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Here at Marathon Kids, we know that active kids do better. We also know that kids who are able to listen, communicate, and problem-solve are better equipped to succeed in school and in life. These are all skills they need to navigate the world around them.

Using the pillars of the Marathon Kids program, many of our coaches are using their running clubs not only for physical activity, but also to prime their kids’ brains, to encourage them to build relationships, and to help their runners unlock the key concepts of social emotional learning.

Core Social Emotional Learning Competencies

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, or CASEL, is on mission to help make evidence-based social emotional learning (SEL) an integral part of the school day, from Pre-K to high school. CASEL’s five competencies are embedded in SEL curriculum and help a child succeed in their personal and relationship skills. More importantly, these five competencies help educate hearts, inspire minds, and help students navigate the world more effectively.  Schools and youth organizations across the nation are now increasingly implementing social emotional learning into a student’s day.

The five competencies are: Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness, Relationship Skills, and Responsible Decision-Making.


What is Social Emotional Learning?

SEL is more than a program or a lesson. It’s a process through which children and adults learn how to:

✓ Understand and manage emotions

✓ Set and achieve positive goals

✓ Feel and show empathy for others

✓ Maintain positive relationships

✓ Make responsible decisions

It is about how teaching and learning happen, as well as what you teach and where you learn.

Through SEL curriculum, kids learn positive self-talk, problem-solving skills, and how to build relationships with others. They start to recognize that everyone is unique, that listening to understand can help resolve misunderstandings, and that people sometimes interpret information or experiences differently. And that’s okay!

Social Emotional Learning SEL

Learning Soft Skills

While technology can make our lives easier, it can also cause children to spend less time communicating face to face, to have difficulty expressing how they feel in appropriate ways, and to need guidance in navigating relationships with others.

Soft skills—which are needed to effectively communicate, problem-solve, collaborate, and organize—are becoming increasingly important for success later in life. Recruiters and employment experts have started reporting a “soft skills gap,” especially among young workers more accustomed to texting than talking. Some employers are expressing frustration that while they can teach employees a new skill, they can’t teach them how to communicate, listen, or get along with others.

Social emotional learning plays an integral key role in helping students achieve both academically and interpersonally.  The world needs more critical thinkers, problem-solvers, and well-balanced, relationship-building humans to face new challenges and demands.

Marathon Kids + Social Emotional Health

Through running, we show kids they can achieve more than they ever thought possible. And, the success kids find in setting goals and tracking their progress at running club trickles down to other parts of their lives as well. When kids have higher self-confidence, they are more willing to break out of their shell, try new things, and persevere when things get tough.

Not only are Marathon Kids participants reaping the benefits of physical activity and building endurance, but they are also learning the importance of goal-setting, determination, and relationship-building.

Let’s take a look from a high-level perspective at how the Marathon Kids program connects with CASEL’s five competencies:

Through stories we’ve collected, we know our simple, fun, and effective running clubs create a space for so much more to happen than just conquering laps. Kids are self-evaluating and reflecting on their performance. Some kids who aren’t involved in sports feel like they are athletes—possibly for the first time—and that they are part of a team. Running club becomes a social outlet to create community and spark friendships with a diverse group of peers.

“It felt great to have my teammates cheer me through the spirit tunnel.”

Social Emotional Learning SEL

What’s next?

Whether you are a teacher, coach, parent, principal, administrator, or volunteer, we want to help you incorporate physical activity into your school’s schedule. There’s power in movement. Use it to ignite and regulate kids’ brains, build relationships, and create well-balanced kids who are ready to navigate the world around them. The Marathon Kids program can be integrated into SEL curriculum, brain breaks, and your school culture. Click here to learn how to build social emotional learning skills through physical activity by watching one of our virtual training videos.

“I believe Marathon Kids will help improve kids’ lives socially and emotionally, which will lead to their success in the classroom.”Marathon Kids coach Rene Hernandez

For more information about our free program and training opportunities, including a social emotional learning module, please contact us at info@marathonkids.org.


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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When Special Education teacher Maria Ornelas applied for a grant to fund a Marathon Kids run club at Lockwood Avenue Elementary in Los Angeles, California, she shared in her application that she was excited to become a run club coach “because running motivates the students to do their best on the track and in their classrooms. I want to teach the students that they can have fun for free, and without being on their iPads. This gives me an opportunity to collaborate with parents in regards to their child’s movement options.”

The Physical Education teacher at Lockwood had first brought the Marathon Kids program to the school several years earlier, and Ms. Ornelas was interested in getting involved for the sake of her students, who have moderate to severe autism. “When Marathon Kids was first implemented in our school, only the sixth-graders were part of the team. I found that my students were better able to focus in the classroom after they had some exercise or running time, so I asked the P.E. teacher about including my students in the program.”

Marathon Kids Run Clubs Help Children Manage Daily Stress

Ms. Ornelas saw that the daily physical activity gained through the MK program helped her students release anxiety along with the stress they often felt when they arrived at school—“a win-win for all.”

Her run club, called Lockwood Shining Stars, began with only 65 students participating. It grew over time, and currently has about 200 participants from several different grade levels at the school, ranging from TK (Traditional Kindergarten, for younger kindergarteners) through sixth grade, as well as three classes of children with moderate to severe autism.

At Lockwood, It’s A Group Effort

Ms. Ornelas wanted to get involved with Marathon Kids “because I could invite other teachers to join our Lockwood Shining Stars, in order to help our students cope with life stressors through exercise. We now have students in different grade levels running at different times of the day. It is a great sight to see children running with their friends and having fun!”

She teams up with other teachers to get the students moving. “The teachers who participate in Marathon Kids take charge of their students. There are about four classes that run or exercise after breakfast, while other teachers will take their students out to run before or after lunch, three to five days a week.”

The students’ daily mileage varies according to each classroom as well as the kids’ ages and ability levels. “We motivate our participants to complete one marathon at a time,” says Ms. Ornelas, though individual students reach their milestones at their own paces. “There are students in the upper grades who cover two to three miles daily.”

In years past, individual teachers tracked their students’ laps as the kids completed them, but this year, with the introduction of free digital lap tracking through the Marathon Kids app, some of the Lockwood teachers have begun to digitally track their students. Ornelas says the goal is for everyone involved with the Lockwood run club eventually to track digitally.

The Entire Community Benefits From Run Club

The benefits of Marathon Kids run clubs extend beyond the student runners. “Through Marathon Kids,” Ms. Ornelas says, “students are learning about proper nutrition, and parents are learning about proper nutrition through parent programs in our school.” She reports that many students who used to choose juice for their workout and recovery drink have begun choosing water instead when they run.

Ms. Ornelas plans to use the program to set her own running goals and make positive changes. “I have seen some little changes in myself since starting the program. I don’t like to feel sluggish when I don’t have some form of physical activity.”

Most of all, though, she sees how running makes life easier for her students. “Physical activity is important because it helps a person to deal with daily stressors in a positive way. Physical activity helps to keep the mind clear and gives positive energy throughout the day.” And whether the student runners naturally enjoy exerting themselves or it’s an effort for them to complete their laps, “either way, they run and enjoy the time they spend with their friends on the track.”

Motivation—And A Little Friendly Competition—Are Key When Running Gets Tough

When running gets tough, learning to push through the hard moments is a key lesson for any runner. At Lockwood, “We run for about a half-hour daily, and we always give the students high-fives and encourage them to keep running.”

But running inevitably gets tough at some point, no matter how intrinsically motivated the students might be. Ms. Ornelas says, “I have noticed that many students are encouraged by their peers. The sixth-graders are trying to outrun one another, which makes running fun and motivating for them, while getting them ready for middle school. They really like to outrun each other. The competition among the students is great. I see smiles and hear laughter as they run with their peers.”

Keeping track of their progress is another key element of the kids keeping their motivation high. “When they return to the class, they can see where they are on the graph. If they are below their friends, they usually want to be at the same miles with their friends or have more, so visual charts are always great.”

Marathon Kids Values Progress Built Over Time

Ms. Ornelas says, “My students are now able to walk/run a mile to a mile-and-a-half, whereas before, they could not even complete the first lap without taking a break.” When it’s time to head back to class and focus on academics, “I also see that they are not as jittery when it’s time to engage in their educational learning.”

For other teachers or coaches thinking of starting a Marathon Kids run club, Ornelas has this advice: “I believe that Marathon Kids provides many resources that can be given to students and their families to encourage them to exercise together. Marathon Kids is also a great way to start the day. Running and exercise help the students not only physically, but mentally as well. They release tension when they exercise, and then they feel more relaxed and ready to learn.”