Friday, June 22, 2007

Family Challenge Course

Kids home from school and bored? A family challenge course is a great way to get everyone moving, do some team building and encourage support, all while having fun. And it’s a perfect Saturday morning activity to kick off the weekend in an active, healthy way.

First, sit down and brainstorm for ideas. Write down your list of ideas and then tailor the exercises and the order to each family member. Not everyone is going to be good at everything, and that’s the beauty of it. Each family member has an opportunity to succeed, learn and grow, while receiving encouragement from others.

So what should that list include? Aim for activities that combine cardio, strength, and flexibility. Relax, no one’s going for a ten-mile run. These are easy conditioning exercises in short bursts that everyone can do. For example, we always start and end each challenge course with a sun salutation. It’s a great way to get yourself grounded as you prepare to start, and it’s also a good stretch and reward at the end of your course. Other ideas include push-ups, sit-ups, jumping jacks and skipping rope. Again, remember to design each person’s course to suit his or her skill level. Your teenager might be able to do 50 jumping jacks, but your toddler might only be able to make it to 3. (Or is it the other way around?!) You will get a kick out of your older child rooting on your younger child to finish that third jumping jack, I promise.

You can use every day objects to make your challenge more interesting. How about setting up Mr. Potato Head at one end of the living room and making each person run to him, bend down and touch him, and then run back, say, 10 times in a row. If you really want to up the silliness quotient, add a piece to his face each time you reach him. And make sure everyone gets a big high-five when they complete their laps. You don’t have to be too serious, either. Think of the fun your kids will have watching you hula hoop, crab walk or juggle. Stack up plastic dishes and try to walk from one end of the room to the other without dropping any. Or walk with your kids’ favorite storybook on your head. Possibilities are endless. Look at your kids’ toys and the ideas will come.

Another handy fitness item you might have built into your house is a staircase. We like to do stair laps and stair steps. A lap is one time up and one time down the stairs. You can run up and walk down, or just walk. Be especially mindful that everyone is using caution, particularly little ones. Keep it safe. It’s more about endurance than speed. For stair steps, stand at the base of the stairs. Step onto the bottom stair with your left foot, then your right, then step down with your left and your right. That’s one rep. You might do ten starting on the left and then ten starting on the right. Even your littlest family member can do this. Don’t forget to switch feet.

If the weather’s nice, take it outside, set up an obstacle course on the grass, shoot some baskets, throw football passes, hit a golf ball, or whatever you like to do. Now have everyone try it while pushing a stroller. Don’t be afraid to improvise. You can impose a friendly “penalty” if someone breaks the pattern. My son and I like to go out front and play catch with a football or baseball. If one of us drops the ball after we get a good rally going, we both have to do ten jumping jacks.

Aside from the physical benefits, one of the best things about a family challenge course is that you get to cheer for each other. You don’t have to keep time or make it competitive. Some kids (and adults) do better if they don’t feel that pressure. Some thrive on competition. You know your family best, so just use your judgment. Even if you don’t keep track of time, try to make note of progress. Adjust the components to keep up with each person’s fitness level. If you try to do this challenge course once or twice a week, and you notice that your child has improved from barely able to do five push-ups to cruising through ten with ease, be sure to praise them for their accomplishment. It feels good to hear, “What a strong girl you’re getting to be!” Or, “Wow, look at how much you have improved!”

It may also surprise you to discover how good it feels to hear, “Come on, Mom, just three more push-ups! You can do it!” I think those are about the sweetest words I’ve ever heard.

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