Summer is over, the days are getting shorter and colder temperatures will soon take hold across much of the country. For parents and teachers caring for children in early grades, that means going outdoors for exercise at a park or playground will get increasingly harder.
But experts say planning indoor physical activities for kids can help keep children active and entertained.
“Being inside doesn’t mean that physical activity has to stop or even be shortened,” says Richard Rairigh, physical activity educational adviser at the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill. “It’s important to keep to the recreation schedule, and that can easily be done indoors with a few modifications.”
Rairigh says research suggests children should ideally get 120 minutes of physical activity each day. If going outside simply isn’t an option, here are some physical activities for children in grades K-4 that can be done indoors:
Dancing is a fun way to burn off excess energy. At the GoNoodle.com Indoor Recess page, parents and teachers can find videos and activities that offer guided dance lessons to hip, new music for children. The activities are tied to core academic principals, including reading, science and math. All activities are suitable for small, indoor spaces.
Parachute play time
This one from Munchkin.com only takes a bedsheet, if you don’t happen to have a parachute hanging around. Have everyone in the family hold a side while quickly moving their arms up and down. Put some small balls or balloons on top and see how fast you can knock them off.
Balance beam fun
Using an actual gymnastics beam isn’t the only way for children to learn balance. This idea from Active for Life recommends using painter’s tape to make a straight line on the floor. Encourage your child to walk forward, backward and sideways.
Story time doesn’t have to be just a bedtime ritual. Pick a book that has a word that’s repeated often. For example, choose the word “hat” if you’re reading “The Cat in the Hat.” Every time the word comes up in the story, students do an exercise.
Avoid the shark
This one, another from Active for Life, takes a little more space, resources and time, but it’s a creative way to burn energy. Cover your living room floor (the shark-filled ocean) with foam floor tiles or towels taped to the floor with masking tape and have your child jump from one to the next without touching the water.
Races to teach animal life
Hop like a bunny or waddle like a duck. This one, courtesy of the Mommy Poppins website, can be done when lessons get dull and little minds begin to wander. Call a timeout and ask for everyone to slither like a snake.
Learning is fun and active
Want to break up the book work or teacher talk time? Run for Good suggests having children exercise as they’re practicing math or spelling. They can do jumping jacks as they spell words, recite math facts as they’re doing squats or pass a ball back and forth as they do either.
For this activity from Playworld, children form a line to make a snake. They place their hands on the shoulders of the child in front of them, and the first child or the teacher leads them around the room or play area. To make things a bit more exciting and challenging, the child at the front of the line can try to tag the child at the end.
Racing inside (really)
Even if you don’t have much room to run in your house or classroom, there might be space for a few races, according to the Worth Writing Forblog. Balance a hard-boiled egg on a spoon and race each other across the room or have pillowcase races similar to potato sack races. (Hint: Use pillowcases you aren’t fond of in case they don’t survive.)
An oldie but goodie: Simon Says
In this old favorite from Family Fun Twin Cities, you are the leader and get to work the children up into a frenzy. First, choose someone to be “Simon.” Simon either begins a command with “Simon says” or not. To stay in the game, children only must follow the commands that begin with “Simon says.” If you want to make the game more challenging, simply issue commands faster and make the actions more difficult.
‘Teaching Across the Curriculum’
Adults may be tempted to shorten the activity time outside and return inside where it’s warm and toasty. But remember the goal: Exercise, indoors and out, helps support healthy and happy children. It can also reinforce other learning.
William Potter, president of the California Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, teaches cross-curricular lessons in math, literature and science in his elementary school physical education classes at Serendipity School in Belmont, California.
“Teaching across curriculum is a great way to incorporate physical activity, movement and overall fitness,” Potter says. “We found these lessons worked great when everyone was at-home learning, and they translate well in small spaces indoors.”
Longtime physical education teacher Terri Drain, president of the SHAPE America, the Society of Health and Physical Educators, touts the benefits of physical activity in any setting.
“I hope children are still getting most of their exercise outside,” she says. “Right now, if you ask a student what they like to do, only 1 in 5 will say an outside activity. They are getting away from nature, and that’s not always a good thing.”
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