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Sharon Sipps Dodd’s ties with Marathon Kids run deep. A physical education teacher at Travis Elementary School in Houston, Texas, Dodd first learned about Marathon Kids at a convention for health and physical education teachers that she attended over 20 years ago. Sometime later she met Marathon Kids’ founder, Kay Morris. Over the years, Dodd and Morris would see each other at Marathon Kids Kickoff and Finisher events at Rice University, and even made a Marathon Kids promo video together.

“I am a strong believer in teaching lifelong fitness and healthy eating habits,” Dodd says. She sees running and walking as universal—”the one thing you can do way into adulthood, by yourself or with others.”

MOVEMENT EQUALS A HEALTHY LIFE

Sponsored by Texas’s favorite grocery store chain, H-E-B, Dodd’s current Marathon Kids Running Club at Travis consists of three separate groups of about 12 students each, ranging from kindergartners to fourth-graders. Each group meets once a week to run along the school track or the pathway around the garden. The students typically cover two miles each time they meet, and they track their own progress on paper mileage logs. Those who are especially motivated also add miles that they run at home to their logs at school.

“Most of the students are typically happy to participate in the run club and excited to attend,” says Dodd. “A few are more hesitant or don’t want to participate initially, but after we warm up and share the activity or game for the day, everyone joins in.” The students love playing running games. Best of all, they don’t view it as exercise, or as a chore. Rather, they understand that movement equals a healthy life.

“I started the Marathon Kids program at my school because I knew that walking and jogging are the number one most popular physical activities,” says Dodd. “More people stick to this healthy habit as they grow into adulthood versus continuing to play basketball, football, volleyball,” or other team sports. Helping her students build that foundation of walking and running seemed like a natural choice to support a lifetime of healthy habits.

TEAMWORK MAKES TACKLING CHALLENGES EASIER

The Marathon Kids at Travis Elementary see their run club mileage as an extension of their regular P.E. classes and outdoor time at recess. Most run a quarter-mile each day at recess before heading off to play, and Dodd also assigns run days during Gym each week to help the students build up their miles and reach their milestones faster.

“The kids motivate each other and cheer each other on when we do timed laps,” says Dodd. “They all seem motivated to track their miles and discuss the number of laps they did at recess or track time with us, and they like that they get to add to that through Marathon Kids Club.”

She and the parent volunteers who assist her with the run club always emphasize teamwork, especially when the kids have a tough day of running in the Houston heat. “We remind them that they are a team and to encourage each other to keep going and celebrate at the finish line.”

Dodd also keeps excitement and morale high by maintaining a Wall of Fame at the school, where she starts posting students’ mileage logs around the beginning of February. When the student runners see their progress posted on the wall, they feel a sense of pride in all they are accomplishing. The Wall of Fame also inspires them to keep setting goals to work toward.

MARATHON KIDS COVERS MORE THAN JUST MILES

The Marathon Kids method isn’t just about running; it’s also about learning to make other healthy choices, including dietary ones. This dovetails perfectly with Dodd’s goal as a physical educator of helping students develop lifelong healthy habits.

Along with their mileage logs, her students also focus on healthy eating via fuel logs provided by the organization. Knowing these mileage and fuel logs would work in tandem, Dodd knew that Marathon Kids would be a successful program for her students. “It is a simple and powerful way to extend our physical education program beyond the once-a-week P.E. class the students receive at our school.”

ACTIVE KIDS MAKE BETTER LEARNERS, WITH BETTER ATTITUDES

Physical activity is very important to Dodd for a variety of reasons. “Healthy, active students make better learners,” she says, “but maybe even more importantly, physical activity helps to increase positive attitudes in children and adults. The endorphins that are released in the brain during physical activity helps us to combat the depression and hopelessness that seem to be taking over our society.”

She’s seen plenty of benefits for her students who participate in Marathon Kids. “The students—especially the ones who don’t play sports—really get into logging their miles and using pedometers or Fitbits to count their steps and their progress toward their goals.” She says that playing 20 minutes of running games is another fun way for the students to get in more miles. “They experience a sense of accomplishment and learn that they don’t have to be some superstar athlete to get fit.”

Her students who do participate in competitive sports use Marathon Kids as a way to stay in shape. “They tend to be very ambitious,” Dodd says, “seeing if they can complete five or six or more marathons,” rather than the standard Marathon Kids season-long goal of covering a total of four marathons, or 104.8 miles, one mile at a time. Many of Dodd’s students “take their running skills to the next level,” she says, such as “preparing for a 5K race or being part of the cross country or track teams.”

MARATHON KIDS OFFERS BENEFITS FOR EVERYONE

Dodd has also seen personal benefits since starting the Marathon Kids program. “It has helped me get into a walking/jogging routine. I complete my marathons along with the students and display my progress on the P.E. wall for all to see.”

For others who are thinking of starting a Marathon Kids run club or becoming a run club coach, Dodd has this advice: “Do it! The program is extremely flexible, and you can make it work with any setup or schedule you have. It requires virtually no equipment, and the Marathon Kids organization has all the teaching and coaching tips laid out for you.”

ABOUT MARATHON KIDS

Marathon Kids is on a mission to get kids moving. The nonprofit organization offers free physical education programming through Marathon Kids Connect, a cloud-based PE and run club management platform that includes a mobile app for digital activity-tracking. 

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Finding the best PE games for middle school students is a surprisingly complex venture. Middle-schoolers are their own special breed, and for good reason. Stuck smack in the middle between elementary and high school, poised on the cusp of young adulthood, these pre- and early teens are dealing with social and academic pressures they’ve never faced before, and managing new stressors like heavy homework loads for the first time in their lives.

These factors make it more imperative than ever that they get regular, vigorous physical exercise to help them expend energy and manage stress levels, but as their social lives shift from the in-person playdates of their earlier childhood to a more isolated and disconnected online or phone-based forum, getting moving becomes less likely. As these children grapple with personal, familial and social issues such as emerging identities, puberty, divorce or bullying, it becomes more important than ever that they develop safe, healthy connections with adult mentors such as PE teachers and coaches.

And here’s a little secret about this age group: While middle-school kids definitely want to feel grown-up, they also still want to play like kids. PE games for middle school students that incorporate teamwork and empathy are perfect for this age group because they enable older children to learn to work together and accept each other’s differences along with their own strengths and challenges. With all of that in mind, here are six of the best PE games for middle school students, to get their bodies moving.

PE Games for Middle School

Relay Races

Classic and time-honored for a reason, relay races are excellent for middle-schoolers since they allow them to exercise their natural competitive sides while also developing teamwork skills along with their ability to empathize with, support and cheer on their classmates. Relays are also easy to set up regardless of space or equipment limitations; any area will do, and you don’t even need batons for the teams—they can simply high-five one another when each student completes a leg of the race so the next can take over.

Disc Golf

This game, which can be played indoors or outdoors, is structured similarly to a relay race and has similar benefits—helping middle-schoolers develop their hand-eye coordination and gross motor skills along with teamwork and related social skills. Use foam discs for safety, and instruct students not to run with the discs; they must transport their discs from the start line to the finish by catching it, pivoting if needed, and then passing it to others on their team.

Ball and Bucket

For equipment, this game requires only bouncy balls and some type of receptacle for catching the balls, such as buckets or cardboard boxes. Students are divided into teams; each team receives a ball and instructions to take five minutes to devise a creative strategy for getting the ball from the start line into the bucket at the finish line in a maximum of four moves. Teams must work together to determine unique moves and then execute them. Anything that’s safe is fair game: They can toss the ball, roll it, bounce it, or use their bodies in creative ways to reach the goal. This game taps into middle-schoolers’ need for silly play as it develops their collaborative and creative-thinking skills.

Obstacle Course

Obstacle courses are wonderful because they’re so easily customized to each space, equipment set and student group—and middle school students love to challenge themselves! PE teachers can get as creative as they like in setting up the course to test their students’ abilities on both physical and mental levels. Whether you’re in the gym or outside, incorporate ropes, balls, discs, hula hoops, ladders, balance beams, relay sticks and anything else at hand to create a fun course that will keep middle-schoolers smiling—and moving.

Capture the Flag

This classic game works best with two to four teams of students, each of which will work together to devise strategies for stealing the opposing teams’ flags without getting caught. Each team has its own flag and territory within the play area; inside their own territory, players are safe, but they must venture into other teams’ territories in order to steal their flags. If caught, or tagged, while in another territory, students must perform some PE-oriented task, such as a set number of jumping jacks, burpees or pushups, before they can return “home.” Students should be reminded that Capture the Flag is less about guarding their own team’s flag and more about working with their teammates on creative plans for nabbing the win.

Free-Choice Fridays

Middle school students are like kids of any other age: They love to feel independent and in control. Thus, Free-Choice Fridays are wonderful to implement with this age group so they can exercise some free will in their physical education. Each Friday (or whichever day of the week works best for your schedule), give students a portion of class time to determine which game they’ll play as a class. Majority rules, but they do have to switch it up each week. One of the best things about Free-Choice Fridays? It gives PE teachers a window into which games and activities students like best, to help you plan lessons for the coming weeks!

Free Resources for PE Teachers

ABOUT MARATHON KIDS

Marathon Kids is on a mission to get kids moving. The nonprofit organization offers free physical education programming through Marathon Kids Connect, a cloud-based PE and run club management platform that includes a mobile app for digital activity-tracking. 

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Team building activities aren’t just for corporate groups. Teamwork is an important life skill for people of all ages. Any teacher knows that a school is a community, and so is a class. Even students who aren’t active in sports benefit from team building games for kids that develop their abilities to listen and communicate carefully, follow directions, strategize with classmates and build a sense of trust in one another, thereby building a stronger community together. Students are better off when they know each other well and have ample opportunities to learn how to work together, rely on each other and pitch in toward a common goal.

Enter team building games for kids. The following five games and activities are perfect for helping students develop empathy, learn to value each other’s skills, make space for each other’s vulnerabilities and cheer each other on—plus, they’re just a whole lot of fun. Game on!

Team Building Games for Kids

Hand Over the Hula Hoop

This activity can be done in groups of eight to 10 students with one hula hoop per group, or as a whole class with two or more hoops in rotation. Have the students form a circle and place a hula hoop around one student’s arm; then all the students in the circle should join hands. The students must devise ways to pass the hula hoop from one arm and body to the next without ever breaking the circle. Ideally, by the end of the game, each hula hoop should have made its way around the entire circle without anyone dropping hands. This game brings out the belly laughs, but it’s more than just silly fun; it also builds kids’ listening and strategizing skills while enabling them to move and wiggle their bodies in some fun and unique ways.

Minefield

Use masking tape to mark off a square or rectangular shape on the floor that is large enough to hold eight to 10 students at once, along with multiple, randomly placed X shapes (also made with tape on the floor) and multiple soft, squeaky items (such as dog toys). The X shapes are mines. To start the game, eight to 10 students should put on blindfolds and step just inside the rectangle, lining up together on one side. To play the game, the students standing outside the rectangle will call out verbal instructions to their classmates to help them navigate safely to the other side without stepping outside the taped boundary or onto a mine. When students do accidentally step on mines, their classmates must let them know, so they can freeze until another student inadvertently steps on a squeaky item. The squeaking sound signals that all frozen students are released to move again. This game helps students develop their listening and communication skills along with their ability to trust and rely on one another.

Word Leap

This fun and simple game is easy to set up, and it helps children get to know themselves as well as one another better. It also helps them learn to express their own opinions quickly and freely while learning to accept that everyone is entitled to their own perspective. Finally, it’s a plyometrics-based game that develops kids’ muscles and gross motor skills. To set up the game, lay out two ropes parallel to one another, two to three feet apart, and have the children line up between the ropes. The teacher calls out word pairs, such as dog/cat, spaghetti/salad, movies/video games, and so on. The first word will always be associated with one rope, and the second word with the other. The children must choose which word or concept they prefer, and jump as quickly as possible to the corresponding side of the rope.

Blindfolded Obstacle Course

For this activity, divide students into groups of four or five and give each group a blindfold. Students will take turns wearing the blindfold while the other members of their group give them verbal directions to help them navigate an obstacle course. The course should be constructed with play mats, piles of foam blocks and other soft items so it’s safe for kids who might bump into parts of it or even take a tumble. If the play space and obstacle course are large enough to accommodate multiple groups at once, this can be structured as a timed, competitive activity. Otherwise, groups can take turns and cheer each other on as the blindfolded students make their way to the finish line. This activity teaches kids about clear communication and the value of patience, along with their ability to listen closely and follow directions.

Human Words

This game lets kids get active and use their bodies in a fun way that keeps them laughing, while teaching them how to strategize and work together toward a shared goal. Depending on class size, this can be done in smaller groups or as a whole class. The teacher calls out words, one at a time, for the students to spell out together by forming the letter shapes with their bodies. Multiple students can work together to form just one letter; for example, if the teacher calls out the word “Hello,” two students might form the O together by facing one another with their toes touching, bodies leaned back and curved toward one another, and arms outstretched and curved overhead to join hands. Teachers with Smartphones or digital cameras can add to the fun by taking pictures of each completed letter or word, so the kids can delight in their creations and also improve on them in the next round.

ABOUT MARATHON KIDS

Marathon Kids is on a mission to get kids moving. The nonprofit organization offers free physical education programming through Marathon Kids Connect, a cloud-based PE and run club management platform that includes a mobile app for digital activity-tracking. 

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Amanda De Leon Garcia first learned about Marathon Kids through a fellow coach, when she saw his run club at a 5K. As a P.E. coach at Santos Livas Elementary in Alamo, Texas, she already knew that physical, emotional and mental health were important to her. “Physical activity is important to me for life health,” she says. “Being physically active is known to add years to your life, and can help with emotional and mental health as well.” When she learned these factors were central to what Marathon Kids is all about, she knew she wanted to start a Marathon Kids run club of her own.

Alamo, Texas—not to be confused with the Alamo—is a small town at the southernmost tip of the state in the Rio Grande Valley. The area is rich with vegetable farms and citrus groves, yet, even being surrounded by fresh produce, the students of Santos Livas still need guidance about healthy lifestyle choices. “Students need to learn how to find something they love,” says Coach De Leon Garcia, “something they can look forward to and be active at the same time.”

The run club at Santos Livas is the Lions Running Club, with 60 students participating, ranging from Pre-K students to fifth-graders. The Lions meet once a week after school and also run during P.E. times on free Fridays—and they definitely stay active: “We try to average two miles every time we meet,” says Coach De Leon Garcia, “and we compete in 5Ks.” She and her colleague Coach Porras Garcia work together to track miles using Marathon Kids Connect, the new digital lap-tracking app that was launched at the start of the 2019–2020 run club season.

RUNNERS WITH DETERMINATION, AND WITH HEART

“Each of my students has their own attitude towards running club,” says Coach De Leon Garcia. “Most are determined and competitive about getting their miles in, while others just enjoy the run while laughing with friends.” The one thing they all have in common? “They love to go to running club! They all love to scan their bar codes and check how many more laps they need.”

The Marathon Kids method—working toward completing four full marathons, or a total of 104.8 miles, over the course of the school year, one mile at a time—helps students build engagement and motivation at their own pace. Breaking it down into small increments makes it manageable for runners of all ages and at any fitness level.

Coach De Leon Garcia’s students work together to reach their milestones, and the older kids help the younger ones to finish what they’ve set out to do each time they meet. “They set the behavior standards very well,” Coach says, “knowing they represent a club. I have some fifth-graders who will do an extra lap or two with my Pre-Ks just because they want them to finish.” Being in a mixed-age club is teaching everyone about mutual respect and what it means to be a valued member of a community.

TACKLING CHALLENGES WITH A SENSE OF HUMOR, AND REAPING THE BENEFITS

Coach De Leon Garcia’s sense of humor is clear when she talks about how her run club manages difficult moments out on the track. “I’m that coach that is constantly calling out their names and yelling motivational things,” she says. “When it gets hard, I like to challenge them, or I join them. I always tell them—if my old lady self can run, so can you. And they leave me behind, thinking, ‘This old lady better not beat me!’”

She’s seen plenty of benefits from the run club, for both her students and herself. “The benefits I’ve seen for my students have been in their diet changes and their leadership role in the school,” she says. “My students have been cutting out junk food and sugary drinks since they started running club. They love to talk about healthy food choices and meals as well as help others.”

Children learn by example, and Coach De Leon Garcia is setting a good one. “I’ve seen great benefits as in challenging myself to run half-marathons and make better food choices,” she says. “I like to set the example for my students and remind them to be physically active, to inspire them.”

As for anyone who is where she once was—wondering what it might be like to start a Marathon Kids run club—here’s what she has to say: “You have to love what you do and who you do it for. Once you have those two things down, Marathon Kids run club is golden.”

ABOUT MARATHON KIDS

Marathon Kids is on a mission to get kids moving. The nonprofit organization offers free physical education programming through Marathon Kids Connect, a cloud-based PE and run club management platform that includes a mobile app for digital activity-tracking. 

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Coach Jessica Kessel was familiar with Marathon Kids well before she wound up starting a run club. As a P.E. teacher at Copperfield Elementary in Converse, Texas, she’d attended physical education conferences for years and spoken there with Marathon Kids representatives, but she didn’t have the funds to pay for the program to come to her school. When she received an email inviting her to apply for a grant to start a run club, she knew her students would love being Marathon Kids.

Every year, the elementary schools in the Judson Independent School District hold a track and field meet for fourth- and fifth-graders. “This is a huge deal for our students” at Copperfield, Coach Kessel says. “They get to run on the track where our high school state champions run.” Copperfield students come from a variety of backgrounds and nationalities, and “range from kids who have never participated in a sport to kids who have tried out but not stuck with any particular sport, and finally to kids who are athletes and members of various teams.”

Receiving the Marathon Kids grant opened up even more opportunities for Coach Kessel’s students to train.“What has surprised me the most is how many of our students have never been a part of a club or team. This is a true treat for them.”

COPPERFIELD STUDENTS WERE READY FOR A RUN CLUB

Copperfield Elementary is in the process of building a track. When it is complete, all of the school’s 700-plus students will participate in Marathon Kids at least once a week, during P.E. class. For now, nearly 100 students in third, fourth and fifth grades are active in the Bobcat Roadrunners run club. They meet for a half-hour in the mornings before school—third-graders on Mondays, fourth-graders on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and fifth-graders on Wednesdays and Fridays—and typically run between one and two miles per session.

The group has taken advantage of the Marathon Kids Connect app, the digital lap-tracking app, in order to make it easier than ever for Marathon Kids and their coaches to track miles. Coach Kessel monitors her runners while they jog and uses iPads to scan their Marathon Kids Connect ID cards.

Initially, she says, the run club was more of a social gathering than an athletic endeavor, but soon the students began taking it more seriously. “Now they compete to see their scores rise and compare their scores with others, so it is beginning to develop a competitiveness that they lacked at the beginning.” She’s been surprised to find that participation hasn’t dropped off. Instead, it’s only increased as the weeks have gone by, proving her initial instinct correct—that Copperfield students were more than ready for a Marathon Kids run club.

THE STUDENTS KEEP EACH OTHER GOING

Runners of all ages and experience levels know that running has its easy days and its tough ones. When the going gets tough for the Bobcat Roadrunners, Coach Kessel encourages the students who are highly motivated to work with those who are less motivated and help them keep moving. “They seem to respond to peer assistance,” she says of her students, “and don’t require much redirection from coaches.”

Physical activity is important to Coach Kessel on several levels. “This is our business and our passion,” she says. She works out “religiously,” and her students respect the fact that she practices what she preaches.

COACHING A MARATHON KIDS RUN CLUB IS BOTH FUN AND GRATIFYING

There are plenty of benefits in Marathon Kids for everyone involved, starting with the students. Coach Kessel has seen significant boosts in self-esteem in her Marathon Kids runners, stemming not only from the pride that comes from developing their athletic skills and reaching milestones, but also the sense of belonging that comes from being part of the club.

As for herself, before starting the Bobcat Roadrunners, Coach Kessel wasn’t sure how much of a challenge it would be to head up the run club. She’s been relieved to find it hasn’t been a chore; in fact, it has turned out to be something she appreciates. “Teaching the kids how to compete without pressure and that life is a competition” through building their mileage one mile at a time—these, she has found to be unexpected joys.

For others who are thinking of starting a Marathon Kids run club or becoming a coach, Coach Kessel gives two enthusiastic thumbs up. “For coaches, there’s pride in seeing that something you do is working. I would highly endorse pursuing this program because [other run club coaches] will be surprised at the gains of previously non-athletic kids.”

Looking for fun ways to get kids moving? Check out our free resources for teachers on Pinterest!