Get Kids Sweating and Smiling!

by Brett Klika on Jun 23, 2015

Youth are flocking to fitness classes as parents face concerns over inactivity, obesity, sports injuries and performance. Instructors are learning to cater to the vast needs of this market, and it can be difficult to create a safe environment where all children can participate, get results and have a good time. While challenges will always exist in group classes, some simple strategies, particularly during the first few minutes, can turn frustration into fun.

Engaging Kids

Many youngsters come to class after being at desks, in cars and on couches all day. The kids likely haven’t moved in a while, so they’re excited, antsy and ready to get going. Use this energy to accomplish two things (in addition to the standard goals of a warm-up):

  1. Engage the children.
  2. Improve physical literacy.

Odds are, kids don’t have physical education in school and they don’t play much on their own. The last thing they want to do is stand around, get in lines or listen to lectures. Their bodies and brains demand movement, so get them moving—immediately! You can focus on different aspects of fitness and physical development. The primary goal, however, is to get kids sweating, smiling and interacting for a minute or two. Make the moves simple enough that very little instruction is needed. Just let them play!

Shark Island

  • Instructor calls out a number.
  • Participants form groups of exactly that number and put their arms around one another.
  • Instructor (the "shark") chases participants, hurrying group formation.
  • Participants not able to get in groups quickly are "chomped" by the shark.
  • Game repeats with large, small, odd and even numbers.
Note: Use this exercise to get kids into groups for the duration of class.

Partner Tag

  • Participants pair up, facing one another.
  • When whistle blows, students simultaneously attempt to "tag" the arms, legs and/or torsos of their partners without moving around the room. The challenge is to tag while avoiding being tagged.
  • Each bout lasts about 10 seconds.
  • Keeping "score" is optional, as is switching partners.

Physical Literacy

Kids learn how to move as a result of developing a wide array of physical skills. Modern inactivity and early specialization in a single sport have created a deficit in the development of general skills needed for a lifetime. The building blocks of physical literacy include foundational motor abilities, in addition to the fundamental movement skills associated with locomotion, stationary movement control and object manipulation.

When you address these movement skills during a warm-up, it helps to "hook up" a child’s brain to the rest of his body so he moves more effectively and efficiently. For more information on physical literacy foundational skills, visit

For two more exercise games, please see "From the Couch to Conditioning" in the online IDEA Library or in the April 2015 issue of IDEA Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at (800) 999-4332, ext. 7. To see videos of the games described in this article, visit

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About the Author

Brett Klika

Brett Klika IDEA Author/Presenter

Brett Klika is the director of athletic performance at Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego, California. He specializes in youth fitness and athletic performance. Brett oversees a staff of eight strength coaches and develops program for over 300 youth athletes (and non-athletes) per week. He is a regular contributor for a variety of publications, produces DVDs on fitness and athletic performance and presents around the world.