Children in Pre-K-12 programs of every kind have been sent home for a largely undetermined period of time. Many districts have set the duration at a preliminary number of days or weeks, but as we’ve seen with other COVID-19 closings, this is a fluid and unpredictable situation. There are some wonderful resources out there to provide support for parents faced with being more hands-on with their children’s education than they ever planned. One major source of help is coming from the experts: homeschooling parents. I’ve seen several resources that have sparked my interest to help those same parents fill the void of missing physical education classes as well. I hope you’ll find some of these suggestions and guidelines helpful as you navigate what are uncharted waters for many families.
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve seen about structuring a homeschool day is to *structure* the homeschool day. Schedules and routines are important for kids, but also help parents and the whole family stay on task and feel accomplished. Physical activity time should be no different. Build it into your schedule to assure the goal is met (60 minutes total of physical activity per day is the recommendation). This can mean one long chunk of exercise, or smaller chunks. I would also include “brain breaks” after long periods of school work in this time, as long as it’s at least 10 consecutive minutes. I highly recommend these regular breaks, it helps not only with physical health, but actually helps people think more clearly and refocus. It can be structured or open-ended, but get up and move! If you keep this as a consistent part of your day, you will find that everyone will look forward to these activities and will be better able to do paper and pencil or screen work immediately following.
Just like brains get tired of too much repetition, so do your muscles. Be creative, mix it up, try to keep it fresh. There are the old tried and true stand-bys: bike, walk, jog, swim, skate. But there are many other ways to get those active minutes. If you have light dumbbells, bands, balls, or other lightweight equipment at home, kids can use these with proper guidance and supervision. They probably bug you to play with it all anyway, now is their chance. Set up a circuit of 6-8 exercises and move around each 2-3 times for either a set number of repetition or a time frame, say 30 seconds to one minute each. An organized backyard game (tag, relay races) or sport (touch football, kickball) is usually pretty easy with minimal equipment. One of my favorite children’s class offerings is a “ninja warrior” style workout. You can use a swing set/play set and other common items (or actual sports equipment, if you have it on hand) to set up obstacle courses to challenge each other. If the weather is warm enough, include water play-have a rousing water balloon fight, chase each other with squirters (make that the “tag” in a tag game!). There are also an abundance of kid friendly habit trackers online if your child thrives on quantitative tracking. Choose one or 2 things at a time to work on, and use a chart or app to monitor progress. If your child gets too competitive or too worried about progress, forego the tracking for now and focus on the fun. And good news, parents: walking the dog and household chores with lots of motor movement counts! Vacuum, sweep, organize closets, clean out the garage...
While it’s not always necessary to think about proper warm up, conditioning, cool down and stretching, it’s a great time to teach children the importance of each. If you’ll be participating in activity that will be more rigorous, or will involve higher intensity cardiovascular or resistance exercise, it’s a good idea. Further, just a quick warmup (5-10 minutes of jogging in place, jumping jacks, jump rope, for example), plus an extended period of yoga poses or general stretching can go a long way to relieving the stress that we all carry, even kids, and especially during these tense times. And in case you haven’t read between the lines yet... Do it with them! You need it too!
Being the internet age, the information is out there, as it is with so many other topics. YouTube has wonderful fitness/exercise videos for kids and families. Pinterest and Instagram have some great content, and Facebook has pages and groups for homeschoolers, as well as kids’ fitness buffs (like me!). There are also some great PE teacher resources out there that could provide tips and ideas. (e.g. PE Central). The PE teachers or fitness providers in your area might be providing content; check the school/district website or provider websites, blogs or Facebook pages. Each state has the education standards for PE posted alongside academic standards so you can see what the age-level goals actually are. You can also go to the Teachers Pay Teachers website (that’s my store, but explore more!), which is meant mostly as a teacher-to-teacher resource marketplace, but anyone can purchase the games, activities, and materials there (for physical fitness or any subject!)...plus there are free offerings on many storefronts.
This is one of the areas of your child’s development that should be fun and enriching and makes them feel good about themselves. Start at their level, focus on movement and making incremental improvements and having a good time, not perfection or assessing every exercise. And in case it needs repeating, participate with your child! It will help you all cope and have a little more fun, and you are the best early example for your own child.