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All Kids Need an Active Start
Help your child meet new, national activity guidelines with these fun games that you can do together.

How can you help your child meet the new "60 minutes a day" activity recommendation, issued last year by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education?

Good, old-fashioned play is one obvious way. But there are also things you can do with your child—fun games and activities that may take only a few minutes at a time, but that contribute to the 60-minute total. Equally important, they put you into the equation. "Many parents just let their kids run around or take them to a playground and sit there and watch them," says Dr. Stephen J. Virgilio, a co-author of the Active Start guidelines. "That's fine, but there are also times the parent should get involved in the activities, to help show leadership and support."

So here are some fun fitness activities parents and kids can do together. They're geared for ages 2-6 and can be done anywhere and by anybody. Duration should be no longer than 5-8 minutes (make sure you take breaks, and keep the kids well-hydrated). "Don't stress scores or competition," Virgilio says. "Keep it simple and fun, with few rules."

Snake In the Grass:
One player holds a jump rope, the other is the chaser. The child holding the jump rope must jog around the backyard while wiggling the rope as if it was a snake writhing through the grass. The second player must chase that snake until he catches it. Then, reverse roles. The goal? Simple: run and fun.

Body Language
Pop in a CD and crank it up: Encourage your child to move to the beat, and then stop the music periodically, a la "musical chairs." Except here, when the music stops, pose these questions to your child, and then let him or her answer physically—with body language.

"How would you walk around as if it were a sunny day?" (Let them act this out for about 15 seconds to the music, then stop the music again, to ask...)

"How would you walk around as if it were a rainy day?"

"How would you move around if you were sad... if you were happy? If you were mad…or surprised?"

"Let's sit down and make yourself as small as you can...Now, get as lonnggg as you can."…

The entire activity should take about 6-8 minutes, including the stops in the music. "This is a fun, expressive way to get kids moving," says Dr. Virgilio.

Zoo Wild
Together with your child, find pictures of zoo animals; elephants, monkeys, tigers, kangaroos... snakes! Print or cut them out. Then place the pictures in a paper bag. Now ask your child to select an animal (no peeking!) and act out the animal's movements for 10-15 seconds. Work your way through the zoo, rumbling, hopping, jumping, slithering. Trying to imitate the animals will teach your child about various types of movement, and will also allow them an opportunity for creative expression. Remember: Roaring, growling, hissing and hooting is encouraged!

Backyard Bubbles
As the name suggests, this involves bubbles—produced by either blowing through the little plastic wand found in a store-bought-jar variety, or an electric bubble blower. The game has four phases:

1. The first goal is to see how many bubbles the child can burst before they touch the ground. (You blow 'em; they go running off in pursuit).

2. Now ask your child to see how many bubbles he or she can catch before they hit the ground.

3. Have them burst the bubbles again, but this time without using their hands. Instead, they have to use their nose, forehead, elbow or legs.

4. Finally, using a standard bath towel, the child grasps one end and you the other. Together, try to catch as many bubbles as possible.

Backyard Bubbles promotes body awareness as well as so-called "tracking" skills—the visual and coordination skills valuable in many sports and activities.

Article by John Hanc, fitness writer for Newsday in New York and author of five books on fitness-related topics, with Dr. Stephen J. Virgilio, youth fitness expert and professor at Adelphi University in Garden Ctiy, New York.
Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell Ph.D. Professor of Pediatrics in Child Development and Education