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You could just go down the park and have a kickaround. Or you could do something more inventive. With a little bit of planning, you can get the kids exercising while also doing something that’ll create long-standing happy memories. It’s time for Imaginative Fitness!
This one takes a bit of invention and planning, you’ll end up with a trip to the park you’ll never forget. All you have to do is choose one of your kids’ favourite films, then plan out some games on that theme. Encourage them to dress up, or bring along props, then everyone gets stuck into the games. So, let’s say your kids are really into Star Wars. You could set things out like this:
Master The Force: As a warm up, pretend you’re Yoda (and, yes, you can do the voice). More than that, you’re a yoga Yoda. Get the kids to close their eyes, then instruct them to do a series of yoga-like stretches and balances. They must ‘use the Force’ to hold the positions.
Attack The Death Star: The kids pretend they’re rebel pilots approaching the death star. To blow the thing up, they have to kick a football between two posts (or jumpers) placed just two ball-widths apart. If they succeed, increase the distance the ball must travel.
Speeder Bike Race: Kids must race around the park, tagging 10 trees as they pretend to speed through the forest moon of Endor. First one back wins.
Attack Of The Rancor: Recreate the scene from Return of the Jedi, where Luke is trapped in the Rancor dungeon. Only, you’re the Rancor beast whom the kids have to tackle. Obviously, you don’t want them hitting and kicking and you certainly don’t want to end up trapped beneath a portcullis. So to defeat you, they have to grab something that’s lightly attached to your back (for example, a velcro ball, or a toy tucked into your belt). They have to get the object from you without you touching them, so teamwork will be required.
Lightsaber Duel: For a thrilling conclusion, get the kids to battle it out with toy lightsabers (or padded sticks if you don’t have them). Alternatively, you could play the role of Darth Vader/Maul or Kylo Ren, and they have to join forces to defeat you.
Those are just five ideas; you can no doubt think of others for Star Wars and other films. Marvel superheroes would be another good one. You could invent games of strength for the Hulk, precision throwing for Hawkeye, acrobatics for Black Widow, frisbee games for Captain America, or agility for Spiderman.
On a similar theme, set out a mini-Olympics at which your kids pretend to be favourite characters. The events themselves should be standard athletic pursuits like long jump, 100 metres, cycling and discus (frisbee). But for each event, they have to choose a well known character to portray. For example, child 1 could be She-Ra, while child 2 might be Rubble from Paw Patrol. They then have to do each event in character, or perhaps change character between events to best match the sport. Elastigirl from The Incredibles might be one to choose for the long jump, for example, while they might impersonate Lightning McQueen in a speed race. Giving kids the scope for creativity will keep them more engaged with the activity, and they’ll get more exercise.
Here’s a fiendish one. It couples the traditional game of hopscotch with an element of daring. To set up, chalk a traditional hopscotch board on the floor. Next, you need a selection of small plastic bottles or containers. Now, write a series of 10 dares or forfeits onto bits of paper. Tailor them to your kids. So, for example, you might write “Find and pick up an insect or spider”, or “You must not talk for 5 minutes”, or “Eat a slice of cucumber” (substituting for whatever food your kids dislike). Place the forfeits in the bottles, and put the bottles onto the hopscotch squares. Kids then take it in turns to try and hop their way across the grid without knocking over any bottles. If they do so, they have to take the forfeit. You could start by placing the bottles on the outsides of the squares, and progressively move them closer to the centres to make the challenge harder.
Combine exercise and education by setting older kids a map-reading challenge. There are tons of games you can try. The simplest is to nominate an unfamiliar location some distance from your home, then get the kids to lead you there by following the map. Start with easy targets, that only require a few side turns, then progress to more challenging objectives. Alternatively, you could play an alphabet game, where you have to follow roads in alphabetical order and see how far you can get. Or plan out a route that connects every street in your area named after a type of tree (and see if they contain that tree). What’s the furthest you can walk from home without crossing any roads? Navigate your way to the most northerly, southerly, easterly and westerly points in your town. Conversely, find the geometric centre of your town by cutting out a map, pasting it on to card and finding its balance point.
Other Outdoor Games And Exercise
Most of the activities outlined above require a little bit of planning and imagination. Sometimes, we just want to get out and play as quickly as possible, without all the pre-planning. If that’s you, then take a look at some of our earlier guides to outdoor play.
Although originally from the Midlands, and trained as a biochemist, Matt has somehow found himself writing about London for a living. He's a former editor and long-time contributor to Londonist.com and has written several books about the capital. He's also the father of two preschoolers.