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By Jennifer Fisher, thefitfork.com on behalf of Beef Loving Texans.

Gathering together as a family to share a meal and bond over life’s ups and downs has become rare.

In fact, according to a 2013 Harris poll, only 30 percent of American families share dinner every night. Schedules overflowing with school, work, and extra-curricular obligations are understandably responsible, life is crazy. But, let’s admit it, even when parents and kids have the chance to gather for mealtime, our electronic devices often have a seat at the table.

Family mealtime is not only an opportunity to eat a wholesome meal together, it’s a time to make lasting memories that your children won’t forget. 

Regular family meals are also linked to higher grades and self-esteem, healthier eating habits and less risky behavior. Plus, as parents, we get to spend more time enjoying the biggest “projects” we’ve taken on in life and, I think you’d agree, that’s winning the ultimate game!

So, hit the pause button and implement one or all of these tips to make your family dinner table the place to be!  

1. Be Present:

Dinner time could be the only quality time you spend with your family, so take family dinners to the next level by making a point to be present. Enjoy meals together electronic device free.  After all, numerous studies show that home-cooked meals nourish the spirit, brain, and health of all family members. 

2. Schedule It:

It seems contradictory to suggest adding another entry to an already packed calendar when trying to slow down and enjoy family dinner time. However, by marking a set day (or days!), everyone can anticipate the event and plan accordingly. This is especially important when kids become teenagers with their own social schedules. When things get really hectic, think outside the dinner hour and make Sunday brunch or Saturday lunch the big event.

3. Simplify It:

Family dinners do not have to be “fancy-schmancy.” I’ve found that quick, easy, kid-friendly meals are not only less stressful to prepare, but also casual and comforting meals that the whole family will enjoy. Here are some of our 30-minute favorites with beef:

Beef Picadillo Tacos

Beef Fajita Soup

Szechuan Beef Stir Fry

Mexican Beef Breakfast Nachos

4.  Share the Work:

Involve the whole family in making dinner by divvying up the tasks from planning, shopping, and prep to serving and clean-up – age appropriately, of course. For example, little ones can set the table while older children can make a salad or put dishes in the dishwasher afterward. Show ‘tweens and teens various cooking methods and how to plan a balanced meal, budget, and shop. This not only brings the family together for more quality time, but also teaches and empowers children with new life skills.    

5. Make it Fun: 

Family dinner night isn’t just about eating, it’s about connecting and making memories. Get creative and host a theme night, based on a specific cuisine like a Taco Tuesday or Spaghetti night. Give kids free reign to decorate, select background music, and come up with a game for the table. 


Any fact or research noted in this blog post came from the National Family Meals Month™ toolkit. See all supporting research.

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Due to COVID-19, many people have started inviting family and friends to play virtual games. Technology has paved a new path to socializing, teaching, communicating, and learning. The ability to video chat on platforms like Zoom allows not only for family and friends to connect but the video chat function also allows teachers and students to transition from traditional classroom learning to remote learning from home as needed.

It is important to keep students engaged during virtual classroom sessions. Many teachers have discovered that taking a break from schoolwork and playing an interactive game supports and strengthens student engagement. The share screen function of the Zoom platform gives the option to teachers to enhance and simplify the learning experience too.

Here are some of our favorite warmup, active, cool down, and calm interactive games to play on Zoom that teachers can play with students. Our Zoom game suggestions are fun, brainy, and have the ability to sharpen kids’ physical and mental skills.

Best Warmup Games to Play on Zoom

FOLLOW THE LEADER

Choose a student to be the leader. Have the leader model their favorite warm-up activities that will get the class moving. Students will copy the leader until it’s the next leader’s turn.

RED LIGHT, GREEN LIGHT

Choose an action for students to copy. When the teacher says “green,” students should repeat the action as fast as they can. When the teacher says, “yellow,” slow the action down. On red, stop. Mix up the colors and actions as much as you’d like.

OBSTACLE COURSE

Instruct students to create a simple obstacle course, either indoors or out. Ideas include zigzagging between furniture, hopping over imaginary lines, etc. Invite them to share their obstacles with the class, demonstrating how to complete the course.

Best Active Games to Play on Zoom with Kids

Freeze Game

Let your students stretch their legs and dance to some fun, upbeat tunes. Encourage students to show off their dance moves. When the music stops, everyone has to stop dancing.

Scavenger Hunt

At-home scavenger hunts are fun! Here’s how they work. The teacher will announce a household item that the students need to find. Give the students a goal time limit to find their item and return to show the class. Here are a few items we suggest: TV remote, spoon, something blue, something soft, pair of socks, etc.

Rock, Paper, Scissors

Classic game, but with a twist! The object of this version is not to win, but to see how many rounds students can stay in the game versus the teacher. To get kids moving, assign an action to the winner of each round. For example, if you win, the class “gets” to do ten jumping jacks!

Best Cool-Down Games to Play on Zoom

WINDSTORM

Pretend to be trees in a windstorm, with wind blowing arms as branches. Start while the windstorm is strong and blowing hard, and finish as the wind calms and blows softer.

SHARKS AND FISH

One student is the shark and the rest are fish. Sharks demonstrate their favorite cool-down activities while the group copies their actions. Whatever the shark does, the fish have to copy. Remember to stretch gently and slowly (like fish swimming).

MUSCLE MIX

Like Twister, but standing up. The teacher or leader calls out to body parts to touch together. For example, elbow to knee or hand to foot. Continue the game until the class has settled and is ready to focus on a calm game.

Best Calm, Interactive Games to Play on Zoom with Kids

I Spy

I Spy is a classic game, but also a great one to play to work on adjectives and to test your students’ observation skills. Students can take turns guessing what the object is that you describe. As the teacher, you say: “I spy something *insert adjective*.” Play as many rounds as you see fit.

Trivia

A short game of trivia can be a great way to start the day. Each week you can identify a theme or a category to challenge your students to trivia questions. We recommend using the “raise my hand” function on Zoom to allow for fair play. Throughout the semester you can keep a tally and leaderboard for the students.

Show and Tell

Give your students the opportunity to share something from home. Show and Tell could be a fun way to end the school week. You can pick one student for each week. The game Show and Tell could be a good way for students to develop and improve their social and speaking skills.

Mystery Bag

Give your students one clue about what you put in a bag. For instance, “The object is *insert adjective.*” You can give a couple of students the chance to guess. If no one gets it correct, give another clue. It could be interesting to choose the item based on a topic or lesson you are reviewing that day or week.

Story Time

All young students need a good read-aloud every single day. Zoom makes it easy. Make yourself, as the host, take up the full screen so the students can see the pictures easily. Note: The words will appear backward on your side but rest assured they are not backward from your students’ screens.

Directed Drawings

Kids love directed drawings. Art Hub for Kids on YouTube is a great option. Share your screen while the students make their own drawing. When the drawing is finished, each student can take turns showing their drawing to the class. Extend this project by assigning it as a writing activity to complete at home and bring back to the next Zoom call to read aloud.

Quick Draw

Looking for a drawing activity that is a faster pace than Directed Drawing? Quick Draw could be your answer! Quick Draw is a Pictionary style game, but the timer for making a drawing is very short, only 10 seconds. This would help the students to sharpen their brain as they need to think about the perfect hint to draw so that the teammate can guess the clue. The questions can be related to studies as well.

20 Questions

Think of an object. Let students ask a YES or NO question. Students will have to continue asking these types of questions. A student may guess at any time by clicking on the “raise my hand” button in the Zoom settings.

Would You Rather

Ask your students a “would you rather” question with two choices and kids must choose between the options. Pick two students to share the reasoning behind their preference. The game, Would You Rather, will be a good game to show kids that their peers might not like the same things, and it is okay to have your own opinion.

Guess Where

This will be a good game to play with older students. To play the Guess Where game, teachers will have to utilize the screen share function of Zoom. On your screen, pull up geoguesser.com. GeoGuesser is a geography game that takes you on a journey around the world and challenges your ability to recognize your surroundings. This is a fun game to challenge your students’ geography knowledge.

Logo Quiz

Logo quiz is a fun game which can be played with older students. It is a trivia game on different kinds of common logos. The teacher shares their screen to pull up multiple logos to quiz their students. The student who guesses the maximum number of correct logos wins. You can show the answers by writing them in a notepad and then all can show the notebook together towards the screen.

Are you smarter than a 5th grader?

This is a type of game that the kids love to play. Type, “are you smarter than a 5th grader questions” on Google and find random questions. Write the answers on a notepad and give your students 10 seconds to write their answers. When time is called have all your students show what they wrote to the screen.

Crossword Puzzles

For older and younger students, crossword puzzles make for a brilliant mind game. Share your screen and pull up a crossword puzzle. You can set a timer for so many minutes and each student can write on a notepad the words that stand out to them. When time is over, the teacher can call on different students to solve.

About Marathon Kids

At Marathon Kids, we offer free physical activity programming, resources, and hands-free technology to support educators as they strive to keep students active in school and at home. Learn more about getting kids moving during the school day with Marathon Kids Connect—it’s free!

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Chris McClung has been supporting Marathon Kids for 16 years. Please consider making a donation in his name to sustain the future of free physical activity programming for children.

Chris McClung—Co-Founder of Rogue Running and Marathon Kids Board Chair

In 2004, Chris McClung was in graduate school at the University of Texas. “We had a project to do associated with the governor’s initiative to promote health and fitness in the state,” he recalls. “We were supposed to figure out how to market that initiative, particularly to the Hispanic population, so a couple of my fellow students and I went to a health fair.”

Marathon Kids happened to have a booth at the fair, and McClung was talking to a representative about their running programming in Austin schools when a woman came up and interrupted the conversation. “She was just profusely excited about the Marathon Kids program. She was talking about how her kid was doing it through his school, and they had started running laps after school together. She talked about how she had lost 30 pounds and was feeling better and healthier because of it, and how her relationship with her son was improved because of their ability to do this activity together. I thought that was pretty cool.”

McClung had played soccer in college and then taken up running after graduating in 2000 as a way to stay in shape. He’d quickly fallen in love with the sport, and by 2004, had run several marathons. He had yet to conceive of running as a career, but “I knew it was something I would be doing for a lifetime. As a runner myself, I already knew the impact it could have on someone, but to see it in action in the community made me want to get involved with Marathon Kids. I knew what it would have done for me if I’d been involved in it earlier in my life, so I wanted to give that back to others.”

Soon after the health fair, McClung was directing a race in Austin on the UT campus, and selected Marathon Kids as the race beneficiary. “Then,” he says, “Kay Morris, the Marathon Kids founder, pulled me in, and I’ve been involved in almost every way possible since—as a volunteer, as a sponsor through Rogue Running, and now as chair of the Marathon Kids board. I’ve got three kids who are Marathon Kids. It’s been a cool ride over the last 16 years.”

The Impact of Running Extends Far Beyond Physical Health

Becoming co-founder and owner of Rogue Running has given McClung a deeper understanding of the impact running can have on someone’s life. “I coach adult athletes because I believe running is a vehicle for life change that extends well beyond the sport itself. I see that in adults all the time: how they build confidence, how they build self-esteem, how they relieve stress and find an outlet for so many things in life. And then it facilitates this change in life that affects their work life, their relationships and everything else.”

He believes the impact running can have on children’s lives is also profound, including building confidence in school. “Obviously there’s a physical benefit as well, but for me it’s more about confidence, self-esteem and the things it will open up in kids’ lives beyond just moving one foot in front of the other.”

One of the things that originally drew him to Marathon Kids was the fact that it was free and accessible to all.

It’s free, it’s incremental, it’s easy, and everyone can really have access to it. Those were core principles that Kay brought to the program early on. She wanted to make sure that not only can kids do it, but any kid can do it, it’s easy to facilitate, and you have kids of all activity levels and all backgrounds who can access the program. Those were pillars of the program early on, and still are pillars today.

Chris McClung

Favorite Memories from the Early Days of Marathon Kids

McClung moved to Houston after graduate school and helped launch the Marathon Kids program there, and was also involved in the organization’s early expansion to Dallas and other cities. “To see the first event they had in Houston was a pretty cool experience.”

Before that, when he was still in Austin, he would assist with Marathon Kids kickoff events at the University of Texas. “Kay was really big on getting kids onto college campuses,” he says, “not only to experience the kickoff event and get excited about the program, but also to see the University of Texas and to hopefully be influenced to want to go to a place like that someday.”

He remembers being a volunteer at one of those early UT events. “They would bring the kids down out of the stands in waves, and they would come through after finishing a lap and get autographs from University of Texas athletes. Just seeing the look on their faces after running and then getting to see those athletes, and being so excited to get autographs from these people that they maybe didn’t know, but who were obviously role models for them—you only have to see that once to think, This is a big deal.

The Future of Marathon Kids

These days, McClung is excited about taking Marathon Kids into a new digital era with Marathon Kids Connect, a cloud-based physical activity tracking and reporting app that launched in 2020. “I think it will only make it easier for people to reach us. We’ve been a very school-based model, which has served us well and has been a great way for schools to engage in it. But now, with the digital platform, pretty much anybody can do it. A family, a neighborhood group, a church group—anyone.”

Marathon Kids is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and though the organization now has a national presence, McClung still sees it as quintessentially Austin. “It’s cool to be part of something that was built here 25 years ago,” he says. “To me, the organization represents what Austin is—a physical activity-oriented community, where people like to get outdoors. And Marathon Kids was very grassroots. Early on, Kay was driving around in her car from school to school, helping teach the PE teachers how to facilitate the program. It was a very grassroots, low-key, scrappy, entrepreneurial spirit that built Marathon Kids, and that is still embedded in the organization today, and it still represents what Austin is really all about.”

McClung looks forward to another 25 years for Marathon Kids, and a reach that extends even further, to kids everywhere. “We would really like to see the community continue to embrace Marathon Kids as this organization that is Austin-grown, but that can also reach much further beyond Austin. The University of Texas has the motto that ‘what starts here can change the world,’ and in Austin, there’s a lot of that happening with businesses that are coming here or that started here, and with the entrepreneurial spirit that this city has. We have this opportunity now to take something that was born here and to take it much further. I think that’s very much what Austin is about.”

To keep Marathon Kids free for all children, please consider a donation to Chris’s 25th-anniversary fundraiser.