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Back in 2010, the federal government launched Healthy People 2020, a national initiative that sets science-based objectives for improving the health of all Americans. Based in part on the widely known, research-based correlation among kids, exercise and mental health, Healthy People 2020 recommends that adolescents get a minimum of 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) every day, yet most children in the United States don’t move their bodies anywhere near that much.

The Marathon Kids mission to get kids moving and set them on the path to healthier lives is based on the same research that led to the Healthy People 2020 recommendation. That’s why we’re so passionate about what we do—we know the connections among kids, exercise and mental health, we know the importance of MVPA for everyone, and we know how crucial it is for kids to move their bodies on a regular basis. We also know that, unfortunately, many children with school, homework and other time-consuming obligations have a hard time reaching that minimum daily movement recommendation.

Marathon Kids Connect - the free PE program

The Link Between Kids, Exercise and Mental Health: Daily Physical Activity Can Alleviate Anxiety and Depression in Children

Getting enough exercise can become even more difficult during winter months due to frequently inclement weather and early sunsets. Understandably, many kids aren’t allowed to play outside in the cold after dark, and sedentary screen time often takes over. Compounding the problem, most school districts around the country struggle to incorporate physical exercise into their schools’ daily schedules as they deal with curriculum shifts and budget cuts while striving to meet national academic standards. Plenty of schools no longer provide daily P.E. class, and recess is often only 10 to 20 minutes long. Kids simply aren’t getting enough daily movement.

Physical Activity Improves Academic Performance

The irony is that children would likely perform better academically if they had more school time devoted to physical activity—including not just team sports, but also movement that is less for competition or achievement than for fun and overall health. Research has shown repeatedly that physical activity improves children’s focus, sleep, and energy levels, all of which boost their performance at school.

Essential brain functions are improved by regular, moderate-intensity exercise. Research has even shown that MVPA has a direct, positive effect on the hippocampus, an area of the brain that governs memory and learning. Physical activity helps children improve their hand-eye coordination and motor skills, along with their attention and problem-solving skills. It may seem counterintuitive, but the research is clear: If kids moved their bodies more, improved academic performance would follow.

Regular Exercise Is Also Good for Kids’ Mental Health

The benefits of MVPA, however, don’t stop there. Research published in the U.S. and around the world has shown that regular, moderate to vigorous physical activity—including such activities as walking, hiking, riding a bike, playing basketball or going for a run—isn’t good just for children’s physical health but for their mental health as well. Children who develop the habit of regular physical activity at a young age have lower rates of depression and anxiety than their less active peers. Exercise releases endorphins in the brain that elevate a person’s mood along with their energy levels. The same hormones continue working well after the exercise session has ended to improve sleep, lending further benefits for mood, focus and overall mental health.

Research has even shown that regular MVPA has a positive effect on body image as well as on relationships, both of which can be fraught for children navigating the modern world. Kids today must live with numerous social, commercial and societal pressures, including the pressure to conform to unrealistic beauty standards, and social media has changed the landscape of their friendships as well as their relationships with parents, teachers and other adults.

Physical Activity Helps with Mindfulness and Connection

Regular exercise can help, shifting kids’ focus from their daily problems—that big project due at school, the mean thing someone said about them on social media, the weird look a friend gave them at lunch—to the present moment. Exercise, especially moderate- to vigorous-intensity exercise, can be challenging; in the best way, it can force a person to focus only on the task at hand, rather than spinning off into anxious thoughts about the past and the future. In this way, physical activity has a meditative effect, guiding people toward mindfulness by helping them live in the moment.

Physical activity can also give kids a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment as their skills improve and they meet milestones they might not have known they could reach. And whether children play team sports or pursue less competition-based activities like running or hiking, engaging in shared physical activity with other young people can give them a sense of community and belonging while alleviating social anxiety. After all, it’s always easier to connect with others around a shared project or goal.

Regular Physical Activity Has Mind and Body Benefits for Everyone, Including Kids

If 60 minutes a day of physical activity sounds daunting, it can be broken into shorter chunks rather than having to be done all at once. Even just 20 minutes a day, while falling far short of that 60-minute goal, has positive mental health and academic performance benefits for children. With our stress-filled lifestyles, prioritizing daily physical activity is a no-brainer. It’s not just about building strong, healthy bodies, or even strong, healthy brains. It’s about living a longer, calmer and more connected, satisfying and fulfilling life.

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The research is clear: There is a significant, positive and directly proportionate connection between school PE and academic performance. Children benefit from daily physical activity in multiple ways, many of which support their achievement in subjects like math, science, social studies and Language Arts. Schools and districts that prioritize movement during the school day are serving their students’ needs not just on a physical level, but also on social, psychological, emotional and academic levels as well. So why aren’t more schools making it a point to prioritize daily physical activity for their students?

Kids Aren’t Moving Their Bodies Enough—And Their Academic Performance is Suffering

In 2010, the federal government set a researched-based recommendation for how much moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) children should engage in on a daily basis for their health. The daily minimum that researchers determined was 60 minutes per day of activities like walking or running, playing basketball or tag, dancing or riding a bike, or anything else that gets the heart pumping. This daily minimum has been found to improve health, protect against preventable diseases, and promote overall quality of life.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children benefit in multiple ways when they meet that recommended minimum of 60 minutes of MVPA per day. Most schoolchildren aren’t able to meet that minimum, however, due to academic achievement standards and resulting pressure on schools to decrease recess and Physical Education time in favor of more core curricular instruction time. The unfortunate irony is that decreasing PE time in order to improve students’ academic performance is counterproductive.

Daily Physical Activity Improves Learning and Coping Skills

The physical health benefits of daily movement are perhaps the most obvious and well known to most people. PE class helps children develop their gross and fine motor skills and improve their strength, balance and cardiovascular health. Many may not recognize, however, that PE class also offers children myriad social, mental and emotional benefits that in turn improve their learning and academic performance.

For example, students learn better when their bodies are calm and in control, when they are able to focus, and when they possess strategies for managing stressful situations. Daily physical activity helps them develop all of these skills. Recess and PE help children develop empathy, cooperation and respect for others. Kids who move their bodies on a regular basis experience both personal and social benefits from working through the variety of challenges and feelings they experience during MVPA. All of these benefits translate directly to the classroom and academic achievement.

Daily physical activity has also been proven to offer cognitive benefits such as better concentration and mental alertness, which help children have the focus and energy they need to tackle academic challenges. Furthermore, physical activity has been shown to improve recall and memory, including the ability to move newly acquired information from short-term memory to long-term memory. This aids in students’ learning of facts, dates, vocabulary words and other important elements of their academic lessons.

Daily physical activity also improves student learning via the simple fact that improved physical health means fewer school days missed due to illness or injury, and more time in school means more opportunities for learning and academic achievement.

We Believe in the Long-Term Importance of a Physically Active Childhood

Research supporting the need for increased physical activity among people of all ages is abundantly clear. At Marathon Kids, we believe deeply in the importance of laying that foundation early. Children who develop the habit of being physically active from a young age have a much stronger likelihood of staying active throughout their lives, and that has multiple long-term health benefits.

The Marathon Kids program is based on cumulative mileage accrued over time. This emphasis on building slowly toward a long-term goal helps children develop skills that apply directly to their academic development as well. Setting goals and mapping out the step-by-step process to achieving them are skill sets that kids can use in all areas of their lives, including their core curriculum classes. Setting their own paces and tackling distances that match their own, individual abilities and fitness levels helps children learn to stretch themselves in ways that are right for them—regardless of what their peers might be accomplishing.

While the Marathon Kids mission focuses specifically on running (and walking), the benefits of regular exercise come from any type of aerobic physical activity. Still, research shows that the Marathon Kids program increases kids’ chances of meeting the recommended daily minimum of 60 minutes of MVPA. Schools that incorporate the Marathon Kids program into their daily schedules are making an important commitment to their students’ health in both the short and long term, by giving children the opportunity to improve their physical health, decrease their stress and anxiety levels, and shine academically.

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Physical and mental health are at a premium these days, which makes getting kids moving more important than ever. With COVID-19 concerns now in the mix, it can feel like a real challenge to help kids reach their daily physical activity goals indoors while keeping a safe distance from each other – but it is possible. When it’s too hot, cold or wet to have PE outside, there are plenty of great indoor options to get your students moving while still staying safe. Here are seven of the best safe distance indoor PE games.

Also, don’t forget – Marathon Kids Connect is a great and easy way to log kids’ daily physical activity! It’s not just for running or walking, either; 20 minutes of any heart-pounding physical activity counts as one mile. Marathon Kids programming is available to any school or community organization for FREE through Marathon Kids Connect, our cloud-based digital lap-tracking app and reporting platform. Whether kids are at school or doing distance-learning from home, parents, teachers and coaches can use the app to report kids’ physical activity, track their progress and celebrate milestones.

Here are seven of the best safe distance indoor PE games for days when you have to stay inside:

1. YOGA

Yoga, at its simplest, is gentle strength-training combined with stretching, and it helps kids (and adults!) develop mindfulness – all of which has been shown to reduce anxiety, improve mood and increase physical strength and wellbeing. Best of all, yoga is a naturally socially distant PE activity. Sounds like an all-around win for living a healthy life in the midst of a global pandemic! Have kids sit six feet apart, or mark off each student’s spot on the floor with tape or colored paper. Then lead them through a series of basic yoga moves – downward dog, cat/cow stretches, cobra pose and more. Start and finish with a few moments of quiet, deep breathing to increase relaxation and mindfulness. Everyone will feel refreshed and ready to focus on academics once again!

2. READY, SET, GO!

Racing is another naturally solo sport, which makes it perfect for a safe distance PE activity. And kids can definitely race indoors, whether you’re in a classroom, a hallway or the gym. Set up cones six feet apart along two opposing walls of the hallway or room; if possible, use cones of different colors along one wall, and the same, coordinating colors along the opposite wall. That way, kids can start at a certain cone on one side of the room, and when the teacher says “Go,” they can run toward the same color of cone on the other side. Increase the length of the race by having kids run a certain number of laps, or make it an interval-training session by having them run from one cone to the other and then walk back, repeating as desired.

While masks are an important part of keeping ourselves and others safe, Marathon Kids does not recommend that kids wear masks when running. Read more about best practices for Safe Distance Running.

3. PICKLEBALL

A bit like tennis played with a Wiffle Ball and large, wooden, ping-pong-style paddles, Pickleball is perfect for safely distanced indoor play, especially if you have a smaller class or plenty of space for groups of students to play multiple games at once. Pickleball develops students’ hand-eye coordination and strategy skills while encouraging teamwork among them. Best of all, it’s easy for kids to stay six-plus-feet apart while playing together.

4. SHARK ZONE

Shark Zone is fun when it’s played in teams, but it can be adapted as a safe distance PE game by having students navigate the obstacle course in staggered, one-by-one phases. Set it up by laying out mats throughout the gym – blue if possible! – and then setting up a series of items on top of the mats that students can stand on while moving from one to the next without touching the mats. These items might include balance beams, benches, chairs, wooden boards and so on. Tell the students the mats are the shark-infested waters, and the items on top are the safe zone. Their task is to strategize a way to move safely from one safe zone to the next without ever falling to the mat.

5. FITNESS BINGO

Fitness Bingo is a fun spin on circuit training, and it’s easy for kids to do at a safe distance from one another. Mark off spots on the floor that are six feet apart or more, and give students Bingo-style sheets with exercises listed in the squares, along with a target number of repetitions or length of time for each exercise. These might include 10 pushups, burpees or jumping-jacks; 20 seconds of mountain-climbers, jumping rope or running in place; and so on. Students stand in their marked-off sections with a Fitness Bingo sheet and a marker to mark off which activities they complete as the teacher calls them out. The first person to call out “Fitness Bingo!” when they’ve marked off all their squares gets to lead the next round!

6. RED LIGHT, GREEN LIGHT

This classic, simple movement game can be a safe distance indoor PE game if you have a smaller class or a larger space. Use masking or painter’s tape to delineate lines from one side of the room to the other side that are six feet apart. Students can line up, one per taped line, and follow these lines to maintain their distance as they follow the teacher’s cues. “Green light” means everyone advances toward the finish line; “red light” means everyone freezes in place as quickly as possible. The game ends when everyone has crossed the finish line. The movements students use in moving toward the finish line are up to them and the teacher to decide; they can speed-walk, run, skip, dance, or do jumping jacks, high-knees, lunges, or even burpees. The possibilities are limitless!

7. INDOOR FREE-PLAY STATIONS

Many kids love having free choice and autonomy built into their school day, and indoor PE days are perfect for blending these elements with movement and fun. Set up stations at a safe distance around the gym (or wherever you’re meeting with students) and have children cycle through activities of their choice. These can include activities that develop their endurance, balance, and strength along with their persistence, spatial awareness, and hand-eye coordination. Try activities like hula-hooping, underhand throwing with bean bags, jumping rope, jumping-jacks, long jumps, pushups, planks, burpees, high-knees, or running in place.

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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Classroom teachers are nothing if not flexible, adapting year after year to ever-changing standards and expectations, data gathering and reporting requirements, and more. Now, with this school year’s ever-shifting schedule modifications and new requirements, many classroom teachers are also adding physical activity to their lists of teaching duties. If you are one of these teachers, never fear – Marathon Kids has you covered!

Marathon Kids Connect is our all-new, completely FREE physical activity-tracking app and reporting platform that includes access to free lesson plans and resources to help you get your students moving in the classroom, or out in the schoolyard, safely. Getting started is easy: Just head over here. Once you’re registered, you’ll have instant access to Marathon Kids Connect along with all sorts of games, activities and lesson plans to help you hit the ground running – and again, all of it is completely free.

GETTING KIDS MOVING, EVEN DURING DISTANCE LEARNING

The Marathon Kids Connect app and platform make it easy to get kids moving, and track their progress towards physical activity goals. Teachers can print runner ID cards with unique QR codes for each student. Then, as students complete laps or minutes of physical activity, teachers scan the ID cards with a phone or tablet to capture the data. That data automatically uploads to the cloud-based platform, where teachers can view leaderboards and show students their progress.

Marathon Kids Connect also bridges the gap between school and home, helping students continue to meet their physical education requirements and activity goals during periods of distance learning. If your school must close periodically, you can use the platform to stay connected with your students’ parents. Parents can submit miles their kids have run at home through the platform, for your approval.

USING MARATHON KIDS CONNECT TO INSPIRE STUDENTS

Regular, moderate-to-vigorous physical activity is incredibly important for kids’ health and wellbeing – not just physical, but mental and emotional as well. There are new challenges with getting kids moving at school in this time of COVID-19, but the Marathon Kids Connect app makes contact-free activity tracking possible. Your smartphone or tablet can be set up at a self-scan station where students scan their runner ID cards as they complete their physical activity, or you can enter the data manually. Guide your students in keeping a safe distance from one another, washing hands before and after active time, and sanitizing their ID cards, and you’ve got a healthy group that can work together toward physical activity goals.

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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The very idea of indoor recess can make teachers feel like tearing their hair out, but inclement weather doesn’t have to strike fear into educators’ hearts! Research has shown time and again that kids need plenty of time to move their bodies, especially during the school day—and when it’s too cold, hot, wet, snowy or icy for kids to play outside, indoor recess games become a necessity.

Fortunately, there are plenty of fun indoor recess games that children love, that aren’t screen-oriented or Internet-based, and we’ve got a kid-approved list of the very best ones. These are eight indoor recess games for children of all ages, from preschool on up through elementary and middle grades, and easily adapted all abilities. Let the games begin!

Best Indoor Recess Games

Best Indoor Recess Games

1. Dance Party

This one can be as simple and easy as turning on some tunes and letting students groove to the beat. Tailor the music to your particular students’ ages and interests; encourage them to hop, skip or shake their arms and their hips. Give students lengths of ribbon if you have them, to incorporate colorful beauty along with their movements. You can also do a version of musical chairs; if you don’t have actual chairs available, simply use removable dots of tape on the floor.

2. Would You Rather?

This game is great for indoor recess with students of any age and ability, as both questions and accompanying movements can be tailored to any group of kids.

Students line up in two lines on either side of a long strip of tape laid out on the floor; one side of the taped line will correlate with Option A, and the other side with Option B. The teacher will ask the group a series of “Would you rather…?” questions, making them as fun, gross or hilarious as is appropriate. Questions might include things like, “Would you rather eat ice cream with mustard on top or an apple with a worm in it?” or “Would you rather somersault or run backward all the way around the room?” As students choose which option they would rather do, they jump (or step, roll or otherwise move) from one side of the taped line to the other.

3. Tag (Any Version)

This oldie-but-goodie is a favorite among kids of all ages, and best of all, there are tons of different versions of the game to choose from! Check out our Top Ten Twists on Tag post for some great variations on this timeless classic game of chase-and-catch.

4. Paper Plate Balloon Badminton

This fun, active indoor recess game, perfect for kids of any age, creates the best kind of chaos. Best of all, it’s incredibly simple! Children use paper plates to bat at balloons. That’s it! You can set rules if you like, or divide students into pairs or teams—or just have a free-for-all that will keep everyone laughing and moving for as long as recess lasts. Also, there’s no reason the teacher should have to do everything (or have all the fun!), so be sure to have your students help you blow up the balloons before the games begin.

5. Yoga and Stretching

Best Indoor Recess Games

While not technically an indoor recess game, yoga—and stretching in general—can be a wonderful way to start and end recess with students of any age. Since yoga and stretching are also meditative activities, they can help students calm their minds and develop their focus before returning to the rigors of the classroom. Simple stretches or yoga moves can include child’s pose (kneeling and bending at the waist to rest the chest on the knees and the arms and forehead on the floor); downward dog (starting on hands and knees, and pressing upward on the hands and feet or toes into a whole-body, inverted-V shape).

6. Toss and Talk

Have students stand in a circle; the teacher calls out a category, such as Your Pet’s Name, Your Favorite Movie or Your Least Favorite Food, and tosses a bean bag, stuffed animal or other soft object to the first student. That student catches the item and holds it only long enough to call out their answer before tossing it to the next student to catch and give their answer.

7. Arts and Crafts

Moving the body and getting the heart pumping are undeniably important during the school day, but they aren’t the only ways for students to get a brain break. Sometimes, the best indoor recess games are arts-and-crafts-based, as these types of activities allow students to explore their imaginations and exercise their creativity as they get lost in colors, textures and lines. Give students large sheets of butcher paper and markers, pencils or even washable finger paints, and let them express themselves to their hearts’ content.

You can build in movement by making it a progressive group event: Have each student (or pairs of students) start at one sheet of paper and draw for thirty seconds to one minute before leaping up and moving on to the nearest paper, to add to that drawing. Ideally, by the end of recess, every sheet of paper will be a beautiful collaboration of multiple students’ work, and every student will have gotten some walking and plyometric jumps in along with their creativity session.

8. Charades

If you aren’t a theatre teacher, you might never have considered Charades as a good indoor recess game—but it can be a ton of group fun, whether your students are in preschool, middle or high school, or any grade level between. Have students act out book titles, characters, historical figures or scientific concepts they’ve been covering in class, or song or film titles that are currently popular among the kid crowd. Charades are fun as a whole-class activity or played in teams; you can even have play-offs, with winning groups going head to head in a final round.

Want more? Check out our list of the best indoor PE games!

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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Marathon Kids was founded in 1995 with the simple idea that kids who set distance goals and track their progress on a mileage log will make healthier choices, both on and off the track.

Research findings from three independent studies on the Marathon Kids program confirmed this to be true. These studies affirmed that our program was making a difference in participants’ lives, and determined our six evidence-based pillars to long-term healthy behavior adoption.

This year, researchers from UTHealth School of Public Health – Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living conducted another independent analysis of the Marathon Kids program and its effectiveness with elementary school children. They were exploring if coach-led Marathon Kids run clubs help children reach the recommended daily minimum of 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA), and to gather insights about intrapersonal factors such as goal-setting and self-efficacy.

Is the Marathon Kids program helping kids make better choices and reach their goals?

The results of this analysis revealed that the Marathon Kids program does help children reach their 60 daily minutes of MVPA, especially when their schools don’t have adequate Physical Education class time for students to meet that goal. The analysis found that the Marathon Kids program can help provide more than 100 additional minutes of MVPA outside of P.E. in the form of walking and running, an important contribution to the school ecosystem to provide additional opportunities for kids to engage in physical activity.

The analysis also found that the Marathon Kids program helps students with setting, working toward, and achieving goals. The structure of the program, based on cumulative mileage logged over time by walking or running, makes it accessible to students of all abilities and fitness levels. Of the students who set a goal of covering 104.8 miles (the distance of four marathons) within one Marathon Kids season, 44.7% of them reached or exceeded that goal. Over half—56.4%—covered at least three marathons, 69.7% completed two, and 87.5% completed at least one full marathon.

Are coaches satisfied with the program?

The study found a high rate of satisfaction among Marathon Kids coaches with the program, with a mean satisfaction score of 50.6 (with 56 representing the highest possible score), and more than 92% of coaches reporting they plan to implement the program with their students again next year. Furthermore, 21.6% of coach respondents indicated greater than 100% participation, meaning even more students participated than expected after the initial registration period. Coach respondents reported high overall confidence in implementing their run clubs, with a mean score for the total sample of 4.5 (with 5 being the highest possible score).

What are some coach-recommended best practices?

The respondents agreed it’s essential to provide student runners with praise and recognition. Finding ways to celebrate their students’ achievements, both major and minor, was a priority for many of the respondents. Nearly half held a season kick-off event or ceremony, while nearly three-quarters hosted a Finishers celebration or ceremony at season’s end. Others announced finishers at their schools’ Student of the Month assemblies or designated a Runner of the Week. One coach suggested finding ways to praise all kids, “not just the one who ran the most that day. I have a small running club, but I always try to give each child some type of compliment that makes them want to keep coming back.”

Other coach-recommended best practices include providing the runners with regular encouragement and motivation, not just at the start or end of the season, but throughout. Some made it a regular practice to discuss their students’ efforts and achievements during P.E. class. “I always recognize achievement in my gym,” one coach said, “regardless how small. Gains are gains!” Another emphasized the importance of teamwork and good sportsmanship, and providing social support for the student runners. “Encourage kids to cheer each other on, and not to treat it like a competition.”

The Marathon Kids program is helping children build fitness and healthy habits for life. These student runners are also learning to set goals and work steadily toward them as they value others’ achievements in the same process. Developing such important life skills from an early age will benefit everyone, not just as individuals, but as a community.

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This post is brought to you by CROSSNET, a four-way volleyball net that was designed with the physical education teacher in mind. With just a click of a button and detachment of poles you can easily set up your net to be a variety of heights. This provides gym teachers and volleyball coaches with easy flexibility allowing them to use CROSSNET with both their younger and older students.

There are so many classic outdoor Physical Education games (soccer, kickball, flag football…) that are great for getting kids moving while encouraging teamwork and strategy along with strength and endurance. But that doesn’t mean you have to keep it classic every time the bell rings. Here are eight of the best outdoor PE games, using balls, beanbags, flags, hula hoops or no equipment at all, for keeping things fresh and fun on days when it’s time to head outside and team sports just won’t cut it.

best outdoor pe games

8 Great Outdoor PE Games for Kids

1. Freeze Tag

Great for any age group, freeze tag is just like regular tag, except when a student is tagged, they must freeze with their feet planted widely apart; then they can be unfrozen only when another student crawls through their legs. Teachers can support group cooperation by encouraging students to unfreeze as many of their classmates as possible, and even award points to students who do the unfreezing.

2. Crazy Hoops

While this game works great as an indoor gym activity, it can be even more fun outdoors, where there is plenty of room plus more potential for obstacles and twists. In Crazy Hoops, students build teamwork and strategy skills along with math skills as they work together to grab colored beanbags from a central location and bring them back to drop into their team’s hula hoop. The teacher assigns point values to each color of bean bag: five points for beanbags that match the team’s hula hoop color, ten points for other colors, and one point for white, for example.

If your students are working on fractions or negative numbers, you can incorporate those skills as well (purple beanbags are worth -10 points, for example, or each purple beanbag divides the team’s total points by two).

There are also numerous ways to add twists to this game: You can allow students to use a turn to grab a beanbag from an opponent’s hula hoop and drop it back into the main pile, or instead of locating the main pile in a central spot, divide the beanbags by color and locate the piles in several different areas that students will have to run, climb or crawl to reach.

3. Capture the Flag

This game is great fun when played the traditional way, with two teams, each with its own territory, and one flag per team to guard or steal. Capture the Flag gets even more fun, however, when you switch things up.

Try selecting one spy per team, secretly and at random, who gets one chance to steal the flag belonging to their supposed team and bring it back to their actual team.

Or, for a fast-paced twist, use balls instead of flags and incorporate rules about throwing the “flag” to teammates in order get it back to the home base as quickly as possible. If you have a large PE class, try playing a chaos version of the game by dividing the field or court into multiple sections and having the same number of teams and flags compete for the win.

4. Frisbee Golf

Have students throw soft foam flying discs into buckets, baskets, cardboard boxes and other goals positioned all around your outdoor playing space. This game can be played by taking turns in a big group or in teams, and you can incorporate extra rules, such as having students dance in place for five seconds if they don’t land the frisbee in the goal in three or fewer tries.

best outdoor pe games

5. CROSSNET

This four-square version of volleyball is a super-fun take on the traditional game. Incredibly easy to set up, with adjustable height levels for any age group, it’s a blast for kids from elementary up through high school. CROSSNET targets throwing and catching skills and helps kids develop their hand-eye coordination, while tapping into their competitive natures. It doesn’t take up a lot of room, making it perfect for days when you’re setting up stations outdoors for students to cycle through.

You may also interested in the Best Indoor PE Games for Kids

6. Hopscotch

This classic game offers great plyometric exercise and balance training along with silly fun. Multiple teams of three or four students each can play at once on multiple hopscotch grids, racking up cumulative team points and competing to win.

It’s easy to switch things up in hopscotch to keep everyone engaged. For example, instead of writing numbers in the squares, have students draw animals, like cats, dogs and frogs, or write down the names of exercises, like jumping-jacks, squats and high-knees, in the squares. When students toss a marker onto a square, they have to make the corresponding animal sound or perform repetitions of the specified exercise before they can begin hopping.

Another twist is partner hopscotch, in which two students hopping along two grids drawn close together must hold hands as they strive to hop with balance and accuracy.

7. Topple Ball

Divide students into teams of four, and set up one cone per team with a tennis or Wiffle ball balanced on top. Have students take turns rolling other balls toward the cones, trying to topple them over. When the ball on top falls, the student who toppled it must try to chase it down and grab it within five seconds to win a point for their team. They also must set up the cone and ball on top for the next teammate to take their turn.

8. Beanbag Relay

Students develop teamwork along with speed and agility in a beanbag relay, which can be held on an outdoor track or blacktop, in an open field, or in nearly any other outdoor space. Set out cones or other markers, divide students into teams, and give each team three beanbags. Teams line up at the starting point with their beanbags, and the first runner from each team runs with one beanbag to drop it at the first marker. Then they race back to grab a second beanbag and run it to the second marker, and finish up by repeating with the third beanbag and marker. When they return to the starting point, they tag the second runner’s hand so the second runner can retrieve all the beanbags in reverse — racing to the first marker, grabbing the beanbag and running it back to the starting line, racing back to the second marker for the second beanbag, and so on.

best outdoor pe games

Bonus: Fartlek Runs

Marathon Kids is all about running, but not necessarily about speed. We believe in getting kids moving by motivating them to cover cumulative distances over time, but we don’t really care about how fast they go — unless they or their coaches want to work on developing their speed. If you have students in track or who are simply interested in improving their running speed and endurance, Fartlek runs are a great way to kick things up a notch.

No, Fartlek training isn’t a PE game, per se — and yes, you’ll have to allow your students extra giggle time to adjust to the silly-sounding name (“fartlek” is a Swedish word that means “speed play”). But soon they’ll recognize the serious fun that Fartlek runs can be. Whereas regular interval training has runners recover between higher-intensity intervals by walking or even stopping altogether, Fartlek training has athletes continue running at a steady pace between bursts of speed, which helps condition both the body and the mind to build speed and endurance. Best of all, the natural challenge and variations inherent in Fartlek training can keep students motivated and engaged.

Start a Run Club for Free

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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In the heart of Orange County, in the southeastern portion of the greater Los Angeles area, lies Columbus Tustin Middle School, where Coach Brook Brown hosts the CT Bulldogs Run Club every Thursday. This is the first year for this grant-funded Marathon Kids club. The majority of its 225 participating students, who are in sixth, seventh and eighth grades, run at lunchtime on Thursdays as well as logging miles on Marathon Mondays and during P.E. class on Mile Wednesdays.

Middle School Run Club

Miss Brown, as her students call her, has long roots in the area. She attended Tustin Middle School herself some years ago, and then graduated from Tustin High School. She completed her student teaching at Tustin Middle School before being hired as the school’s girls’ P.E. teacher in 2013. As an athlete who is driven to set and accomplish goals, she wants to inspire her students to do the same.

Now finishing up her sixth year of teaching at Tustin Middle, Miss Brown heads up the CT Bulldogs Run Club with three other coaches, including Steve Dunmeyer, who was her own basketball coach back at Tustin High. “He inspired me to start this run club,” Miss Brown says, “and he has supported me every step of the way. He pushes me to be a better teacher, athlete and person.”

Her mother, Jan Brown, also comes to help out on Thursdays. “She comes out every week with her smile to encourage the kids,” says Coach Brown. “She loves being a volunteer and loves being active!”

Kids Run Club Coach

Jan echoes her daughter’s sentiments. “I love the Marathon Kids program,” she says. “I exercise every day. It’s so important for these kids to get outside, take a break and move. We have walkers and talkers and some competitive kids who run a lot.”

Tracking Their Miles

The students keep track of how many laps they run to equal a mile. On Marathon Mondays, three laps equals a mile; at Run Club on Thursdays, five laps is a mile. The students can also count every 20 minutes’ worth of medium-to-high-intensity sports and games that they engage in as one mile.

Miss Brown has seen numerous benefits for her students since they began running with Marathon Kids. Their favorite part about Run Club is being part of a team. “They love being with their friends and making new ones,” Miss Brown says. She has seen many of the runners’ per-mile paces improve, along with their grades, self-confidence and overall attitudes. “The kids are supporting each other and applauding each other’s efforts,” she says.

Seventh-grader Franco Zavala has always been a hard worker, but since he started with Run Club, his self-confidence is higher and his grades have improved. Jamie Ibarra, also in seventh grade, shows up to the track with a smile on her face and a positive attitude. Miss Brown has noted improved leadership skills in Jamie. “She knows it’s hard work, but she still pushes herself to get in as many laps as she can!”

kids run club runner

Miss Brown uses the app RaceSplitter to track her students’ miles. The children enter their locker numbers when they come by on Marathon Mondays, and they use tally tracking at Thursday’s run club meet-ups. They fill in their own mileage logs once a week, when Coach Brown updates them on their total miles. When the runners hit that magical 26.2 mile mark, they get to enter their names on the Hall of Fame poster outside the gym, and they are also recognized in the school announcements.

Miss Brown and the school have multiple ways of honoring the runners’ milestones and keeping the children’s morale high. She chooses a weekly Runner of the Week, for example, awarding a medal to a student who has shown effort. Eighth-grader Anthony Quintana, a recent Runner of the Week, loves to run and is always one of the first runners out on the track every Thursday. This makes him feel successful.

Marathon Kids California

Miss Brown also features students on the CT Bulldogs Run Club Instagram page when they earn Runner of the Week or hit major milestones, such as completing a marathon. She accompanies their photos with encouraging captions like “Yay!” and “Awesome job!” and “Unstoppable!” The students’ smiles and looks of pride are priceless as they hold up their certificates or rewards like Nike t-shirts and shoelaces.

Youth Run Club

A Fun-Loving Coach Who Knows Kids Need To Be Kids

When the school celebrated “National Pi Day” on March 14, Miss Brown signed up to be one of the teachers at whom students were allowed to throw a pie. “Bring it!” she wrote on Instagram the day before the event.

Miss Brown understands very well that kids need to be kids. Many of these particular kids come from low-income backgrounds, and they love their Marathon Kids running club. It’s new, and it gives them time to be social as they walk or run their miles together. Some of the students help their coach set up and mark off laps. Some of them are competitive and choose to race against each other, racking up miles as quickly as they can. Others walk and talk. Some simply run the whole time, keeping a steady pace as they make progress toward their goals. Marathon Kids is about going at your own pace and challenging yourself as you cover the miles.

Orange County Run Club

Many Benefits For The Students

As much technology as the CT Bulldogs Run Club has incorporated into its activities, it’s still all about getting outside onto the track and putting one foot in front of the other. Many of the runners have finished one marathon already and are well on their way toward finishing a second one. As Miss Brown’s mom Jan says, “Anything is better than staying at lunch on your device.”

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“At Piney Point, the Marathon Kids program means teamwork, accountability and fun!” That’s what Coach Nora Ryan has to report about her Marathon Kids running club, the Trackers, at Piney Point Elementary in Houston, Texas. Four thousand students in Houston will run with Marathon Kids this year, and Piney Point is responsible for 1,200 of them, as the entire school participates.

Piney Point Trackers

Coach Ryan oversees the school’s Marathon Kids program with P.E. Coach Mike Kaehey. Together, they put a lot of thought and effort into making physical education fun for the students. They’re learning as they go, making tweaks as needed to the structure of the program in order to shift its focus toward simplicity and teamwork.

Last year, for example, miles were tracked individually, but this was difficult to manage in such a large school. Starting in the 2018–19 school year, Coach Ryan implemented a new system. Now, teachers keep track of their own students’ mileage on group logs posted on their classroom doors. Each classroom has an appointed student “tracker” who is responsible for updating their daily progress — hence the running club’s name, Trackers.

Youth Run Club

The new group-tracking system has simplified the mile-tracking process, and it has highlighted teamwork with very positive results. Rather than competing with each other in the classroom, the Marathon Kids runners now see their running and mileage progress as a team effort. When they set out to run four laps, for example, the faster runners might complete more than four, or they might go play soccer or tag while the rest of the runners complete their laps. But the class works together, and the group heads back inside only when everyone has reached the goal.

The Importance of Teamwork

“We built the program around teamwork,” Coach Ryan says, “and tracking the miles as a group makes everyone accountable as they work together as a team. The goal is the same for every grade level — to reach four marathons (104.8 miles) by the end of the year. The challenge is to give the best they can. We found this was a fun way to build a strong relationship within each group and to celebrate success as a team.”

Move More to Achieve More

Piney Point Principal Bobbie Swaby is a big supporter of Marathon Kids because she believes in the importance of giving students more opportunities to move during the school day. Piney Point’s Marathon Kids runners head outside to the school’s quarter-mile track at least twice a day; some teachers even take their students out three times a day, weather permitting.

Nora cites support from the principal and teachers at Piney Point as one of the main reasons the Trackers running club is successful. It’s no wonder the club has such strong support: the teachers have all seen improved focus and behavior in their students when they come back from running. On days when the kids don’t have the opportunity to run, there’s a marked difference in their ability to concentrate on academic work.

Fourth-grade teacher Miriam Riley reports that, in addition to increased focus and calm in the classroom, she’s noticed that Marathon Kids has really improved her students’ physical endurance. Runners who used to struggle to complete two miles on the track are now easily completing four or five. Other teachers also appreciate the health benefits they have experienced themselves as a result of running with their students as they work toward their mileage goals.

Marathon Kids Run Club

Time on the Track

Coach Ryan also notes that students’ running time on the track serves more purposes than simple training or exercise. “Our time on the track is more than just meeting our Trackers goals for the day,” she says. “It’s our time for friendly competition among avid runners, for catching up with friends whether they are in our class or a different one, and for enjoying interesting conversations between students and teachers. It’s also a time to just stretch our limbs during the school day.”

Active Kids do Better

“Piney Point is one of our leading schools,” says Felicia Ceasar-White, Houston ISD’s Health and Physical Education Manager, “and Marathon Kids has actually changed the whole school’s culture. Kids are learning better, they’re participating in a number of activities; they have really just been awesome.”

Coach Ryan agrees. “The track keeps us motivated,” she says, “and we hold each other accountable since we all have the same end goal.” As the students achieve milestones, Coaches Ryan and Kaehey visit the classrooms together, where they hand out rewards and incentives to keep the kids motivated.

Focusing on Nutrition

As with every Marathon Kids running club, the Trackers club focuses on nutrition as part of the program. The runners learn about the importance of using healthful foods as fuel for their active bodies, so they can stay fit and healthy throughout their lives. One of Coach Ryan’s tools that she uses in teaching about nutrition is MyPlate, which focuses on building a healthy eating style throughout your lifetime. MyPlate emphasizes habits like filling half your plate with vegetables and fruits, incorporating whole grains in your diet, and eating a variety of vegetables.

Building Heathy Habits for Life

With the whole school involved in building healthy habits for life, Coach Ryan is helping to make a positive difference in the lives of Piney Point’s students and teachers alike. The Trackers running club is a great example of the Marathon Kids mission of getting kids moving and putting them on the path toward a healthier life.