With our family mud run coming up, along with a great season to enjoy the outdoors, we hope you’re able to find fun ways to get the whole family moving! Thanks to Dan Chabert of Runnerclick.com for this article.

If you’re a parent, or if you’ve ever been around small children, you know that kids were made to move. Sometime as we grow up, we change from being the always-on-the-move children who are curious about every single thing they encounter to being more satisfied leading more sedentary lives, substituting outdoor playtime for indoor screen time. While playing indoors or playing with screens isn’t necessarily the worst thing that children can do, it’s still important that children grow up with the experiences of being able to truly play – to run, jump, kick, bounce, dribble, and participate in all forms of movement.

Children don’t think of it in this way, but movement is truly a gift; being able to play at all is a privilege and an ability that not all children have. We adults don’t need to expect every child to go on to become Olympic or professional-caliber athletes, but we are doing a serious disservice to them if we don’t expose them to opportunities for movement at all their developmental stages. Pediatricians advise us from our children’s youngest ages what types of physical and gross motor skills are developmentally appropriate, and it’s up to us as their caretakers to ensure that they are given numerous opportunities to practice and hone their new-found skills.

As children age, there are numerous ways that we, as their guardians, coaches, or caregivers, can positively support their health and their physical activity. Below, I’ll list some ideas.

Don’t think of it as “exercise”; it’s play.

Adults easily get trapped into this notion of having to carve-out time each day for exercise or physical activity because we spend so much of our time sitting down at work, commuting, or relaxing. If we aren’t careful, we can spread our sedentary habits to our children, as well. We shouldn’t have to tell our children that they need to “go exercise”; instead, we should do what we can to ensure that our children have the opportunity to play every day. Even if we can only let our children play outside for 10 or 20 minutes each day, we are still giving them the opportunity to run around, hoist themselves around on playground equipment, and use their growing bodies and muscles in ways that they were designed to be used. It’s easy to over-commit our children to various after-school groups and activities, but we should also remember that less is sometimes more. Sometimes, unstructured opportunity for play is as meaningful – physically, socially, and developmentally – as structured play.

Encourage kids to try new activities.

Sometimes the easiest way to expose our children to new physical activities is to enlist them in programs or trial offers from community groups – physical activity that it is more structured than free play. You may think that your children would benefit from a karate or dance class because of the athleticism or gracefulness either activity necessitates, and along the way, your children may develop meaningful and long-lasting friendships. As I mentioned above, it can be easy to fall into the trap of over-scheduling our children into many activities – swimming and dance on Monday, karate and judo on Tuesday, music and soccer on Wednesday, and the list goes on – but remember that more isn’t always better for children. Give them the opportunity to try new things, and encourage them when they are uncertain, and remember that not every activity may be your children’s favorite. (That’s why short-term trials are so appealing – you don’t have to commit up-front to participating for several months or an entire year).

Model activity to your children.

As adults, it’s important that we physically take care of ourselves by making healthful nutritional choices at each meal and by exercising regularly. Children effortlessly pick-up on our habits, so if your children grow-up always seeing you getting ready to go for a run or lifting weights, chances are high that they will want to emulate you. It doesn’t matter what type of physical activity you do, necessarily; what matters more is that your children see you regularly and consistently taking care of your body in a way that brings you joy. If every time you lace up your shoes to go for a run, you’re in a bad mood or are dreading it, your children may think that running isn’t fun and may shy away from it in the future because mom or dad seems to hate running. The best type of physical activity that we can do is the type that we enjoy doing, and remember, for better or for worse, your children are watching your every move and are picking up on your cues!

Register your children for a fitness event.

There are many children’s fitness event options available, from sanctioned 5k races to kids’ dashes that are usually less than a mile in length (side note – check out Tri 4 Schools kids events!). Similarly, triathlons often offer children’s versions of their sprint races, making the three-sport distances more feasible for children to train for and complete. If your children seem interested in committing to training for an event, consider registering them for an activity in advance. Not only will they be able to have the experience of working hard and training for a particular goal, come event day, they will likely earn some type of participation award for completing the event, typically in the form of an event t-shirt, medal, or certificate (and if they don’t, that’s ok, too!). While your children train for the event and during the event, itself, you’ll be able to play the part of coach, guiding them in their fitness journey, as well as cheerleader, encouraging them to keep trying and to not give up, even when things seem tough.

Sometimes, as adults, we remove the joy from activities that should be giving it to us. If we don’t exercise for prolonged periods of time, it can be tough and discouraging to begin again, and in the process, we might have developed negative attitudes toward physical activity and movement. Children, on the other hand, are naturally the opposite, since they typically have an insatiable curious nature to explore and experience everything around them, and the way they explore is through physical movement and activity. As parents, one of our many jobs is to encourage our children to continue to explore and discover their world, and we can facilitate this by giving our children numerous opportunities to play, both in structured and in unstructured environments. In the process of encouraging physical activity in our own children, we may even find ourselves to be motivated and inspired in ways that we hadn’t anticipated; sometimes, we as parents have as much to learn from our children as they do from us.

About the author:

Writing from Copenhagen, Denmark, Dan is an entrepreneur, husband and ultramarathon distance runner. He spends most of his time on runnerclick.com and Gearweare.com and he has been featured on runner blogs all over the world.