Keeping Kids Active While at Home During COVID-19

Kim Hurley physical educationPart of a continuing series where College of Education faculty share their their perspectives. Kim Hurley is an associate professor in physical education and kinesiology at the University of Northern Iowa. 

Movement is good. That’s one piece of advice from Kim Hurley as parents and family members everywhere seek to make time at home during the COVID-19 pandemic as beneficial as possible. 

“Strong research evidence supports children's movement amount and quality as a solid contributor to academic, social and emotional success as well as health outcomes,” says Hurley. “Motor skill competencies are facilitated through instruction and opportunity from pre-kindergarten through higher grade levels to help children develop and maintain active lifestyles into adulthood.” 

Elementary physical education is typically provided once or twice each week. With school building closures, Hurley recommends parents do their best to meet or beat that level of activity. That’s possible, she adds, by integrating movement within home-based activity. She shared her perspective: 

What can you do to bring healthy activity into your child's day while they're at home? 

Scheduling is key. Schedule 10 to 15 minutes of short activity or play time throughout  your child’s day, including for older children. You can extend that to 30 or 40 minutes if you can combine with an activity like dog walking or bike riding outdoors. 

While getting outdoors is always awesome this time of year, loosely structured or chore-based activities indoors add to step accumulation which can be effective.

What activities can both kids and parents do?

First, remember you are setting an example. Children who have parents who are active or support their child’s activities are more likely to be active throughout their lives, Hurley says. She suggests: 

  • Find a workout video online. Stay developmentally appropriate, so look for age-level activity videos. Again, if parents engage with their children, children will be more likely to engage in and complete the activity.
  • Watch sport reruns (championship matches/games, etc.), then schedule time to engage in that activity (basketball, baseball, tennis--all can be modified for front/back yard or driveway). Don’t have the equipment? Improvise! Balloons with paper plates can serve as a tennis racket, or balled up socks can become a ball. 
  • Integrate chores when appropriate and possible. Developing fine motor skills by using your hands is as important as gross motor skills by moving your body. For example:
    • Yard work (raking, mowing, seeding, planting)
    • Organizing 
    • Sock drawers: empty out, separate socks and have kids match into balls, shoot into laundry baskets, then place back into drawers;
    • Kitchen cabinets: matching containers with tops, placing sizes of pots/pans/containers into cabinets appropriately; 
    • Hardware work area: matching and stacking containers, placing similar tools (screwdrivers, hammers, etc.) in order by size; 
    • Cleaning (sweeping outdoors or indoors, vacuuming, washing and drying dishes by hand);
    • Cooking (measuring, stirring, pouring). 
  • Integrate reading literacy with physical literacy. Let your child choose books to read and act out, which can be powerful. 
  • Dance. 

“Dance is one of the most underrated and underappreciated activities,” Hurley says. “There are lots of fun dances for follow-along steps or creative dance. You can help your child move to a rhythmic beat of four to eight counts and encourage them to move different body parts, move in different directions, move with different muscle/body tension. Use scarves or balloons or other play materials, record with video and share with family and friends!”  

What's important to keep in mind as kids engage in physical activity while at home? 

Keep the concept of play in mind, especially for younger children. Activity does not always need to be structured to provide overall wellness benefits.

If possible, encourage body awareness. For example, work different parts of the body each day, questioning your child about his or her body in motion:

  • "Can you feel your heart rate faster/slower?" 
  • "Point to the muscles you feel that you are using" - 
  • "Where do you feel the stretch? 
  • With older children, ask about specific muscles (use web-resources to identify muscles/muscle groups)

Keep the activity enjoyable. As parents, you can help with a positive attitude toward the task or activity. 

Hurley says small incentives are okay, but avoid offering external rewards too often. Enjoyment is internally generated. Overall, try to provide novel, new movement opportunities for your child whenever possible. 


GO Noodle 
Keeping Kids in Motion 
Cosmic Kids Yoga (YouTube - story-based yoga)
SWORKIT (specific kids-based workouts) -- free app, requires registration