By Mary Shannon
Making sure children are physically active is important for helping them be healthy during the crucial stages of development in their young lives. However, another important, and more long-term goal, is to teach them healthy habits they will continue for the rest of their lives. Getting the child internally motivated to exercise will help them create and maintain healthy habits. Helping kids learn to love working up a sweat is a lesson that will have huge payoffs in their future. Here are some ideas to help make fitness fun!
Children can be taught the importance of exercise and proper form, but if they do not enjoy exercising, it is less likely they will make exercise a habit and pursue it after they become adults. To make exercise a lifelong habit, it is helpful if they discover that fitness can be fun. Although we all must do things in our lives we dislike, finding enjoyment in the act of exercising itself is an incredibly powerful motivator that can change exercise from a dreaded chore to a fun activity the child looks forward to doing. Building lifelong exercise habits from an early age will put a child on track for a happy, healthy future. So how can exercise be fun?
The most obvious way to make physically activity fun is to make it a game. Crab-walk races, tag, and sharks and minnows are great games to get kids moving. Older children may like going through obstacle courses. They might even like taking part in creating the course. Working out is not work, it is play!
Getting children involved in sports is also a great way to mix fun and fitness. Joining a sports team will provide plenty of physical activity along with an environment to can make new friends, learn the importance of teamwork, and build confidence. Instead of sticking to just one sport all year round, kids should be involved in a variety of sports with shorter seasons. This will allow the child to develop a wide range of motor skills and help prevent overuse injuries that can occur by doing the same movement too often (an example would be a shoulder injury from pitching a baseball constantly for a couple years).
Fun Exercise Names:
This technique is for younger children. Come up with fun names for different exercises. Instead of saying “calf raises,” say “tippy toes.” Marching in place could be “Soldier Marches.” Doing exercises that have animal names can also play with the child’s imagination. Have them do frog jumps, bears crawls, and crab-walks. Get creative!
Family Fun Time:
Try making exercise a family activity. Go for family hikes, bike rides, and pick-up basketball games to strengthen muscles and familiar relationships. Making fitness part of the family culture helps ingrain physical activity into the child’s life. Seeing their siblings and parents enjoying the activity also helps them associate enjoyment with working up a sweat. This leads into the next point-
Lead by Example:
We do not always remember how well children pick-up on how we act. How the adults in the child’s life talk about and act towards exercise can greatly impact a kid’s view of fitness. When an adult who never exercises and complains about physical activity tries to ensure the child that fitness is important and fun, the child will not believe her. This is not to say that adults should simply fake enjoying exercise. Working on changing your own mindset towards exercise is the best place to start and even if you cannot get yourself to enjoy working out, try to have a pleasant attitude towards it and do not complain. There is still value to showing children that self-disciple and keeping a positive attitude are valuable traits to cultivate. On the other hand, if you do enjoy exercise, share this with the child! However, be careful to remember that the child might not love the same type of exercise you enjoy and that not every child will like working out right away. Do not make them believe that if they do not enjoy exercising, they do not have to do it, but do explore different types of exercises with them to help them find something that really gets them excited to work out.
Allow Them to Plan the Workout:
Letting kids chose what exercises to include in the workout creates a sense of ownership of the workout and thus makes them more motivated to complete it. Even young children can plan their own workout. The adult supervising them should give them a list of different exercises (it might be helpful to put them into categories such as legs, arms, core, etc. so the child does not only work one body part) and let them choose which ones they want to include in their workout. As the child’s gains more knowledge and experience, they can start coming up with the exercises themselves.
Some things in life are not fun, but they are necessary for a happy and healthy life. People should regularly exercise even if they do not find it pleasant because it makes the rest of their life more pleasant by keeping them healthy. However, finding exercise enjoyable is a powerful motivator to maintain that healthy habit. If an adult can show a child how fitness can be fun, the child is more likely to regularly work out and continue doing so well into adulthood.