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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.

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We invite you to join the movement for more movement by becoming an Active Schools Champion!

Parents, schools, and organizations are invited to become Active Schools Champions and join a network of passionate people who are changing the way we prioritize physical activity in schools. As a champion, you will make connections, have access to valuable resources, and help create healthy habits in kids that last a lifetime.

Joining is free. So, please sign up and add your voice to the cause!

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Coach Julie Spelman teaches Physical Education at Baldwin Elementary in Austin, Texas. She also heads up the Baldwin Bobcats—678 student runners spanning kindergarten through fifth grade, who run laps around their school’s outdoor track every PE class as well as during lunch and recess. PE classes are on a three-day rotation; this year, Spelman is teaching virtual learners via Zoom along with face-to-face learners at school.

It’s a challenge for the in-person learners to stay six feet apart, Spelman says, and using gym equipment can be tough due to the time constraint created by having to sanitize equipment between classes. “One nice thing,” she says, “is that we can all participate in Marathon Kids! I already have a lot of parents that have registered their children. When I get a notification that they have logged miles, I go into our Marathon Kids account and approve them. The kids love to tell me how many miles they have done at home!”

At the end of each PE class, when the virtual learners log off their class Zoom, Spelman heads out to the track with her face-to-face learners, where they run laps for the last 15 minutes of class. The Baldwin track is one-fifth of a mile long, and the students typically run three to five laps at a time.

“When running gets tough for them,” Spelman says, “I always try to keep pumping them up. I tell them that they are stronger than they think, and that they can do it! I tell them to walk a little bit and then pick up the pace if they are feeling it. I also let them know that power walking is good, too! If I see they are struggling, that is a great opportunity for me to walk and talk with them. I can pick up the pace, and before they know it, they are running again!”

GROWING WITH THE PROGRAM

Spelman is long experienced with Marathon Kids, both as a coach and as a parent. Her own children participated in the program years ago, in elementary school. “We would go to the kickoff and final mile every year,” she says. “It was always so much fun!” Now that she is a Marathon Kids coach, she focuses on breaking down big, ambitious goals into smaller, achievable steps with her students.

“I let my students know what their large end goal is—four marathons throughout the school year,” Spelman says. “Then I try to have them achieve that goal one mile at a time. If they look at the big picture, then it will be overwhelming, so we just concentrate on the miles that we do each day. When they can see them add up, it makes it easier for them to achieve their big goal. When they do achieve it, they are so excited about it.”

This year, for the first time, Spelman made a set of ID scan cards for her in-person students. “The cards are all organized on our wall, which has made it so much easier to keep track of their laps. It really helps to hold students accountable, too! Teachers bring their scan cards out at recess and during WOW time. A few teachers have their students wear their scan cards in a plastic cover clipped to their shirts, which makes it very easy to scan.”

In mid-November, the school reached its first big group milestone of the season—over 1,000 miles total and counting. “It’s so exciting!” says Spelman.

MARATHON KIDS HELPS KIDS DEVELOP DETERMINATION AND HEALTHY HABITS

Coach Spelman’s students are an active group. “The majority of our students participate in afterschool activities. There are lots of soccer players that are in club, baseball, some ice hockey, lacrosse, swimming, tennis, karate.”

She teaches them about the importance of physical activity not just for physical health, but for mental health as well. “Today I had a student who was not having the best day. After we did our three laps on our track, he was smiling and talking like nothing had been bothering him. I always tell my students that in under two minutes—about how long it takes to go once around the track—they can have an attitude change!”

The lessons Spelman teaches her students in PE class and through their Marathon Kids activities, and the bond of trust they share, extend beyond the school setting. “I just had a student yesterday tell me he was going to test for his next level yellow belt,” she says. “He said he didn’t get it the first time, and he was going to try again. I asked him what happened the first time, and he told me there were a lot of people watching him and that made him very nervous. I told him this time, if there are a lot of people watching you, just pretend they are not there. Show your coach everything you know.”

Her advice worked: “Today, while we were on the track, I asked him how he did, and he said he passed. He told me he took my advice. Hearing that made my heart so happy! I told him how proud I was of him and that I knew he could do it!”

The students are also absorbing lessons about how food affects their bodies and how it can fuel their workouts. “When I have lunch duty,” Spelman says, “I secretly check out their lunches. From what I can see they are pretty healthy! We learn about Go, Slow and Whoa foods, and they always show me that they have Go foods in their lunch!”

PHYSICAL ACTIVITY HAS BOTH MENTAL AND PHYSICAL BENEFITS

Coach Julie Spelman

Spelman is a fan of the Marathon Kids program and mission. “I have always loved the Marathon Kids program and everything it stands for. I think it is a win-win for all involved. There are so many benefits. I love that it is research-based!” For others considering getting involved with Marathon Kids or becoming a coach, Spelman says, “I would tell them to do it! It is a win-win for all! You will definitely see a difference in your students and also in yourself!” 

She recalls a teacher who would send her students out to the track whenever she could see they were getting tired or distracted in class. “She always told me that when they all came back in, they were so much more refreshed and ready to learn,” Spelman says. “I always tell my students that if they are tired, I guarantee that after they do their laps, they will feel so much better. The majority of them come back smiling after!”

For Spelman, physical activity is an important part of staying healthy. “I know it helps my stress level. If I’m having a not-so-good day, I go for a jog or a bike ride and end up feeling so much better! Those are the days when I find myself doing more laps with every class. I know that if I want to prevent heart disease, which runs in my family, I need to keep exercising. There can’t be any excuses not to!”

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George Adkins teaches PE at River Ridge Elementary in Evans, Georgia. Together with his colleague Laura Paulos, he heads up the school’s Marathon Kids runners, a group of nearly 700 kindergarteners through fifth-graders who call themselves the River Ridge Racers.

“We have students who come from all corners of the globe, all socio-economic levels and various family make-ups,” Adkins says. “This is partially due to a large military base and medical field in our area. Activities before and after school get students moving either inside or outside on a daily basis. We have two recess periods each day for students to run and play. They have a love for PE and enjoy learning different ways to make and keep themselves healthy.”

MARATHON KIDS CONNECT MAKES LAP TRACKING A SNAP

River Ridge began holding a running track day 14 years ago. “We used coffee stir sticks to track the students’ laps, since they were plastic. For record keeping, we used Excel, which proved to be a lot of work—transferring students’ names to different classes each year and clearing the slate. It was work just trying to keep up with when a student earned an award.”

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Adkins knew he and Coach Paulos would have to change how they ran PE. “I realized handing out sticks was not going to work for keeping track records, so I put out a question to other PE teachers around the country on a blog I read, and a teacher in Wisconsin responded. She gave me information about Marathon Kids to research.”

Coach Adkins says the program is “the best I have found due to the ease of use, the data that is available on each student, and the customer service/technical support, besides being a free program. I have shared it within my county, and now we have another school that has started using the program.”

Depending on their ages, the River Ridge Racers typically cover one-and-a-half to three miles at a time during their track time. Adkins and Paulos use Marathon Kids Connect to track the students’ mileage on their iPads and iPhones. “The ease of managing 694 students in the program has been a breeze. I can do it quickly, replace their names/QR codes instantly, and see which students need more encouragement to increase their effort on the track.”

FIND A PHYSICAL ACTIVITY YOU ENJOY, AND DO IT FOR LIFE

Adkins has mostly in-person students this year, with just a handful of students learning from home due to the pandemic. He says their numbers will increase in January 2021, when more students return to in-person class. “Keeping classes separated from each other is a challenge,” he says, “along with sanitizing and masks.” But he and Coach Paulos are making it work.

When running gets tough, Adkins tells his students to keep moving and pressing onward. “Most of them want to keep up with their fellow classmates. We don’t let them sit down to rest, but encourage them to keep moving by walking until they feel better. Soon they start running again.” He also motivates them with shout-outs and awards when they hit distance milestones. “We also have a wall poster with the grade leaders for the month.”

Adkins has noticed several benefits in his students since starting the Marathon Kids program. “They’re more alert in classes and eager to go run on the track. They’re disappointed when it rains and they can’t go run laps.” He says obesity rates are high among Georgia children, so he and his colleagues try to instill healthy lifestyle lessons starting in kindergarten. “Artwork, posters and demonstrations help students see the importance of health and fitness. I want them to understand that fitness is a lifelong activity, so I tell them they should find something like running that they can do and enjoy.”

He recommends that other teachers and coaches give Marathon Kids a try. “This program is not intimidating, and will greatly help you and your runners enjoy the activity and increase their efforts.”

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Isaac Zertuche is a PE teacher and Marathon Kids coach at Yarbrough Elementary School in Midland, Texas. His school’s Marathon Kids program, which is underwritten by H-E-B, consists of 780 students in kindergarten through sixth grade. Zertuche describes his students as “very excited about health and fitness. We have a very diverse community from different working backgrounds such as the oil field, teaching, manufacturing, healthcare, finance, retail, and construction. Some of the kids’ extracurricular activities after school include playing at the park, riding their bikes with their friends and family, and walking and jogging with their parents after school.”

Zertuche, whose students call him Coach Z, first learned about Marathon Kids at a Midland ISD professional development meeting; as soon as he looked into the program, he knew he wanted to become a Marathon Kids coach. “Yarbrough was one of the first schools to try it out,” he says, “and we’ve loved it ever since.”

He says Marathon Kids was “a perfect partnership for the goals we had in PE for our students. Our students love to get active and to run. Our warmup in the gym consists of running laps inside and outside of the gym. For the primary grades—kindergarten through second—we would have them do locomotive skills such as hopping, skipping, galloping and side-shuffling. Our goal was to get the students moving from the time they enter the gym till the time they leave.” Marathon Kids programming supported that goal.

Motivation Is Easy with Marathon Kids

“Marathon Kids allowed us to run several marathons as an entire school,” Coach Z says. “The kids loved it! We would pretend and use our imagination as if we were traveling to several places with each marathon we completed.”

Every Yarbrough student participates in Marathon Kids. “Our students come to PE and participate in Marathon Kids four times a week,” says Coach Z, “whether it’s moving around and being active for 20-plus minutes or running laps.” The school has an outdoor, quarter-mile track where students run. “We allow the students to run their laps at their own pace and have fun doing it. Some students will complete four to six laps; other students will run 25 to 30 laps in a PE class.”

Coach Z and the other teachers and coaches keep track of the students’ mileage with Marathon Kids Connect, the program’s digital lap-tracking app and reporting platform. “Each student has a card in a plastic card slot on a lanyard. We print each ID card by grade level, and each teacher has their own color. Each time the student runs by, we scan their ID card. If we are unable to go outside and run laps, we will manually input laps the student runs inside.”

Once the students have run their laps, they’re allowed free play time. “Our students love this,” says Coach Z, “so they push themselves. We also remind the students of the amazing health benefits of running and being active daily, and that each lap is making them healthier and stronger.”

Marathon Kids Helps with Safe Distance Running

Coach Z says Marathon Kids has been “extremely beneficial” since the pandemic changed the structure of Yarbrough’s PE program. “In order to reduce the number of students in the gym and to help with social distancing, we have added Marathon Kids to our PE program since day one of the pandemic. One coach will keep two classes inside, while the other coach takes the other two classes to run laps outside. This has helped so much with social distance. We also have kids participating that are doing online learning for the year. Each day, those online students do a workout video or a walk or jog with their parents, and they add that to their lap total from home.”

The biggest challenge Coach Z and the other PE teachers are facing this year is making sure all students stay as socially distanced as possible and keep their masks on in the gym. “It gets hot and hard to breathe at times when exercising,” he says, “so I can definitely understand how they feel. We are just constantly reminding the students to keep your personal space and wear your mask correctly at all times.”

The Benefits of Daily Physical Activity

Coach Z has noticed that his students are more focused and have less behavior issues since introducing Marathon Kids programming. “The students go back to class tired,” he says, “so they are more relaxed in class and can focus better. I’ve also noticed how, as the year goes on, the students’ cardio endurance has improved. Our students are able to run longer and do more laps.”

He wants to make sure his students know the importance of their health at a young age. “Physical activity is very important because it can reduce the risk of several diseases and sickness in the future. Physical activity can improve the quality of your life. I strongly believe in the quote, ‘If you do not make time for your wellness, you will be forced to make time for your illness.’”

“Marathon Kids is an amazing program, especially for the pandemic. It is especially perfect for schools with big class sizes. It allows the students to run outside, stay fit and stay healthy while staying socially distanced.”

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On November 24, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, Oregon’s Beaverton School District launched a districtwide, virtual, five-day Turkey Trot as its official Marathon Kids kickoff event. Students and families from all 34 elementary schools in the district ran or walked along mile-long routes based in their neighborhoods—routes that had been created thoughtfully and specifically for each school, with safety in mind.

Nearly all of the Turkey Trot routes either began or finished at the elementary schools, or passed by them. This was special for Beaverton elementary school students, who haven’t set foot inside their schools since March. Due to the pandemic and rising virus case numbers in the Beaverton area, all Beaverton ISD schools have been 100% virtual.

Physical Activity Helps Students Feel Calmer and More Focused

Beaverton is a suburb of Portland, and its school district isn’t new to Marathon Kids. The district has had Marathon Kids programming and run clubs in its elementary schools for the past three school years. “Kicking off Marathon Kids has been in our plans for a long time,” says Cheryl Wardell, the PE Specialist at William Walker Elementary, who has taught Physical Education for over 32 years. “This is our fourth year of doing it as a district, first as clubs. Then, two years ago, we piloted it in one school, with nine teachers—what would it look like if we said any teacher that wants to provide Marathon Kids as a class could do it?”

That pilot went well, especially once Marathon Kids launched Marathon Kids Connect, its cloud-based physical activity reporting and tracking app. “You can record Brain Boosts now,” says Wardell, “or track your heart-pumping exercise. The data came back from both teachers and kids that they felt more energized, more calm and more focused.”

Marathon Kids at Jacob Wismer Elementary in February 2020.

Based on such promising feedback, the district decided to pilot the program in more schools, focusing especially on schools with outdoor tracks that served students from lower-SES backgrounds. “About seven schools piloted,” says Wardell. “Three of those were all-schools, meaning all teachers jumped on board. That also was successful. With the new changes in the platform and the app, it makes it really easy for a teacher to download and track the miles. That was the game-changer for classroom teachers—that now, it’s not nearly as much work.”

When it comes to setting Marathon Kids goals for her students, Wardell always cites four complete, cumulative marathons by the end of the school year, but “I tend to try to make it very individualized. Our biggest thing is getting to the first marathon. If a kid really wants to go, they have an opportunity to do it all the time at home—and they don’t really have that opportunity at school, where they’re only tracking one or two days a week with their club and during classroom time.” She expects plenty of students will exceed the four-marathon goal by May 2021, especially if they go for daily walks or have parents who are runners and set that example for them.

Pandemic Changed PE Classes, But Marathon Kids Kept Running

While everything slowed down in March 2020, when shutdowns occurred due to the pandemic, Beaverton ISD’s Marathon Kids initiative continued. “With the pandemic and our kids being virtual for the foreseeable future, we decided we would open [the Marathon Kids programming] for parents to be able to track miles from home,” says Wardell. The district established its PE teachers as ambassadors at each elementary school and invited all classroom teachers to track their students’ activity during Brain Bursts or active time during virtual classes. “The biggest thing,” Wardell says, “is really trying to get parents on the platform.”

There has been increasing excitement and involvement from parents thanks to the virtual Turkey Trot. Before the kickoff event began, one school in the district had 200 parents sign on within just the first few days. “They have a robust Marathon Kids running club,” Wardell says about the school. “They did their own video about it for parents, they’re a very community-oriented neighborhood, they do their own neighborhood Turkey Trot… so they are just onboard.” The excitement spread to the district’s teachers and staff as well. One staff member, Kris Damiano, ran all 34 one-mile Marathon Kids Turkey Trot routes in a single day!

Kris Damiano ran 34 miles in one day!

For the Turkey Trot, the district made it as easy as possible for families to participate, with no need to register for the event and by providing the routes for each school community. Parents and guardians logged their students’ miles—“which is so exciting,” Wardell points out, “because we can all see it. The parents can see it, the kids can see it, the principal can see it, the teachers can see it…”

Of course, the district’s PE and classroom teachers had already been logging kids’ miles on Marathon Kids Connect throughout the fall semester. Wardell says the Turkey Trot event brought in the rest of the community. “It was kind of our way to say, ‘Hey, come join us,’ to help people feel a part of their school community and part of the larger community by doing the Marathon Kids run in November.”

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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Cindy Samok was instrumental in bringing Marathon Kids programming to Austin schools. Consider making a donation in her name to sustain the future of free physical activity programming for children.

Cindy Samok, Early Marathon Kids Coach

In the mid-1990s, Cindy Samok was a PE teacher at Casis Elementary School in Austin, Texas, where she’d been teaching since the early ’80s. Also an avid runner, she started an afterschool running program with her students. Together, they kept track of laps and did workouts as a group.

Around the same time, she learned about Marathon Kids when our founder, Kay Morris, was starting the organization’s first run club at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Children from that school would come to Casis with their PE teachers to run laps on the elementary school’s track; Samok’s students would pair up with them to complete laps together.

Buddying up was key to making running fun, and fun was key to keeping kids engaged for the long haul. In fact, for Samok, starting a run club was all about passing along the joy of running to her students. “When I was little, running was used as a punishment. I had strict PE teachers, and if you misbehaved, you had to run laps. But I wanted to teach kids about using running for health, as a way to relieve stress, to do buddy laps—talking to their buddy while they were jogging. I wanted them to use it as a way to have a good time.”

Bringing Marathon Kids to Casis Elementary

When Samok decided to launch a Marathon Kids run club at Casis, she knew she wanted to head it up alone, “because I was a pretty competitive runner.” But she also knew she could use some help from the running community, starting with Kay Morris and extending to others in the local running scene. “I knew Paul Carrozza, who owned all the RunTex stores” (a specialty running store popular among Austin runners for 25 years, until it closed in 2013). “Paul was very on board with kids running,” Samok continues. “He designed tee shirts for my running club, and he was instrumental in coming up with the first Marathon Kids shirt as well.”

It was all about passing on that love of running to children, so they could benefit from it in all the ways Samok had. “It was my joy that I always loved doing. When Kay came on board with this free opportunity for all the kids who wanted to run, I wanted that for them—to experience the joy of it. They run so carefree! You run or walk, you run with another kid or alone, you don’t need any equipment. I just wanted to pass that joy of running along.”

She also drew on her students’ natural competitiveness. “During field days at the end of the year, we would have timed miles with third- through fifth-graders, and the fastest runners would get to carry the flag for their classes. We would have kids participate in competitive runs all over town.”

She has many fond memories of her years at Casis and running the Marathon Kids club. “It was really fun! The final mile after the big Austin Marathon—that was really cool. And the kickoff at the Mike Myers Stadium at UT, with the torchbearers and the UT athletes handing out posters and water bottles. It was a big thing.”

Running Is “Epic Stress Relief”

Samok retired from public school teaching in 2011 but knew she wanted to continue teaching in some capacity, and decided she wanted to work with older people. She became a certified fitness trainer through the American Council on Exercise, and now she leads senior fitness classes at Westminster, a senior living community not far from Casis Elementary. She also has a personal training business called Mobile Fitness 2-U. “I’ve worked with all ages,” she says, “including after-school one-on-one training with kids. I just really have a passion for fitness, and especially for lifelong fitness.”

Samok calls running “epic stress relief. When you run, your body produces endorphins to make you really feel that joy. People run for all different reasons: to relieve stress, to get your head clear, to think.” She points out research about running stimulating the brain and helping students perform better on standardized tests. “It helps them concentrate,” she says.

Simple Ways to Keep Moving

Running isn’t always joyful, of course. For every runner, even experienced ones, there are times when getting out there and hitting the pavement or the track is a serious challenge. When Samok was teaching PE, she tried to pass along basic, good advice to help keep her students engaged. “I would tell them to run when it’s not so hot, and to always get water, and that it’s okay not to push yourself. Listen to your body! I tell that to my older clients as well: It’s okay to just walk some days. Just keep moving! That was always my motto. You may not run as far or as many laps, but just keep moving.”

Her advice for others who are thinking of starting a Marathon Kids run club or becoming a coach is simple: “Just make it fun! It’s not just running laps—it’s playing games and having kids come up with games. If I could say just one thing, it’s to make it fun and incorporate games and a lot of interaction among the kids, so they can develop friendships and make it more of a social thing.” Buddying up makes running more enjoyable, and when children enjoy something, they’re more likely to do it for the rest of their lives.

To keep Marathon Kids free for all children, please consider a donation to Cindy’s 25th Anniversary Fundraiser.

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At Marathon Kids, we’re all about getting kids moving, both in school and at home. So, we were thrilled to partner with Austin Active Kids on a guide full of active, outdoor experiences in Central Texas that families can enjoy together.

If you live in the Austin area, or hope to visit one day, check out the free Austin Active Kids Outdoor Adventures Guide presented by Victory Medical by clicking on the image below!

Austin Active Kids Outdoor Adventures

All ads on the Austin Active Kids website, and in their guides, benefit Marathon Kids, putting more kids on the path to a healthy and active life! If you’re interested in advertising in one of the upcoming guides, please email hello@austinactivekids.com or visit the website’s Advertising page for more information.

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With H-E-B’s generous support, Marathon Kids now offers free physical activity programming for all Texas students.

Lesley Havelka teaches physical education at Bill Burden Elementary in Liberty Hill, Texas. Havelka and her two co-coaches, Coach Chadney and Coach Greene, use Marathon Kids programming to run the Burden Panthers run club—a group of 750 students, ranging from pre-K to fourth grade. “Most of our kiddos here in Liberty Hill are excited and enthusiastic about health and fitness,” says Havelka. “They enjoy our weekly track days and are always working toward hitting their running goals.”

Marathon Kids coach Lesley Havelka

Havelka first learned about Marathon Kids when she was a PE teacher in Austin ISD, before transferring to Burden Elementary. “I was lucky enough to attend the Marathon Kids kickoffs each year with my running clubs there.” Starting in 2020, Marathon Kids programming became available for free to all participants, thanks to a partnership between Marathon Kids and H-E-B.

Keeping Kids Motivated to Move

Havelka says the Marathon Kids program has always been a great source of motivation for the student athletes. “Marathon Kids is always coming up with new and innovative ways to continue to keep students interested in their own health and fitness.”

The Burden Panthers run club meets weekly for track days; the students typically cover anywhere from one to four miles in their 25 to 30 minutes together. Their miles are tracked digitally using Marathon Kids Connect, the cloud-based physical activity tracking and reporting app. “We currently use the lap tracking and time feature as well as all the data features available,” Havelka says.

This fall, she has both in-person and virtual learners; at school, PE has been held outside every day. “We have managed being outside daily very well, in my opinion,” she says. “The coaches and students have all worked together and been flexible, which has made our PE classes successful even in the midst of the pandemic.”

When running gets tough, Havelka says, the coaches make sure to offer words of encouragement. They also host friendly competitions to keep student motivation high. Most of all, the students keep each other going. “We always see students pushing each other in kind ways to be their best, even when it gets tough.”

Running Teaches Kids They Can Do Hard Things

Havelka sees definite benefits for her students in Marathon Kids programming. “The running club has shown many of our students that they can do hard things, and they can push themselves when it gets tough. We have seen increases in their cardiovascular health and endurance over the school year. We have also seen some students branch out into real-world races and even get family members involved in running outside of school.”

She believes physical activity is one of the most important things a person can focus on. “It can affect mental health,” she says, “and it directly affects how your body feels daily. Physical activity can have a positive impact on mood and relationships as well as prevent diseases later in life.”

To others interested in implementing Marathon Kids programming or becoming a coach, Havelka says, “I would definitely recommend it. There are so many positives that come from it for the students, coaches, and community.”