First, how NOT to:
That stuff above all looks neat. For about 3 minutes. If you're a parent, you know exactly what I mean: this is the stuff that seems like a good idea at the time, but may as well come with a Yard Sale price tag already affixed, because that's the likely destination.
Yes, it's funny. What's NOT funny is that this is really the direction the fitness industry is going. Here's the idea: take a flawed model (treadmills and steppers and bench pressing = fitness) that doesn't really work for adults, and apply it to kids.
Another great idea: kids' beer!
What DOES make for successful exercise sessions with kids?
1. Quality Interaction.
Either the kid has to be having fun with a parent, a coach, or a team. Sorry, interaction with a TV set is really not what we're after here. That sends this message: exercise sucks, but if you can distract yourself, you can suffer through it. Boy, nothing sets you up for a healthy lifestyle like learning to keep it at arm's length! I think my parents did the same thing with Castor Oil when I was small, and I sure love that stuff now!
That means play. There's gotta be a play aspect. Maybe competition helps, and maybe it doesn't. Maybe keeping records helps, and maybe not. At any rate, if it ain't fun, it ain't happening. If kids don't want to do it, you're not going to make them.
You don't have to pay a kid to exercise. But you DO have to create patterns of positive reinforcement. When I play, I get this feeling. When I set on the couch, I get that feeling. How can you do that by telling someone to walk on a stepper for 30 minutes?
4. Frequent Change.
Who ISN'T a bit ADD now? I sure am. I'd rather be able to meet a new challenge every day than shoot 100 pucks into an empty net every day after school. I'd rather play frisbee than go for a walk with my parents. And I'd rather play capture the flag than do almost anything.
We're going in the wrong direction. Don't tell kids, "You can do it, it's so easy and mindless, just think of something else!" It will go down like medicine. Tell a kid, "Hey, this is tough. I think you can do it. Do you?" Will get a positive response 10 times out of 10.
We're not just after quantity of exercise, after all. Quality matters. '30 minutes a day' isn't a good guideline. After all, we have workouts for adults that are only 4 minutes long (it's called Fran, look it up on YouTube.) We don't do that every day, but sometimes, it's enough.
Finally, consider the goal of kids' exercise: to encourage them to lead a life in which fitness and health are integral components. Who wants to see their child suffer the social stigma of being fat? Who wants to see them have poor posture from too much couch time? Who wants to outlive their kid? Let's teach them positive habits, let them love it, and watch them go.
Here's your study guide: a free issue of Crossfit Kids Magazine.