Morning exercise is a great way to help your kids prepare for the school day ahead.
For those of us with children in traditional schools, preparing our children for the school day can be challenging. We can cross everything off our checklist (wake up, get dressed, eat breakfast, brush teeth, pack bag, get to school on time), but what else can we do to help prepare them for the rigors of the school day? Other than giving them a hearty breakfast and a good dose of parental love, what can we do to help them focus, listen, and feel successful in their day?
One answer is fairly simple: morning exercise for kids!
Importance of Exercise
The importance of exercise for children has never really been disputed. It’s safe to say that there is overall agreement on the general benefits of physical activity for children. Exercise + good diet = healthy body. But as parents, we’re not just concerned for their physical health — we are also invested in their mental and emotional health and regulation.
The good news is that in addition to the physical health benefits of exercise, physical activity can also benefit their mental and emotional development.
According to a consensus statement published in the British Journal of Medicine, researchers found that for children/youth, “physical activity and cardiorespiratory fitness are beneficial to brain structure, brain function and cognition.” They concluded that “physical activity before, during and after school promotes scholastic performance.”
Several studies have also shown a positive effect of before-school exercises specifically on children with ADHD:
- In a 2014 study, Researchers from Michigan State University and the University of Vermont found that before-school, aerobic activities “could help in reducing the symptoms of ADHD in the classroom and at home”.
- A 2012 study published in the Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology concluded a “positive effect of acute exercise on executive function in children with ADHD.”
- According to another study, “young children displaying signs of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder were increasingly attentive and showed less moody behavior after participating in regular, half-hour aerobic activity sessions before school”.
Just as many of us like to start our day with a workout, children can also benefit from morning exercises.
My energetic boys generally get plenty of exercise, but I had never considered making sure it occurred in the morning. (Especially since mornings seems to fly by in a disorganized flash!) I had a couple of concerns:
- Too much exercise too early would exhaust them even before they arrived at their first class. (Wouldn’t that be counter-productive?)
- We didn’t have time to add yet another morning “to do” to our list. (Wouldn’t this be too hard to fit in?)
I discovered that I could answer both questions with “no”. (Morning exercise would actually help energize them, and it didn’t have to take much time!)
Once we convinced ourselves of the value of before-school exercise, the next question was: How do we make it happen? Not unlike our own personal fitness resolutions, our best intentions are sometimes hard to put into practice.
Getting my boys to just eat their breakfast is challenging enough, so it was daunting to think that I would have to encourage them to do something they didn’t want to do.
Fortunately for me, both of our sons really enjoy riding their bikes, so that has been our first strategy. Our older child’s school is a bit far and the mostly uphill trek is made difficult by his very heavy school backpack, but it still remains an option, especially when I drive him partway. Most days, he and I go for a walk around the nearby pond, giving us a chance to chat and stretch our legs before driving to his school.
There are definitely days when they do NOT want to bike or walk (and aren’t shy about telling me), and cold rainy days that result in us driving, but it’s a routine that we really enjoy together. When the winter (snow, slush, ice, bitter cold) arrives, we’ll have to find a new routine (and I’ve gathered a few ideas already), but for now we’ll enjoy every biking and walking adventure that we can have.
What activities would work for your morning routine? Read on for a list of other exercise options that you could consider. Choose the one that will work best for you and your children, or try a different one out each day. It’s never too late — or too early — to start a new habit!
12 Ways to Get Them Started
1. WALK TO SCHOOL
This seems like the most obvious solution, but it’s also not possible for all families. Many children live too far away to walk, and are either driven to school or take the bus. In other cases, the route between home and school isn’t safe for walking: busy streets, narrow roads, no sidewalks. If you like the idea of walking to school and time allows it, consider driving part way, parking, and walking together the rest of the way. It’s a great way to share the experience together, enjoy the fresh air, and talk to your kids about the school day ahead. (You can also entertain them with the latest animal fun fact that you’ve read!)
2. BIKE TO SCHOOL
Taking into consideration traffic and the width/conditions of the roads, map out the best route (safer might mean longer) between your house and the school. Then do a practice run to see how long it takes. Wear proper clothing (no wide-legged pants), protective gear (always wear a helmet), and teach your kids the necessary hand signals and road etiquette. [see basic rules for bike safety here and here]
If you are remote or home schooling, you can still fit in a ride before school. Pick a local destination (the swings at your favorite park, etc.), map out your route and have a mini adventure before school!
i.e., exercises to develop strength and flexibility, without using special equipment
- Look online for creative ways to do calisthenics, such as https://www.holmesplace.com/en/en/blog/fitness/callisthenics-for-children with animal-themed exercises to make it fun
- Do a combination of squats, pushups, crunches, bench dips, stationary lunges
- Check out apps such as 7 Minute Workout to find a routine that will work for your kids
- Older kids / teens might appreciate following along with a YouTube workout routine, such as this 8-minute workout for teens: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ixjdNUtWN-Y (You may want to preview any videos beforehand, keeping in mind that youtube is sometimes an unhealthy rabbithole! My search on “before school workout routine” led me to videos I would definitely not want my child to watch.)
Kids Yoga Stories has a wealth of information on yoga for kids. They have books and flashcards that help you guide your children, even if you’re not a yogi yourself.
5. MINI PARKOUR COURSE
If your child is one of the thousands who have been inspired by Beastmaster or Ninja Warrior shows, consider creating a mini course inside/outside your home. It doesn’t need to be complicated, it just needs to get them moving. Use a timer (stopwatch, smart phone, smart device, etc.) and let the warriors loose. What we used to call an “obstacle course” gets an exciting re-brand as a “ninja course” or “the beast”. You can find a few ideas for indoor courses here.
6. WALK THE DOG
Take your dog for a walk! And if you don’t have your own, see if you can walk a neighbor’s dog for them. Exercise and responsibility — check!
7. DANCE PARTY
Crank up the music and practice your best moves together. Nothing gets your heart pumping quite like dancing (and laughing) with your kids… even if it’s a song they’ve already played 1000 times this week.
8. PRACTICE SPORT / HOBBY
If your kids are already taking martial arts classes, have them practice a few moves before school. If they love to play soccer, they can practice their dribbling skills and shoot a few goals.
9. SCHOOL PROGRAMS
Some schools have had the foresight to set up their own programs. One school in our district has “AM Wellness”, and another one has done a trial-run of BOKS Kids (a free before- and after-school physical education program). Ask your school district or recreation department if they have anything to offer!
10. USE YOUR IMAGINATION
Sometimes it works just to make up an exercise on the fly! “Run upstairs, do 5 jumping jacks, open and close your bedroom door, come back downstairs, run in place for 2 minutes….” or “Run to the end of the driveway. Spin around. See how many jumps it takes to get from one side of the driveway to the other. Hop back to the house on one foot…” or “Scooter to the end of the road and back, then run to the end of the driveway and back, then do 10 jumping jacks.”
Create your own winning formula! Even better — have your kids do it for you. They’ll be more likely to play a game they’ve made up themselves!
11. EXERCISE EQUIPMENT
A low-commitment option, a few jumps on the trampoline sounds like a great way to start the day! And indoor trampolines are a great way for your kids to exercise indoors when the weather isn’t cooperating. For older kids/teens, you can also consider exercise bikes and treadmills, should you already have one at home. (Always be aware of the risks posed by the equipment. We can’t assume any liability!)
12. TIME TRIALS
When all else fails, just tell your kids to run around the outside of your house. But it’s all in the approach! Instead of just saying, “go run around the house 5 times”, try: “Hmm, I wonder how long it would take you to run around the house 3 times.” And time it! Then have them see if they can beat their last time. Again, the spirit of competition (or is it just self-amelioration?) provides extra motivation.
Morning exercise can be a bridge for kids between crazy mornings and scheduled school days, a way to release energy and get ready for the day ahead.
Getting outside has always had a transformative effect on my children, this has been no different. My kids come alive when they bike, and the bad moods that we leave at the door are almost always turned into smiles once we arrive at school. And if it helps them focus while at school, even better!
Obviously — since this blog is entitled “Get the Kids OUTSIDE” — I recommend that you try to do this exercise outdoors whenever possible. BUT I also recognize that there are mitigating factors. I live in New England, which means dark and cold mornings for (what feels like) 6 months. So no, when it’s pitch black and 20 degrees, we will likely not bike to school. (We’re not always “hard core”.) Fortunately, I know of a list that I can consult for other before-school exercise ideas!
To help them prepare for the school day ahead, with all its lessons and transitions and demands for focus, encourage your kids to get in a good dose of morning exercise. Whether a bike ride, set of jumping jacks or a dance party, getting them active before school can help set them up for success.