4 Tips to Motivate Kids to Be Active


You’ve likely heard the statistic before: over one-third of children and adolescents are overweight. That number has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the last 30 years, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This government agency suggests lowering the risk of obesity and its associated health problems through a healthy diet and increased physical activity.

motivating kids to be active

Schools play a vital role in establishing these healthy habits and helping children develop a positive relationship with their health. When thinking about the physical activity side of health, consider these ways you and your fellow educators can help motivate kids to be more active.

Promote Game Play

Physical education is great for children and adults alike, but when children develop a poor relationship with exercise, they’re unlikely to maintain an active lifestyle later in life. That’s why physical activity has to be fun. When it feels more like a game than a chore, students will be excited to get moving!

For instance, physical activity shouldn’t be all about running laps. While running is excellent for your health, few kids will find any meaning behind it. Instead, give them an objective by playing games with them on the playground and in the gym. An aerobic game, such as Aerobic Bowling, will get students running around, but they’ll be more engaged since the game has a sense of purpose and strategy to it.

Don’t forget that you don’t need a gym or playing field to get kids to be active. Kids can get moving with limited space, even if that means minor activities like standing or jumping. For instance, have your students stand in a circle and toss a ball or bean bag to each other. The one holding the object must answer the next question in your lesson. It may not seem like a lot, but simply standing can help combat some of the health issues associated with prolonged sitting, such as issues with blood glucose control, says BBC.com. For more ideas for physical education and activity in tight spaces, see the recent SPARK webinar “No Gym? No Problem!” presented by Chairman Sutherland. You can view the free recorded webinar on SPARKecademy.org.

Avoid Using Physical Activity to Reinforce Behavior

Why do you think some students are reluctant to engage in physical activity? Is it perhaps because they view it as a punishment? When educators and parents use it as a punishment, it becomes that in a child’s mind.

For instance, when a student is late for practice, a coach might tell him to do 20 pushups. If they’re taught that physical activity is a punishment for their actions, do you think they’ll continue to enjoy it?

Likewise, the Tennessean points out that withholding physical activity doesn’t help the situation, either. For instance, holding a child in from recess may teach him that physical activity and play aren’t important to his overall well-being.

Don’t Make Everything a Competition

While many games played in PE class are all about one team winning or losing, it’s important that students understand that not all forms of physical activity require competition. If they grow up learning that physical activity is all about the competition, how many do you think will develop a habit of activity when there aren’t sports teams available to them?

Instead, encourage children to find and pursue activities they enjoy. The more they like it, the more they’ll be motivated to do it. For instance, while you can compete in swimming and biking, these can also be individual sports that are a lot of fun when done by yourself.

While a healthy dose of competition is good, it’s also worth exploring ways to promote individualized activities or those that are simply fun to do, like skating.

Consider the Students’ Ages

Each age group requires a different approach to physical activity since they’re all at different levels. Consider these guidelines.

3-5 year olds:

  • Get kids moving every 30 minutes or so.

  • Focus on the fun instead of competition, such as dancing.

  • Limit time spent with technology.

6-9 year olds:

  • Help children set physical activity goals for themselves, and let them pick those goals.

  • Explore numerous sports and activity options so children can decide what they like best.

  • Focus on sportsmanship and personal growth instead of competition.

10-14 year olds:

  • Teach children about their physical activity needs.

  • Begin helping refine movements, such as practicing free-throws instead of simply throwing the ball at the basket.

  • Help children track their goals.

Motivating kids to be active starts with making activity a fun and rewarding experience. How will you motivate your students to be more active?