Craig Valency, CSCS

Training children between the ages of six to ten years old can be challenging. Sessions have to be fun. This is the only way to keep kids on task and engaged. When you associate exercise with fun, you also create a habit that will last a lifetime. Today, I will talk about the importance of setting the tone for fun at the beginning of the session as well as some specific games to accomplish their fitness goals in a kid-friendly environment. With this fun formula, they will have a better chance of reaching important fitness milestones, and they’ll look forward to coming back again.

Starting Off On The Right Foot
I start the session by getting the children to laugh and look forward to the workout. Something as simple and predictable as high fives works every time. See how high they can jump. Try double or triple hit high fives. Another opener is to play Follow the Leader as they walk in the door. Tell them to follow you and imitate everything you do. Put your arms out and fly like a plane; do bunny hops; shuffle; crawl; throw your hands up in the air, and make funny faces. You can even have them take turns leading if they have been with you for a while. Treat this time like an ice-breaker to loosen up the children, physically and emotionally.

It is crucial that age-appropriate fitness goals are embedded within a game. Between the ages of six and fourteen, there are specific sensitive periods in a children’s development during which they can more easily acquire new coordination skills. If you wait too long, those windows start to close (Drabik, 1996). Design a program that addresses all elements, but that has an emphasis on the target skills for the kids’ specific age group or grade level. The games can be both competitive and cooperative. In competitive games, teaching children how to win and lose is critical for developing good sportsmanship and control of emotions. They can work together in cooperative games to accomplish a common goal and learn the value of teamwork.

Obstacle Course – Movement Efficiency
An excellent way to improve a child’s efficiency of movement is to set up an obstacle course in which they follow a set course within a set time. The course could consist of crawling under various-sized hurdles, running through cones, pulling a rope, throwing med balls, and sprinting home.

Crawl & Skip Relay Race – Rhythmic Motion
If the goal is to work on rhythmic motion with reciprocal arm and leg movement, endless marching and skipping is tedious; but doing a crawl, skip, and shuffle relay race is competitive and fun.

Bear Crawl/Crab Walk Soccer – Core Stability, Shoulder Joint Integrity, & Reaction
Set up two cones as a goal at each end of the field, five to ten yards apart. Use a soccer ball or an oversized, light medicine ball (two pounds). Have the children start out bear crawling and using only their hands to score a goal. On your command, have them switch to a crab walk and use only their feet. The first team to score a predetermined number of points wins.

Hop-N-Toss: Dynamic Balance
To improve dynamic balance, have children stand side by side (on real or imaginary parallel lines) while hopping forward on one foot and tossing a ball back and forth to each other. To win, they must get ten catches and advance five yards within twenty seconds.

Recap
The key to keeping children engaged and eager for more is to make it fun! Set the tone the minute they walk in the door, and bring them up to your level of enthusiasm. Continue the workout in the form of games that address all of the fitness goals you have set, and teach competition as well as cooperation. Next time, I will discuss the importance of children taking ownership of their sessions and how this can be achieved through the technique of peer coaching.

 Reference:

Drabik, J., Ph.D. (1996). Children & Sports Training: How Your Future Champions Should Exercise to Be Healthy, Fit and Happy. Island Pond, VT: Stadion Publishing Company, Inc.