Kids on the Move

by Cindy Bross, PhD on Nov 01, 1997

Excite children ages three to seven by camouflaging fitness components in fun activities.

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 lifestyles.
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.
Class Structure
Keeping 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 right.)
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.
Camouflage Fitness
As 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 warm-up.
To incorporate 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.
Try these camouflaged-exercise games. (Unless noted otherwise, they are geared for kids ages 3 to 7.)
Monster 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.
Cigarette Chain Tag (for ages 5 to 7). You can 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.
Hand 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 child’s hands.
I’m a 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.
Builders 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.
Maximizing Participation
Many 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:
Teach for 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.
Eliminate 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.
Explain 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 special.
Quickly Get the Children Into an Activity. Plan a game or activity that gets the kids moving as soon as they enter the exercise area.
Keep the Groups Small in Number.For example, organize three groups of five children instead of one group of 15 children.
Have a Piece of Equipment for Each Child. Provide equipment of various colors, shapes and sizes.
Avoid 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.
Management Routines
Perhaps 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:
Entering 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.
Starting 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.
Getting 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.
 Call on 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 months.
 Place the equipment in small piles in four or five places in the room to prevent all the kids from stampeding the same pile of equipment.
Retrieving 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 of equipment.
Allowing 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.
Deciding 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.
Grouping 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.
Organizing squads 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:
 Number the children from one to four.
 Hand out stickers (animals, superheroes, sports teams) at the beginning of class. Then group the children according to the stickers.
 Preassign squads. Be sure to give each squad a name. (Let kids pick squad names, or use the names of animals, colors or sports teams.)
 Tell the kids, “By the time I count to five, get into groups of four.”
Get Moving!
Planning 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.
Cindy 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 the author.

Sample Class

Sample Theme Lesson

Here’s an example of how to include a health theme in a children’s class.
Sample Theme. Effects of cigarette smoking on your health.
Simple Warm-Up Game (5 minutes). Explain, demonstrate and play the game Top Gun. (This game and others mentioned here are explained in the body of the article.)
Minilecture (5 minutes). Discuss the health problems that result from smoking cigarettes. Ask questions like the following: What does smoking do to our lungs? What effects will it have on running, biking and swimming? How can we prevent these effects from happening? Show pictures of healthy and sick lungs.
Fitness Games (20 minutes). Explain, demonstrate and play the following games:
 Cigarette Chain Tag
 I’m a Star
 Builders and Bulldozers
 Hand Hockey
Simple Cool-Down Game (10 minutes). Explain, demonstrate and play Aladdin. Stretch muscles. (Try using a visualization technique like this one: “Your muscle is like spaghetti. When the muscle is cold, like uncooked spaghetti, it is difficult to bend and stretch. But when the muscle is warm, like cooked spaghetti, it will stretch and grow longer and remain that way. Think of your muscle as warm, cooked spaghetti. Stretch it gently.)
Review the smoking theme and discuss the topic for the next class.

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About the Author

Cindy Bross, PhD

Cindy Bross, PhD IDEA Author/Presenter