Updated August 17, 2018
Keeping kids healthy requires helping them stay active, which can be difficult with jam packed schedules and the decline in physical education and recess time in schools. Only one in three children are physically active every day, and less than 5% of adults participate in 30 minutes of physical activity each day. The Center for Disease Control recommends that children get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day, and limit screen time.
While kids may not be getting as much physical activity and play time as they should at school, the good news is that there are many ways to incorporate fun, active play activities into your children's and family's daily routine. As busy parents, we sometimes take for granted the importance of free, unstructured play for early childhood development. Free or unstructured play is any activity that kids do on their own without instructions or directions set by an adult. Free play includes running around, playing tag, jumping rope, climbing, and even dancing. Free play is critical to raising children who are healthy, resilient and ready for life. It is especially important for children who do not participate in team sports.
Research shows that unstructured play is critical for kids to learn problem-solving, collaboration, conflict resolution and creativity, all 21st century skills needed to succeed in school and as adults. To learn what makes your kids most happy when they play, try our Play Quiz based on Dr. Stuart Brown's book Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. When kids are given opportunities to play and be physically active, they learn better, are more confident and are healthier.
If you are looking to engage kids in different activities beyond competitive team sports, try these ten activities – some structured and unstructured – guaranteed to unleash that inner-competitive spirit. Enjoy the beautiful Fall weather and try some of these outdoor and indoor activities around Boston and beyond.
1. Road Races. Kids enjoy individual competition just as much as adults. When you participate in a road race as a family, parents set a good example for living an active lifestyle. You can search for races in your area through www.active.com or www.runningintheusa.com. Need some practice? Kids can participate in the Healthy Kids Running Series available in multiple locations across Massachusetts. Some of our favorites include:
Dimock Road to Wellness Kids Fun Run– September 8, 2018, Roxbury. Offers a 5K Run/Walk for Adults and Reimagine Play Kids Fun Run with obstacles and games.
Reebok Canton Road Race – September 30, 2018, Canton. Offers a 5K, 10K and Kids 1-mile Fun Run, as well as a kids wheelchair 1-mile race.
The Great Pumpkin Dash - October 14, 2018, Revere. Features a Kid’s 1-mile Fun Run, The Great Pumpkin Dash 5K and Free Children’s Pumpkin Festival Activities.
Boston Commons Costume Dash 5k – October 27, 2018, Boston. Put on your craziest costume and get ready for five kilometers of fun starting at Copley Square and finishing in Boston Common. Minimum age: 10 years old
2. Obstacle Races & Mud Runs. If your kids are thrill seekers, an extreme obstacle course or mud run may be more their speed. Some obstacle course races are just for kids. Mudrunfun.com makes it easy to find obstacle course races and mud runs in your area. Remember to train for these obstacle events. Reimagine Play offers pop-up classes and clinics for kids to get them in shape and ready for these challenges. Our top race picks are:
Your First Mud Run – September 9, 2018, Holyoke. This mud run is designed so both parents and kids can run together. Course is 1.5 - 2 miles and includes 10+ obstacles that are designed for adults and kids.
Spartan Kids Sprint– November 10-11, 2018, Fenway Park, Boston – The Spartan Stadium Sprint presented by Tufts Health Plan includes a 1 mile obstacle kids race for ages 7-13 and 1/2 mile for ages 4-6 run for kids, plus a Special Spartans Heat for participants with Intellectual and/or Developmental Disabilities (IDD).
3. Ninja Warrior Training. Inspired by the television series “American Ninja Warrior,” where contestants scale the toughest of obstacles, kids can practice movement skills such as climbing, jumping and swinging through obstacle-style fitness. Action Athletics in Wellesley, TA Fitness in Weymouth, Amp Academy in Fall River, and Ultimate Obstacles in West Boylston are just a few of the gyms in Massachusetts offering ninja warrior classes for all ages. The show has made obstacle training immensely popular because it’s fun and physically challenging. Obstacle training is also an activity that parents can do together with their kids, rather than standing on the sidelines. For ninja birthday parties, try Gymja Warrior in Danvers and Sky Zone in Everett which offers trampolines and ninja warrior obstacles.
4. Free Running and Parkour. If you’ve seen people jumping from buildings and vault over walls, you’re probably watching the burgeoning urban sport called Parkour. Parkour, also known as free-running, is a non-competitive way to train the human body to move efficiently using the natural environment around us. Parkour is an athletic and acrobatic discipline that involves using our body movements fluidly: running, jumping, climbing, tumbling and more. Kids easily gravitate to Parkour because it feels like play in the natural environment. For local classes, try Parkour Generations, Hub Parkour Training Center in Norton or check out New England Parkour’s map for training grounds near you.
5. Rock Climbing. If your kids prefer to scaling walls, indoor rock climbing is a growing sport that offers something fun and active you can do with your children. Greater Boston is home to some great indoor climbing facilities. Our friends at 99Boulders have compiled a full list of Massachusetts climbing and bouldering gyms. Our picks include Boston Rock Gym in Woburn, Brooklyn Boulders in Somerville, Central Rock Gym in Watertown, Metro Rock in Everett, and Rock Spot in South Boston, which offer bouldering, belaying, and youth programs to teach kids to rock climb. If your tots are outdoor climbing enthusiasts, Quincy Quarries Reservation offers outdoor climbing for beginners.
6. Slacklining. Balance is a core skill easily honed through the burgeoning sport of slacklining which is booming in parks, backyards, and climbing gyms around the country. Slacklining requires balancing on a piece of dynamic climbing webbing strung horizontally between two fixed points such as trees or metal anchors. Slacklines can be set up low to the ground, and are a fun and safe way to teach little ones about agility, balance, and concentration. You can set up a beginner slackline in a local park or right in your backyard. Once you’re ready to get more advance, try a class at a local climbing gym, or go for the Ninjaline which combines the best of ninja warrior obstacles on a slackline.
7. Boxing and Mixed Martial Arts. Traditional mixed martial arts – MMA – are great for teaching kids discipline, strength and self-defense skills. Martial arts training takes time and effort, and the stylized nature of classes, competitions and belts is not for everyone. For a less formal type of MMA class, try a kids boxing or self-defense skills class. Peter Welch’s Gym and Ultimate Self Defense in Boston offer challenging kids classes without the long-term commitment. Level Ground MMA runs programs for urban teens interested in obtaining a mixed martial arts student trainer certification. YMCA’s also offer a variety of martial arts programs from Karate to Soo Bahk Do.
8. Active Gaming. If your kids are more of the tech types, a great alternative is reality gaming. Boda Borg in Malden promises to transport you into a real-world gaming environment in an experience they call Questing. Teams of 3-5 participants tackle a variety of mental and physical challenges, many of which will make you break a sweat! The Escape Room and Boxaroo in Boston offer a pop-up interactive experience where you and your teammates are locked in a themed room for 60 minutes with the sole mission of escaping by solving mind-bending riddles and brainteasers.
9. Skateboarding. What is often perceived as an underground culture activity, skateboarding and scooting, as its close second, has now gone mainstream. Like bike riding, skateboarding is now becoming one of those basic movement skills all kids should learn. Skateboards and scooters are a great way to get around (especially in traffic-congested areas). For skateboarding lessons and safety tips, visit Skate Catalyst and scope out the newest skate parks in Massachusetts – the Lynch Family Skatepark at the Charles River Conservancy in Cambridge and Orchard Conservatory Skatepark at Pop-Allston in Brighton.
10. Biking. Kids love cycling - it's fun, adventurous and gives them the freedom and independence to get around. Best of all, you can get even the youngest ones to start enjoying cycling as a family. Cycling has a variety of benefits for kids, from improving their fitness, balance and coordination to offering them a healthy outdoor activity that will last a lifetime. Teaching kids cycling safety and urban biking skills is easier than ever. Bikes not Bombs in Jamaica Plain offers a youth cycling club for kids 12 and older, this fall they have a 6 week earn a bike program that teaches participants how to build bikes and navigate the city. Don’t have a bike? BIke sharing programs, including Hubway offer a low-cost bike sharing system to get around in Boston, Brookline, Cambridge and Somerville. Take advantage of Greater Boston’s great bicycle trails and pick one from this list.
Need more fitness inspiration? In honor of National Child Obesity Awareness Month, partner up with your kids to try a few new activities this month. Then on Sunday, September 24, do something with the whole family to celebrate Family Health and Fitness Day. Whether it’s biking, skateboarding, walking to school or running a race on the weekend, participating in non-sports group activities can help kids develop a life-long passion for exercise and a healthy lifestyle.
TELL US WHICH ONE OF THESE YOU WILL TRY?