When my two kids were babies, my husband and I would trade off races so that one of us would race while the other one stood on the sidelines with the double jogging stroller, watching and cheering. As they got older, the kids always looked forward to the races because they loved rooting for Mom or Dad and they knew that there’d usually be some kind of yummy treat after the race to celebrate.
Perhaps it was that early exposure to running that made them eager to run their own races. They started off with some kids’ fun runs at races. And now that they’re eight and ten years old, they’ll sometimes run a 5K race with us, rather than waiting at the finish. And they’ve both participated in our town’s kids’ track and field team since kindergarten.
If you’d love for your kids to embrace the sport of running or just be more active in general, here are some things that have worked for me and other families:
Let them be your race cheerleaders. If they make spectator signs for you, cheer from the sidelines, and experience the excitement of race day, they’ll equate running with fun. If they see other kids running, they may be inspired and encouraged to start running themselves.
Enter them in a kids’ race. Many people (both adults and kids) get hooked on running after experiencing the thrill of crossing a finish line. Look for a local 5K or other race that includes a much shorter kids’ race either before or after the main event. Many kids’ races give them a ribbon, medal, T-shirt or other race swag, which may give them incentive to run more (as it does for adults sometimes!)
Run with them on trails, parks, and paths. Most roads aren’t ideal for family runs. A safer and fun alternative to running on the street with your kids is to take them to parks or trails to run. You can combine a little bit of running with a nature walk. Or, jog around a park and then play at the playground.
Start a running log with them. Help your child keep track of how far he or she running. Just record the date and approximately how long or far they ran. If they have a phone or other device, they can use an app like RunKeeper to record their distances. To keep them motivated, you can have them try to run a specific distance over a period of time, like three miles in a month.
Find a youth running program. Kids love doing things with other kids. Check with your child’s school, your town or city’s recreation department, or local churches to see if they have a kids’ running program or club. If you have older kids, they may be able to join a local running club with you.
Play running games with them. Most kids like to run, but many get bored running laps around a track or gymnasium. Games such as Capture the Flag or Sharks and Minnows are always a big hit with kids.
One game I play with my kids’ track team, is what we call, “The Bag Game.” The kids love it, and end up having so much fun, they don’t realize how much they’re running. Here’s how to play:
- This game is best played outdoors, in an open area with different landmarks or locations that the kids can run to.
- On small pieces of paper, a coach or other adult writes down the names of different landmarks in the vicinity, i.e., bleachers, soccer goal, backstop, equipment shed, long jump pit.
- Put the pieces of paper in a small bag, such as a brown paper bag or a running belt.
- One kid pulls out a piece of paper and reads the location. Then everyone runs to that location.
- Once everyone reaches the destination, a different kid picks another piece of paper. When I play with my kids’ track team, we keep going until each kid has a turn picking the destination (and even the older kids are insistent that they all get a chance to pick!).
Watch a running movie together. Spark their interest and enthusiasm in running by watching one of these inspiring running movies together.