I’ve often said if we ever had kids I’d be super excited to run with them. I’m amazed each time I see them crushing a 5K and having the time of their lives. It made me wonder what can parents do to help cultivate the love of running without pushing too far. Are there running games for kids that might help?
So I reached out to someone who seems to be doing it right, Katie of Runs for Cookies! She’s here today with her top tips to get kids running and having fun doing it!
My kids (Noah, 10, and Eli, 8) have seen me run in races for many years. Initially I really wanted to get them interested, but they just didn’t want anything to do with it. I waited patiently and developed some techniques which suddenly made running more exciting and fun to them.
Whenever I would bring home a new medal from a race, they would ask me about how they could get one. And that was one of my tools for starting to plant the seeds of why running was fun…rewards!
Here are a few of the things that worked for getting my kids excited about running without pushing them.
Running Games for Kids
I’ve taken my kids to the State Park to run/walk on the trails, and I assigned points to different items they might spot along the way. For example:
- spotting a squirrel might be worth 20 points
- seeing a deer was worth 50
- catching a leaf as it was falling was worth 100
The boys had a blast, and didn’t even realize that we ran/walked over 3 miles. This could also be done as an “eye spy” game by heading out to a local trail or even around the neighborhood!
Last to First
Another way to make it fun, if you have three or more kids, would be a “leap frog” type of running game.
- kids line up single file for a run (a track works well for this)
- the person at the end of the line has to pass the others and make his/her way to the front of the line
- the new person in the rear has to do the same… and so on.
That’s actually a great way to do some speed work, because of the short sprint to get to the front of the line! But never once have you talked about repeats or getting faster and yet you’ve managed to incorporate a running drill for kids!Running is often a team punishment, use these tips from @runsforcookies to help your kids love it #runchat Click To Tweet
Getting Kids Interested in Running
Remove the Pace Pressure
As adults, we know that running is much more enjoyable at a slow, relaxed pace; kids, on the other hand, only know one speed: sprint.
Kids really have no idea what “pacing themselves” means, so when you tell them to run, they’ll run top speed for a short distance and then burn out.
- try running with them at a slow pace
- teach them that the majority of their runs should be at a pace where they can have a conversation
- If it’s too hard to talk, then they’re running too fast
Useful if they’ve decided they want to run your next 5k or 10k with you! Most kids can indeed handle these distances without injury, so the main issue is helping them get to the end because of that often insane out of the gate energy burst.
Dangle Running Only Goodies
For example, when Eli saw that I bought Gu and Shot Bloks, he really wanted some. I told him no, that they were just for when I run; but if he wanted to run, then he could use them, too. Not even 10 seconds later, he had his shoes on and was ready to run out the door!
When Noah joined cross country this year, I let him wear my Garmin Forerunner to one of his invitationals. He thought he was the coolest kid there, sporting a fancy GPS watch!
Something that really surprised me was how much my kids wanted to use my treadmill. Lots of us call the treadmill a “dreadmill”; but to a child, it’s a big toy. My kids thought it was SO fun to be able to run on the treadmill. Things like the Garmin, Gu, and treadmill seem like silly incentives to us, but if they motivate kids to go for a run, great!Don’t forget to pick races that allow for even more fun. Like costumes or color runs!
Set Fun Goals
Getting kids to try running is the easy part, but getting them to stick to it is much harder. I think the best way to do that is to sign them up for a race (beginners can start with a short fun-run, then work their way up to a 5K).
Even if they end up walking a lot of it, they will get to experience the competition and the excitement of race day. Kids are naturally very competitive, and it will light a fire under them to get better for the next race!
Noah is in fifth grade, and the only sport available to that grade in his school is cross country. I told him I was going to sign him up, because it was only six weeks long, and if he didn’t like it, he’d never have to do it again. (But he did have to complete the full six weeks.)
He was really nervous to go to practice that first day, but he did it—and he really enjoyed it. He was the slowest one on the team, starting at a 14:00/mile pace, but he didn’t let that phase him.
Just eight weeks after starting cross country, we did a 5K, and he ran the entire race at a 9:50 pace! Eli also ran the 5K, with a goal to run the entire distance, and he did it—finishing in 36:24.
Praise the Effort
When kids do run, make sure you praise them up for it, regardless of their speed, or whether they took walk breaks, etc. All it takes is one discouraging comment from a parent to make them not want to run anymore.
I was just as proud of Noah for his 14:00 mile as I was for his fastest, a 9:13 mile, and I made sure he felt it.
I also told Noah that if he tried his best during cross country, I would take him to the running store to buy a special pair of shoes that are just for running. That reward worked really well for him! Eli, on the other hand, just wanted to get an ice cream after his 5K ;)
Hopefully this gives you some ideas that will be useful in getting your kids excited about running. It may take a while (it took my kids a few years to really get interested), but as runners, we all know how addicting it is once you get started!
Katie Foster is a stay-at-home mom and blogger, who lost over 100 pounds through diet and exercise. She runs to eat her favorite foods, particularly dessert, and still maintain the weight loss. She blogs at Runs for Cookies about weight, running, family, her cats, and just about anything else going on in her life.
Do you run with your kids?
Anything you found that worked or didn’t?
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