions on hand, one new one that they are able to lead, and one that their kid can lead.
Jocelyn: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk, Coach! I can’t wait to move more with these great suggestions.