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When PE teacher Rene Hernandez ran his first 5K, something clicked. “I loved the feeling of being able to complete the run, and I knew I had kids who would love to start running.” He’d always known the importance of staying healthy; as a physical education teacher, he says, “I have always loved being outdoors, and I know that if we have our health, we have everything. I preach it every day to my kids.”

He knew he wanted his students at Augusto Guerra Elementary in Alamo, Texas to experience the same sense of accomplishment he’d felt upon crossing that 5K finish line. An internet search of running clubs in Texas turned up Marathon Kids, and the Guerra Marathon Club was born. The run club, made up of 60 student runners ranging in age from eight to 11 years old, met for an hour after school three days a week, before Texas schools closed for the year. “My running club is for kids of all abilities and teaches them to live an active lifestyle,” says Coach Hernandez. The runners met in a large field and typically covered one to two miles together per session, using the Marathon Kids Connect digital lap tracking app to track their miles.

The Guerra Marathon Club was sponsored by beloved Texas-based grocery store chain H-E-B. At Guerra, says Coach Hernandez, “We serve a majority of low-income kids who wouldn’t have the opportunity otherwise to join a run club. Many of these kids love exercise; they just needed a willing adult to coach them.”

Providing a Positive Push

Now that they’ve experienced the structure, inspiration and community that comes with participating in a run club, many of Coach Hernandez’s students have fully committed to being active and challenging themselves to push further with their running skills. “Many of my marathon club members have joined local 5Ks and placed at the races, so they are lifelong runners now.”

But while those milestones and successes help bolster the students’ commitment to getting regular physical exercise, any runner knows it’s not always easy to get outside and stay motivated. When running gets tough for his students, Coach Hernandez says, “We always lead by example to make sure they know it’s going to get better for them.”

Run Clubs Create a Safe Space for All Participants

One of the most important things about the Guerra Marathon Club is the safe space and community that it provides for the students. “Our club offers kids of all levels a place to call home and be themselves,” says Coach Hernandez. “Many kids have been scouted by high schools through their running talent.”

He’s also seen personal benefits since starting the run club at his school, including drawing energy and motivation from his students. “Sometimes, after a tiring day, seeing my students motivated and excited to run makes me feel great and excited for the running session.” For other teachers who are considering coaching a Marathon Kids run club, Coach Hernandez says, “It’s well worth it and very rewarding to see the positive impact the club will have on the kids and their families.”

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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.