Share This Post

On-Site Staff / Program Design, Development, and Quality

The Science and Art of Helping Kids Love Physical Activity

physical fitness activities, push-ups

Creating a physical activity program for grade schoolers that engages all children involved is both a science and an art.  The science of child development, motivational psychology, and human behavior help us create an enriching program. The art of creating a fun, play-like, inclusive environment gets all kids excited to participate.

Using imaginative, play-based activities to introduce critical developmental skills is a perfect culmination of the art and science behind getting kids to enjoy becoming fit and physical literate for life.

Consider the 60-minute program outlined below showcasing sensory and fundamental movement skills using creative exploration, interactive games, and a huge dose of fun.  We have found this program to be successful with grade school kids between the ages of 6 and 11.


SPIDERstart (5 Minutes)

  • No lining up, no pre-workout talk. They show up, we start playing a game or activity. These activities require very little space and little to no equipment. Generally, anyone can join at any time. There is no warm-up prior to these activities, so they are usually in place, sensory-skill based games.
  • Here is an example: Cone Quick Draw

Warm Up/Sensory Prep (10 minutes)

  • The beginning of a program is an ideal time to wire the brain and body together. That’s why I like to insert all kinds of unique movement challenges to prep the sensory system.
  • I chose a combination of about 5-6 locomotion (running, skipping, etc.) or stationary movement control activities (jumping jacks, push-ups, squats, etc.).  For each, I insert 3 or 4 contrasting  “movement variables.”  Movement variables are variations to a movement involving effort, space, and/or relationships.
  • For example, a skip (locomotion) done slow then fast (effort variables), arms wide then narrow (relationships), done forward then backward (space).
  • I then chose 4-5 more abstract movement words like “creep,” “pounce,” “explode,” and others that require a degree of individual interpretation. I call these words out and the kids can move however they feel.
  • Finally, I put 3 words together into a “movement sentence.” For example “Roll, fly, hide.” The kids then have to perform their interpretation of each movement in a “flow” from one movement to the next. They continue this flow until I call out another 3 words. I’ll usually include 2-3 movement sentences.
  • Click here to see an example of a “Sensory Prep” warm up.

Skill of the Day (5 minutes)

  • Right after we have been warming up and creating the brain/body link, it’s an ideal time to introduce a new movement skill or advanced criteria for a current skill.  This isn’t merely performing a stationary movement, locomotion, or manipulative skill, it’s practicing some aspect of the skill in order to improve.
  • For example, take the stationary movement control skill of performing a push-up. Break it down into foundational components:
    • Holding a push-up plank
    • Practicing “gripping” the ground
    • Practice with feet against the wall
    • Perform eccentric push-ups
  • Take this opportunity for kids to learn how to execute skills correctly, but only focus on 1 aspect of the movement a day. That way, as the child performs that movement in other games and activities, the new aspect of the skill can be reinforced without overwhelm.

1-2 Movement Skill or Sensory Awareness Games (5-10 minutes)

  • Here is where we play a group or partner game that focuses on either the skill of the day or another sensory skill.  This can also be a “just for fun” game to get the kids moving. I often change the game criteria every few minutes. For example, if we’re doing a “tag” based game, the criteria for being “it” may change frequently.
  • This portion of the program usually concludes with a game that kids into groups, coinciding with the number of circuit stations that will be done. For example, if there are 5 stations and 30 kids, the activity should get them into groups of 6.
    • My Gears
    • Shark Island

Circuit stations (10-15 Minutes)

  • Create 5 stations (more or less, depending on the attention span of the kids). Ideally, alternate each station:
    • Locomotion skills (Running, skipping, crawling, etc. around cones, over/under barriers, etc.)
    • Stationary movement control (Calisthenics with or without implements)
    • Manipulative skill (throwing, catching, dribbling, kicking, etc.)
  • At each station, you can create mini obstacle courses, cone drills, etc. Run each station for 30-60 seconds, then rotate the kids to the next station in 30 seconds.  Repeat the entire circuit 2 times.
    • Station 1: Balance Beam Lean and Touch
    • Station 2: Cone Circles
    • Station 3: Imaginary Animal Crawl
    • Station 4: Rainbow Slams
    • Station 5: Bean Bag Sit to Stand

Group Game or Conditioning Activity (5-10 Minutes)

  • Near the end of the session here, we’ll either play a game, do some sort of group competition, or something that is relatively physical strenuous. Relays, races, challenges and other activities work well here. This should be the “crescendo” of the session

Cool down/Self- regulation (5-10 Minutes)

  • Traditionally, static stretching is done at the end of training for youngsters. For grade school age children, static stretching in and of itself is not very effective for improving ROM, and can actually be damaging for really young children who lack joint stability.
  • While static stretching can still be introduced here, self-regulation activities that highlight sensory awareness, mindful breathing, or gratitude are a better use of time.
    • Cone Breathing

Breakdown (60 Seconds)

  • Bring all kids together on a final word. Give them a quick quiz on what they learned. Provide them a challenge for when they go home.
  • The above template takes between 50-60 minutes, depending on how well you are organized. Setting up the circuits prior to the children arriving is critical. Having a plan makes sure that kids are constantly engaged and flow from one activity to another seamlessly. Activities are changed every 5 minutes or so, so they do not become bored.
  • Even with a rudimentary knowledge of exercise and physical activity, this template can be used to keep kids engaged and learning. Activities and drills do not have to be elaborate. As a matter of fact, often the most basic activities are the most effective.

Enjoy employing the art and science of youth physical activity to inspire them to become fit and physically literate for life!

For breakfast, I had 4 eggs, a can of sardines, and avocado.  Yum!

Author: @brettk

Share This Post

Leave a Reply