Whether working out was at the top of your 2020 resolution list, or you’ve always loved time at the gym and you’re trying to make sure your toddler is equally as involved, there are ways to finesse fitness so that kids have fun while staying healthy.
The goal of 60 minutes of exercise per day isn’t just a mantra from the NFL; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends an hour of movement seven days a week for kids ages 6 and older – and it’s not a bad idea for parents, too.
Fit City Kids, a Lincoln Square family activity center and playspace, has your child at heart with an emphasis on fun.
“Our main theme across everything we do is that we put fun first,” says Brad Claggett, co-owner of Fit City Kids. “So every single thing that we’re creating our first question is, are the kids going to be having fun while they’re doing this? From there we are able to break it down and reverse engineer it so that we are helping the kids hit mental and physical developmental goals while infusing healthy habits with what the kids see as just plain having fun.”
Want to get your kiddos interested in fitness and living healthy active lifestyles? Here are some tips and advice offered by the Fit City Kids staff.
Young kids crave attention from their parents, so anything that the family can do together is automatically a good time! Fit City Kids has classes for parents to do just that. Parents with babies as young as 6 weeks can enjoy an interactive yoga class, while parents with children as young as 6 months can take advantage of interactive classes that focus on more advanced development and movement.
“Parents are the main source of information in most children’s lives and a lot of what they learn is through observation. Kids aren’t only picking up on what you do and how you do it, but they’re also listening to what you’re saying and even more so, what you’re not saying,” says Kim Bird, the Athletic Program Manager at Fit City Kids. “The more parents are involved in living a healthy, active lifestyle WITH their children and making conscious decisions – especially in the way they speak about themselves and others, how they move, the relationship to food, etc. – the more they can create a bond that’s fun, engaging, and something that will last a lifetime.”
Make it a game
Playing games is fun for kids and parents alike, but it’s also an excellent opportunity for kids to learn, reinforce, and absorb new ideas and knowledge while enjoying the experience. That’s why math games with Cookie Monster help kids learn to count and add, and why associating words and rhyming with singing help kids retain information.
At Fit City Kids, those same concepts are applied in exercising. By making it a game, whether it’s tag or catching a Frisbee, kids learn exercise skills and performance skills simultaneously. Most importantly, they are learning that being active and having fun go hand-in-hand.
“To make moving your body fun for kids, it’s important to connect with them where they’re at, understand their likes and dislikes, and give them space to express themselves,” Bird says. “Kids just want to be seen and heard, so if a kid’s idol is Superman, then we think how can we involve Superman into an exercise or game? How can we tell a story to get them excited? They connect to those passions and in turn can use that to relate it to what they’re doing in that moment.”
Give them variety
In an age of sports specialization – picking one sport at a young age and sticking with it through high school – kids can get burned out easily, without ever having the chance to experience or choose a sport or activity that they are truly passionate about.
“It’s really important to expose kids to a variety of ways to move their body and for them to know you don’t have to be an athlete to lift weights or join a fitness class,” Bird says. “You can lift weights, but you can also dance, take yoga, learn self-defense and really expand your interests in how the body moves. There’s no one way to go on a fitness journey. In fact, it’s important to continue to challenge yourself and try new things, to be a beginner and a lifelong learner, always. This is how we’re able to find what we love and what we’re passionate about.”
Finding local classes in everything from dance to yoga to weight training and basketball – even a sports sampler option at Fit City Kids for ages 5 to 12 – keeps young minds working.
“We saw the lack of variety in the specialized classes that are hyper focused on one activity, Claggett says. “So not only do we want to have variety throughout the types of classes that we offer, but within our curriculum, each class is going to have a ton of variety as well. We want to keep things moving so the kids never become bored with a class. Not everyone knows at 4 or 5 that they want to be an all-star in a specific sport, so if you can introduce them to a variety of options, they can explore and figure out on their own what their passions truly are.”
Let them loose
In addition to classes and workout spaces, Fit City Kids is home to a 5,000-square-foot Play Zone and even a play area for crawlers.
Finding indoor playspaces in the winter gives parents a place to make sure their littles can burn off some energy and get that much needed exercise in a way that allows them to dictate their own experiences.
“Smiling kids are at the top of our list,” says Russell Swickheimer, co-owner of Fit City Kids and a parent to two early elementary-aged kids. “The last thing any parent wants is to take their kids to an activity that’s supposed to be fun and social, only to find that it’s like pulling teeth to get them to participate and have fun with the group. Being active is important, but what’s most important to us as parents, and ultimately for the children, is that our kids are smiling, willing participants.”
Set and reward goals
Setting goals in exercise and sports challenges young athletes and keeps fitness fun. Sometimes it’s worth the free T-shirt for an 8-year-old to run their first 5K or for a 5-year-old to earn praise for hitting six free throws in a row.
“Celebrating those small successes, a high five goes a long way, a sticker goes a long way,” says Kari Podany, director of programming and operations at Fit City Kids. “Acknowledging those successes and letting them know that we see them and want them to be there is huge.”
Parents can help by setting family goals and communicating with coaches and teachers about what the individual plans of action are.
Goal setting doesn’t have to be a competition between siblings, but rather a way to foster a self-starter mentality.
“There are several types of challenges: there are external challenges, when a coach or a parent challenges their children to achieve, and there’s internal, or personal challenges when kids set their own goals and challenge themselves.” Swickheimer says. “It is amazing to watch kids become self-starting, self-challenging individuals who are driven to improve and achieve, whether it’s in sports or any other aspect of their lives.”
Find the right coach
Look for coaches who take time to get to know and work with each individual athlete. Connection is what builds trust and that goes a long way in motivating kids to always try their best, making them want to come back time and time again.
“We want the coaches to build an incredible relationship with the kids, the parents and the community itself,” says Jessica Lynch, sports programming manager at Fit City Kids. “We are very confident in the coaches that we have coming to all of these classes.”
Coaches who create bonds, earn the trust of their athletes and in turn get the best effort out of them.
“The early classes simply teach them to listen, react, follow directions, and to participate. It teaches them to be coachable,” Swickheimer says. “Coachable in sports and in life. The next challenge for our youngest athletes is autonomy! It’s a huge milestone for kids when they make the leap from a parent-tot class, to walking in the door by themselves to sit in a circle with the rest of the kids.”
Create a fun atmosphere
Imaginative colors, fun pictures and bright lights create a welcoming atmosphere for children – and that’s just what they get at Fit City Kids.
“Right off the bat, we wanted to create an atmosphere that was welcoming and inspiring. Down to the color choices and the facility layout, we wanted something that screamed FUN, had high energy, and flooded our community with positive messages. The coaches embody all of that in their own special way,” Bird says. “We want you to come in feeling safe to let loose and express yourself. After all, life is about thriving and you can’t thrive without having some fun.”
Pumping positive and uplifting music when kids are working out – whether it’s biking in the backyard or shooting hoops in the driveway – adds to their desire to want to keep up their new routines. Atmosphere, however, doesn’t stop at aesthetics. Atmosphere is culture, it’s routine, and it’s creating a welcoming and comforting space for the kids to learn and grow. This can be created by simple things like bringing along a Bluetooth speaker on a neighborhood walk, to getting them to a place like Fit City Kids on a consistent basis.