Making Fitness Fun in After-School Programs

Making Fitness Fun in After-School Programs

Exercise is an essential part of a healthy childhood and young adult life, and after-school programs are encouraging America’s youth to get moving and build healthy lifestyle habits. While working out and exercises are crucial for a child’s well-being, it can be challenging to find activities that kids actually enjoy. After school program directors have to work extra hard to create an exciting and unique curriculum for kids.

In this article, we dissect the reasons that exercise is so critical for healthy childhood development. We also discuss different methods to make exercise fun in After School programs. Follow along to learn more, find some tips and tricks, and reach your potential as an after-school program educator.

Exercise is Essential for Children

It’s no big secret that exercise plays a vital role in children’s and adults’ lives. Everyone can benefit from a healthy and active lifestyle. However, encouraging a love for fitness and movement while kids are still young ensures a lifelong relationship with healthy lifestyle choices.

Expanded Learning Programs are a great place to jumpstart this appreciation for activity and exercise. There are many valuable benefits to regular physical activity, so kids must have movement in their after-school programs.

Benefits of Exercise in Early Childhood and Young Adulthood

Recently in the United States, there has been a cultural shift towards healthier lifestyles and eating habits. Organizations like U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provide recommendations on children’s regular physical activity. At the same time, programs like the NFL’s Play60 program and SHAPEAmerica aim to prioritize exercise and healthy lifestyle choices.

All of these pushes for access to physical education and activities for America’s youth are not in vain. Daily exercise can verifiably improve a child’s mental and physical well-being in many ways. We look at those benefits below:

  • Regular exercise improves flexibility, endurance, coordination, and agility.
  • Fitness helps students strengthen their hand-eye coordination, motor skills, and dexterity.
  • Exercise increases cognition and other learning abilities like problem-solving, communication, time management, and teamwork.
  • Fitness reduces the risks of childhood obesity, diabetes, asthma, and other chronic conditions or health issues.
  • Physical activity instills healthy eating and lifestyle habits in kids.
  • Exercise reduces stress and improves mental health issues like depression and anxiety, which are incredibly common among children and teens today.
  • After-school programs, sports teams, and other activities encourage kids to build strong relationships with their peers and promote healthy communication.

There are plenty of ways to provide ample exercise for children and teens. After-school programs, clubs, and organized sports all serve to help children lead healthier lives.

Types of After-School Activities

The United States is a hotbed for After School Programs that encourage healthy lifestyle choices. With over 18% of America’s youth participating in After School programs, there are plenty of opportunities to promote healthy activities that kids enjoy. Some popular programs around the country include:

1. AfterSchool Programs

The level of participation in after-school programs nationwide is staggering. Over 10 million children participate in these programs every year, accumulating valuable life skills throughout their time in the program.

Many after-school programs are school-sponsored and take place right on campus after classes end. On the other hand, there are also many private after-school programs often held at off-campus locations. Well-organized programs will promote healthy food options and plenty of exercise for program participants.

One great benefit of after-school programs is all the skills students learn as they take part in the program. With other students around, as well as program leaders, children gain the skills to communicate with both peers and adults, have time to work on schoolwork, and will improve on other cognitive abilities along the way.

2. The Boys and Girls Clubs of America

Another excellent option for after-school programs is the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. With nearly 5,000 clubs across every single continent globally, the Boys and Girls Clubs of America are widely available for any child.

Boys and Girls Clubs can provide a wealth of information for students and families about health, wellness, and personal development. Different Boys and Girls Club programs include:

  • Education
  • Sports and recreation
  • Health and wellness
  • The arts
  • Character and leadership
  • Workforce readiness
  • And more

Participation in any of these interesting Boys and Girls Club activities encourage kids to keep moving and maintain healthy lifestyle choices into adulthood.

3. The YMCA

Similar to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America is the YMCA. Lovingly referred to as “The Y,” the Young Men’s Christian Association is also an excellent after-school resource to promote physical activity in children and young adults. The Y has over 2,700 locations country-wide, encouraging America’s youths to stay active and live healthy lifestyles with fun fitness programs.

In Minnesota, local YMCA programs include general health and well-being classes, summer camps, swimming lessons, and so much more. Programs at the YMCA strive to incorporate fun and interactive activities that stimulate the body and mind, making America’s children healthier both physically and mentally.

4. Organized Sports

Many of America’s children also find enjoyment in organized sports. Whether they participate in team sports like lacrosse or soccer or opt for an individual sports program like tennis or swimming, students can gain immense benefits from organized sports.

Sustaining physical exertion throughout a sports game or practice helps improve endurance and overall fitness, build a strong musculoskeletal system, and promotes better communication and teamwork. Plus, organized sports participation also encourages a healthy, regular routine, which is crucial during childhood development.

Fun Fitness Ideas for After School Programs

It’s clear that kids need physical activity to lead a healthy life and make good choices in their futures. However, it’s up to parents and after-school program directors to encourage exercise in a fun way for children. Providing programs and activities that are actually enjoyable ensures that students maintain these newfound healthy habits long into adulthood.

In-Person Activities

For the most part, the majority of after-school programs and activities will take place in person. There are plenty of fun, exciting physical activities that promote valuable and healthy life skills to students while still being fun.

Incorporate any of the following activities into your after-school program so students can start to find joy in fitness and exercise:

  • Sports skills
  • Relay races
  • Capture the flag or tag
  • Dancing
  • Gymnastics
  • Rock climbing
  • And many more

After-school program directors can also utilize resources like these large group physical activities for after-school programs from Skillastics to turn physical fitness into playtime. These types of activities are excellent for after-school programs of all sizes and seamlessly integrate into online learning if necessary.

Virtual Activities Amidst the Coronavirus

Nowadays, educators and after-school programs are facing the challenges of online learning. With all the uncertainties surrounding public health and safety, some programs are moving to virtual classrooms just in case. Other schools and programs are offering a hybridized curriculum that switches from in-class learning to online.

Although getting used to online learning can be challenging for after-school programs, there are plenty of ways to keep kids engaged and motivated to move with online activities. From YouTube fitness videos and interactive workouts to virtual physical activity programs explicitly made for after-school programs, it’s easier than ever to access online resources that still manage to make exercise fun and exciting amidst Covid-19.

It’s crucial to find activities that cater to students’ unique interests and needs. That’s why after-school program resources like Skillastics offer virtual physical activities that encompass a wide variety of exercises and interests, including:

  • Yoga
  • Mindfulness
  • Martial arts
  • Basketball
  • Dancing
  • Kickboxing
  • Pilates
  • STEM academics

Now, more than ever, parents and after-school programs need to maintain children’s interests in physical activities and fitness. Without regular physical activity, kids and young adults are at risk of falling into depression or developing physical and mental health issues, so educators need to incorporate fun online after-school activities.

Keeping Kids Moving

The United States is facing an ever-growing epidemic of childhood obesity and other risks involved with this era of inactivity. In a time where technology rules and students spend more time with screens than ever before, it’s important to incorporate fun physical activities into after-school programs, ensuring that children have access to activities they enjoy is crucial to childhood development and the maintenance of healthy lifestyle habits. Whether you’re in class or online, make your after-school program fun to promote healthy choices for children.

About the Author

Sandy Slade is the CEO & Founder of Skillastics®, the #1 on-site and virtual physical activity resource for groups of children of all sizes.  The on-site programs are designed around Skillatsics Activity Kits.  These Activity kits include an innovative technique of play, executed on an oversize mat, where up to 100 children can play at one time.

The virtual programs provide students with an amazing variety of physical activity experiences that consist of 30 days of content lasting 30-40 minutes a day taught by national experts.

Skillastics® is enjoyed by over 10 million students in more than 25,000 Physical Education and After School settings nationwide.

For more information, email or check out

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