Spring and summer are a mom's best excuse to forget about housework and go play outdoor games with the kids. Never one to pass up an opportunity to enhance my son's life, I try to play outdoor games that touch on all aspects of fitness. My son and I play fun games that work on cardiorespiratory and muscular endurance. With simple toys we also work on flexibility, strength and balance. The best outdoor games for kids involve imagination, energy and very little (if any) money.
Hula hoop - What kid doesn't want to play with a hula hoop? This simple toy provides more than fun; it's good for you, too.
* For toddlers - Kids as young as two and three can use a hula hoop while sitting. Have your child sit down with legs out in front of them. Help your child sit up straight to emphasize good posture. The child can lift the hula hoop up above her head, stretching arms up. Then your child can fold her body forward, placing the hula hoop in front of her, stretching the lower back, arms, and shoulders.
* For ages four and five - Help kids improve their balance and agility by setting up a hula hoop obstacle course. "Kids this age are learning to hop, skip, and jump forward, and are eager to show off how they can balance on one foot (for 5 seconds or longer)," according to The Nemours Foundation. Place three to five hula hoops in the yard and have the child skip, jump, or run through them.
Balance beam - Balance and coordination are important skills for kids. "Children develop in physical capability and acquire a perception toward themselves as physical beings. They may come to cherish and enhance themselves physically and integrate their physicality in to their total being," according to author Robert S. Griffin. A sidewalk, a short retaining wall, or a large fallen tree all offer the challenge of a balance beam.
My son loves to walk along an old, disconnected telephone pole. He will balance each step as he walks and if he falls off, he starts over. He won't quit until he can make it all the way without falling. He has a lot of determination for age six, and it's important to him to master this balancing skill.
Chalk - Chalk can be used in place of a physical balance beam. You can draw a line for smaller kids, that's straight or with corners and curves for them to follow, putting one foot in front of the other. For kids eight and up, try a hexagon, with numbered or lettered sides. You can instruct your child to hop or jump from one side or the other, or from the middle and out, to improve agility and whole body coordination.
Balls - Playing with balls begins at a young age. For young toddlers, use large, soft balls including volley balls. Dodge balls are great for older kids, who will be able to run after the balls. Save smaller balls including baseballs for older kids.
* Toddler - A simple game of rolling the ball with a toddler will teach hand-eye coordination.
* Ages four to five - Play toss with a ball and a spin. Toss the ball to your child, telling him to spin when you release the ball and then catch it. This helps kids with their balance and the skill of catching.
* Ages four to six - You need a bouncy ball and a hard, paved surface outdoors, preferably away from any roads or driveways. Have your child bounce the ball as hard as he can. Then your child tries to catch the ball. This works on coordination and catching skills.
Tag - It may seem like a silly or pointless game to adults, who can grow bored of this game. For kids, it's not only fun to play, it's great cardiovascular exercise. Any game that encourages kids to run or builds their cardiovascular endurance is one that will keep them healthy.
* Other games for cardiovascular health that can be played with one friend or a willing adult include three-person kickball, sprint races, Frisbee baseball, or multiple-person catch.
"Fitness and Your 4- to 5-year old," Kidshealth, The Nemours Foundation
"Children and Sports," Mayo Clinic
"Sports in the Lives of Children and Adolescents: Success in the Field and in Life," Robert S. Griffin, Praeger Publishers, 1998
Mayo Clinic Staff, "Yoga for kids: A good idea?" Mayo Clinic