As kids’ fitness
instructors, our challenge is to help children develop active, positive
lifestyles. Integrating knowledge and activity will help convince children
that exercise is important to their well-being and increase the chance that
physical activity will become a permanent part of their daily lives. Once
children begin to regularly incorporate fitness into their experience, they are
more likely to modify other health factors to complement their healthy
But you may not be
sure how to incorporate knowledge and fun physical activities into a class
setting. Relax! This article will give teaching strategies, class format tips,
inclusive fitness games and management routines that will help you conduct successful
classes for kids ages three to seven.
adults continuously active for 15 to 20 minutes is easy, but doing the same
with young children is nearly impossible because they lack aerobic endurance
and tend to get bored. An ideal class for this age group consists of 35 to 45
minutes of start-and-stop activities.
Try dividing the
total class time into four sections: (1) warm-up activity, (2) review of
previous class and health issues discussion, (3) fitness development
activities and (4) cool-down activity and review. (See “Sample Class” on
Tag games and other
simple activities with few rules make great warm-ups. You can tie wellness
concepts into your lesson through short discussions on health behaviors and
habits. During the fitness development activities, you may want to address a
variety of fitness components (e.g., flexibility, cardiorespiratory
endurance, muscular strength and endurance) or just one of these. In addition,
try playing games that integrate fitness concepts from your health issues
discussion. (See “Sample Theme Lesson” on the next page.) Finalize your lesson
with stretching and a quick review session.
you plan children’s classes, remember to incorporate health-related fitness
components (cardiorespiratory endurance, muscular strength, muscular
endurance, flexibility and body compo- sition/weight management) throughout
your lesson. Where should you incorporate these different components?
Flexibility is appropriate during warm-up or cool-down. Cardiorespiratory
endurance and body composition/weight management are appropriate throughout
the class. Muscular strength and endurance are appropriate anywhere after the
these components successfully, you need to use them in fun ways. Having
kids run a mile or perform push-ups and sit-ups may be good for their bodies,
but could turn the children off exercise. Camouflaged physical activity
makes getting fit interesting, fun and more in keeping with a child’s natural
way of moving. Tag games, walk/ run/jump activities and fitness circuits and
relays provide the same benefits as more structured exercise, but are better
tolerated by young kids. Take traditional games, give them new names and
contemporary themes and you’ve got your classes planned.
camouflaged-exercise games. (Unless noted otherwise, they are geared for kids
ages 3 to 7.)
Mash. This makes a great
cardiorespiratory endurance warm-up or fitness development game. Select three
or four children to be the “monster mashers” and give each of them a beanbag.
Everyone else is a monster. A monster is “mashed” whenever he is tagged on the shoe
with a beanbag. The children may slide the beanbags across the floor or gently
throw them. When mashed, a monster dances the “Transylvania Twist” (twisting
the body five times) to the music. After dancing, the mashed monster collects
the beanbag and reenters the activity as a monster masher. Suggested music: “Monster Mash” by
Bobby “Boris” Pickett.
Chain Tag (for ages 5 to 7).
use this game in your warm-up or fitness development section; it improves
cardiorespiratory endurance and is a fun way to reinforce the concept that
smoking is harmful to cardiovascular endurance and general health. Select three
students to be “its” (smokers). A child who is tagged by an “it” must join the
smoker’s chain and continue to chase the children. Only “its” can tag. Thus the
cigarette chain grows longer and longer, making it harder and harder to move
quickly. The message is, therefore, that smoking slows you down.
Tail Tag. Use this cardiorespiratory endurance activity
during your warm-up or fitness development section. Give each child a strip of
plastic or cloth (try cutting trash bags into strips) to put in her waistband
to represent a tail. Children try to pull each other’s tails while avoiding
getting their own tails pulled. Every time a child pulls someone else’s tail,
she places it in her waistband next to her original tail. If all her tails get
pulled, she must stop in place and try to grab a tail from others as they pass
by. She must grab a tail before reentering the game.
Top Gun. Use this fun
cardiovascular and muscular endurance activity in the warm-up or fitness
development section. Children begin by lying on their stomachs. When you yell,
“Start your engines,” the children rise to a hands-and-knees position and
perform push-ups. Next instruct them to “take off” (fly around the exercise
area) and land (stop, roll to their backs and perform crunches). This game can
also be used in the cool-down section if you ask the children to move slowly
when flying and spend the majority of time on push-ups and sit-ups.
Hockey (for ages 5 to 7). Use this upper-body
strengthening activity during the fitness development and cool-down sections.
Partners face each other in the “up” position of a push-up. They are spaced one
to two feet apart. Each child tries to maintain the “up” position and score a goal
by using one hand to push a “puck” (beanbag or newspaper wad) between his
partner’s hands. A goal is scored each time the puck slides between the other
Star. Use this game in the
warm-up, fitness development or cool-down section. Have children form lines. A
designated leader (the star) stands at the front of each line, wearing a paper
star round her neck. She performs a movement, exercise or stretch to music. The
other children in her line copy her movement. On your signal (every 16 to 32
beats), the paper star is given to the next child in line. Play until everyone
has been the star. Suggested music: “I’m a Star” by Prince.
Aladdin. This is a perfect cool-down activity, but it
can be used in other sections as well. The children put magic carpets
(newspaper) against their chests, drop their hands and run around the room
trying to keep the paper from falling on the floor. They are not allowed to
hold the paper against their chests; as they run, it will be blown against
them. When the song is over, the children can sit on their magic carpets to
stretch. Suggested music: Theme from Aladdin.
and Bulldozers. Try this
activity in the warm-up and fitness development sections. Divide children into
two groups. Group one is made up of builders and group two of bulldozers. Place
small cones, in a scattered formation, in the exercise area. Knock some of the
cones over and leave the others standing. On your signal, the builders stand
the cones up and the bulldozers knock them over. After about 30 seconds the
groups switch roles.
traditional games place children in lines, with one piece of equipment per
line. This formation leaves children “waiting” to participate. Children need
and want to move. If a game does not actively involve them, they will create
their own distraction. This can be disastrous! The key is to design your class
for maximum participation. Here are some simple strategies:
Inclusion. Design activities
that accommodate children of varying physical abilities and needs for the
duration of the activity. Ensure that all games and activities encourage 100
percent participation with everyone moving at the same time.
If a task is too
difficult, the children will become frustrated. If it is too easy, they will
become bored. Provide options. For example, if a task involves muscular
strength and endurance, offer a choice of push-ups from the knees, from the
toes or on an exercise ball.
Use time rather
than number of repetitions or distance as the goal. For instance, challenge
all children to walk for 10 minutes or do as many crunches as they can in 30
seconds. This approach allows all children to be successful at their own rates
and yet start and finish at the same time.
Elimination Games. Plan
ways for children to reenter a game once they are “out.” For example, allow them to move to
a safe area, jump rope 25 times and then reenter the game.
and Demonstrate All Games and Activities. Most of us are visual learners. Give a quick
demonstration of each activity, circuit station or movement so the kids can see
it in action. This will keep them from getting frustrated because they don’t
understand how to play the game. Ask the kids themselves to help demonstrate
the game. This will help them kinesthetically understand it and make them feel
Get the Children Into an Activity.
game or activity that gets the kids moving as soon as they enter the exercise
Groups Small in Number.For
example, organize three groups of five children instead of one group of 15
Piece of Equipment for Each Child. Provide equipment of various colors, shapes
Putting Children in Lines Without a Task to Perform. If you need to place children in
lines, have them jog in place or perform squats or half jacks to keep them
involved until their turns come around.
one of the greatest challenges you’ll face when working with kids is to teach a
fun class without the children getting hyperactive from excitement. If you
establish management routines on the first day of your program, you will
introduce order into the class by operating it the way you want it to
run (Graham 1992). These routines predetermine ways you expect children to act
in your class. Suggested routines include:
and Leaving the Exercise Area. As
the children enter, I either verbally explain an activity or have it written on
a poster board, depending on the children’s ages. The kids are expected to
begin the activity immediately.
All classes end
with stretching and a short review of the theme for that day (e.g., how smoking
affects you). Ending the class with stretching teaches the children that
stretching should always follow activity. Reviewing the theme helps reinforce
the health information and gives children an opportunity to verbalize their
understanding of the concept. Actively involve the children in talking about
the theme so they aren’t just standing there listening.
and Stopping at a Signal From the Instructor. For stopping I use the word “freeze.” The children are
expected to freeze on their feet with feet shoulder width apart, knees slightly
bent and eyes on me. This is a balanced position that will allow the kids to
move easily on the “go” signal.
Children are not to
start an activity until I say “go.” Often, I will open my instructions
with, “When I say ‘go,’ you may quietly walk to your station and begin jumping
rope.” This statement tells the children when, how and where they
may move and what to do once they get there. If the children move before
they hear “go,” they return to their places and we try again. Otherwise, the
kids will not hear all the instructions and will not know how to play the game.
Out and Putting Away Equipment. Children
love to help. Selecting and retrieving equipment not only gives them this
opportunity but also teaches them responsibility. Here are a few suggestions
for getting out equipment.
three to five children at a time to pick up their equipment. You may want to do
this by calling out clothes or shoe colors, hair or eye colors, or birth
equipment in small piles in four or five places in the room to prevent all the
kids from stampeding the same pile of equipment.
equipment can be done in a similar way. Select two children to gather all
equipment or call on three to five kids at a time to put away specific pieces
Children to Rest When They Are Winded.
Children come to your class with different fitness and skill levels. Some kids
will tire more quickly than others and need to slow down and rest, then reenter
the activity. Discuss this possibility with the kids so they are not humiliated
or embarrassed when it happens. Talk about ways they might rest and recover
before reentering the activity.
I give children the
option of moving to the wall and leaning against it for a few seconds. This
gives them a chance to catch their breath, and the other children don’t usually
notice them resting.
When to Have Water Breaks. Think about whether you want children to go to the water
fountain any time they need a drink or only during designated times. Make sure
you notice when they want to leave an activity to get water. This behavior can
signal they need a rest or are bored and ready for a change in activity.
Children by Partners or Small Groups (Squads). “People to People” is a simple but
effective way to teach children to find partners. Call out “people to
people” and instruct the children to quickly stand back to back with a partner.
Sometimes vary the challenge by having them get together hip to hip, shoulder
to shoulder or toe to toe. Children without partners move immediately to the
center of the room to find other friends without partners. Make a rule that
children must pick a different partner each time you ask them to change.
gives the kids opportunities to work with different groups, as both leaders and
followers. The type of grouping technique you select should depend on the
activity and the age of the children in your class. Six- to seven-year-olds can
often form groups on their own, but with three- to five-year-olds, assigning
them to groups is more time-efficient.
If you wish to
organize children into four groups for a circuit activity, you could use one of
the following strategies:
children from one to four.
stickers (animals, superheroes, sports teams) at the beginning of class. Then group
the children according to the stickers.
squads. Be sure to give each squad a name. (Let kids pick squad names, or use
the names of animals, colors or sports teams.)
kids, “By the time I count to five, get into groups of four.”
games and management routines can take time at first, but will prove helpful in
ensuring a fun, well-run class. The bottom line is that if you have fun with
the kids, they will have fun—and move—with you.
Bross, PhD, has taught children and teacher education courses for 19 years.
Formerly a college professor, she is president of Healthy by Design, a personal
training company for kids and adults. She wrote Fit to Try! and coproduced the
children’s videotapes “Dyna-Might I & II” and “Fit to Try!”
Bross, C. 1993. Fit
to Try! An Activities Guide for Health-Related Fitness. Durham, NC:
Great Activities Publishing Company.
Corbin, C. B. 1997.
“Appropriate Activity for Young Athletes: What Every Youth Sports Coach Needs
to Know.” Fitness Facts 2 (1). Reston, VA: Physical Fitness Council of
the American Association for Active Lifestyles and Fitness.
Graham, G. 1992. Teaching
Children Physical Education: Becoming a Master Teacher. Champaign, IL:
Human Kinetics Publishers.
Ratliffe, T., & L.
Ratliffe. 1994. Teaching Children Fitness: Becoming a Master Teacher.
Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics Publishers.
Sallis, J. F. 1995. “A
Behavioral Perspective on Children’s Physical Activity.” In Child Health,
Nutrition and Physical Activity, ed. L. W. Y. Cheung & J. B. Richmond.
Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics Publishers.
References supplied by
Sample Theme Lesson