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.”
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.”
Practicing Effective Social Distancing in Physical Education
It’s a brave new world for teachers! With virtual, hybrid, and socially-distanced in-person classes in the mix, educators have a lot to consider when it comes to lesson planning. To help, Marathon Kids is offering a free virtual training series on best practices for teaching safe distance physical education. Educators are invited to attend our free virtual training webinars for ideas on how to modify their physical activity and PE curriculum to cater to a variety of learning environments.
Our first video, “Practicing Effective Social Distancing in Physical Education,” outlines best practices for managing safe distance PE classes and strategies to engage and motivate students. The training will walk you through lesson plan modification strategies, recommendations on how to keep students motivated, and ways technology can simplify your efforts.
Modifications for Social Distancing
First and foremost, we know some things will be out of your control this year and we recommend following all safety regulations set forth by your school, district, or state.
We recommend you hold lessons outside—weather permitting—as often as possible. For the most part, the outdoors provides ample space and fresh air is always a plus. Whether your class is outside or in, it is important to provide visual markings where you want kids to stand or stay, start, or stop. A simple, organized method is to create a grid formation to space kids out, and/or to stage individual exercises and skill lessons. You can use domes, cones, tape, or spray-painted lines for visual markings. A grid formation will also help lessen any unnecessary physical contact to ensure social distancing.
When planning your classes for the week, we find it best to incorporate rotating lesson plans with limited equipment. If Class One used X equipment, then have the next class use a different piece of equipment. This saves you time since you will not need to clean equipment in between every class, and you can rotate lessons between grade levels. This method will extend your lesson plans, requiring you to plan less, and this gives time for the equipment to air out making less work for you between classes.
Rotating lesson plans will also allow the students to feel like their lessons are not repetitive, and keep them engaged. This year, I am sure you are finding that with a limited number of activities and games you can do with limited equipment, changing up the formation or location puts a new spin on things. It can be simple things that spark new interest with kids!
Strategies to Spark Student Interest
Celebrate ALL students who are participating in physical activity, whether they are in-person or learning from home. It is not only about being the top athlete, for some students it’s about achieving their personal goals, building endurance to help them in the sport they play, being a part of a team, and having fun. Be consistent when you reward students, classes, grades, or whole-school achievements. Keep it simple. Kids love to hear their name or class announced. This is another layer of rewarding and celebrating kids, which gives a boost to teachers and highlights the team effort!
Keeping your runners updated is key to sustaining motivation to stay active and increase participation. The benefit of Marathon Kids Connect, our free PE platform, is the ability to track your student’s physical activity achievements, even during periods of remote or hybrid learning. Not only can students stay updated on their progress through the parent and student dashboards, but Marathon Kids Connect’s reporting feature can help you amplify your school’s physical activity success.
Spread the word about the great work your students are doing to stay active by creating a visual bulletin board to highlight their efforts! This helps students feel part of something bigger and helps them to stay motivated, plus it builds buy-in for physical activity and physical education. Look for your most improved student, for the cheerleader of the group, for the one who is always trying their best. Meet students where they are at on their healthy journey, while helping them achieve a more active lifestyle.
As we mentioned, kids love to hear their names. Try picking student leaders to lead warmups or active moves occasionally—even during Zoom PE. This can increase engagement and participation during class.
Another way to keep your students interested is to designate theme days to bring life to routine and add a level of excitement. Maybe on Wellness Wednesdays, kids can do yoga/stretching, line dances, and learn about ways to keep their mind and body healthy. On Track It Thursdays, one group of kids can run and walk laps while a second group is in a grid formation, holding plank until you call “switch.” With this strategy, you can track laps with our free digital lap tracking app.
Data to Support your Program
The Marathon Kids Connect platform gives you data to support physical education and accounts for physical activity in all types of school environments including remote learning! Can you say data at your fingertips?
With Marathon Kids Connect, educators have the ability to track and log kids’ effort. Tracking kids’ miles, active minutes, and efforts will add a layer of motivation and can build a school community centered around physical activity. By tracking students’ progress, you are also giving students an opportunity to set personal goals.
School Admins (like your principal) have access to follow your school’s progress and see the great work you are doing. The Marathon Kids program helps students meet the recommended 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity every day. Additionally, the benefits for participants in our free youth running program go well beyond physical activity, including increased learning capacity, improved classroom behavior, and improved attendance, all of which work toward creating a community of health and wellbeing on campus.
PE coaches have the option to invite parents to the platform. If parents connect to the platform, they will be able to submit miles and physical activity done at home. Marathon Kids Connect’s manual entry feature allows the teacher or coach to accept any form of communication from parents.
And kids have their very own ID cards, experience cool technology, and have access to personal dashboards to keep them updated. They will always know what mile they are on when working towards mileage goals.
Technology Working for You
If you aren’t already using a digital platform for PE management, Marathon Kids Connect is a FREE, innovative digital platform that makes every mile and minute of physical activity count, on campus and at home.
This digital platform and toolset were designed to support educators and give greater transparency and quality data to Marathon Kids, educators, parents, students, and administrators. This platform can track ALL types of physical activity walking, running, and any type of heart-pumping activity throughout the school day.
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.