articles and blog


It's something we all know is important. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that "children and adolescents should do 60 minutes or more of physical activity per day." Oh boy, sometimes that's easy, especially when the weather outside is nice. But let's face it, when it's cold outside, sometimes it's pretty tough to hit that guideline.

According to kids who are active will:

  • have stronger muscles and bones
  • have a leaner body because exercise helps control body fat
  • be less likely to become overweight
  • decrease the risk of developing type 2 diabetes
  • possibly lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels
  • have a better outlook on life

For us adults, it can be hard to look beyond what we typically think of in terms of exercise (hopping on the treadmill, popping a few push-ups, lifting a couple of hand weights, etc.) to make exercising fun for kids. 

A few weeks ago, I visited with Andrew Mantzaris, a Physical Education Teacher with Westside Community Schools in Omaha, Nebraska, to talk about exercise for kids. It's funny, for all the years that I've had kids in school, it had never occurred to me to actually talk to a professional who day after day works with kids of all fitness levels for advice. Our meeting was supposed to be short, but the more I talked to Andrew and his approach to fitness, the longer our meeting went. 

Have you ever talked to your child's Physical Education teacher? It was truly inspiring. Andrew had stacks and stacks of notecards with different activities for his classes. He had motivating ways to get the kids (all of them) involved. In fact, we talked at length about about a lesson he was going to be working on in the next couple of weeks for the 3rd - 6th graders to play "sit down" volleyball in an effort to get the physically disabled students more involved and to level the playing field for all students.

Our discussion focused primarily on instant activities or "energy bursts" that you can do with a group of kids or just one. The thought being to do something that gets kids moving because some exercise is better than no exercise at all. The activities can be repeated throughout the day such as doing it at the top of the hour for just a few minutes.  And, who knows, if the kids have enough fun with it, it may become part of their play with a sibling or friend!

As I walked home from our meeting, I felt uplifted and energized. Here was a fresh out of college teacher (and from what my 2nd grader tells me, the best teacher ever) who was spirited, able to relate to the kids, and really wanted to see all his students succeed and use their bodies to improve their minds. My meeting and the ideas and games he shared were well worth consulting a "Pro"!

Below are some quick exercise games that are either from Andrew or based on some of his ideas to get your kids moving (and maybe you, too!).

Exercise Index Cards

For all games, make a list of exercises such as jumping jacks, wacky jacks, push-ups, sit-ups, crab walk, squat jumps, alternate toe touches, flutter kicks, marching, leg lifts, arm circles, sit and reach, stand-up/sit-down (using a chair), overhead reaches, high knees, etc. Also write the exercises on individual index cards. Create number cards using index cards with one number ranging from 2-15 on each card. If your child is older or has a higher-level ability, the cards can have higher numbers.

And we've made it easy for you! We've created printables of the exercises and numbered cards for you to cut out and use at home with your kids. 

Minute to Win It


  • Exercise index cards
  • Pair of dice or number cards


Have child select two or more exercise cards (depending on age and ability). Then roll the dice or select a number card to determine how many of each exercise they must perform.

At "GO!" participant has one minute to complete the reps for each exercise.

If they are unable to complete the exercise(s) in one minute, they must select two (or more) exercises and a number card and complete those in a minute. Repeat until they've hit the goal.

For groups of children, start with one participant, and if they cannot complete their challenge, the rest of the group must do the next round of exercise with the original participant. You'll find that the dynamic of doing this with a group creates a lot of cheering on and motivates the child to work hard to complete the goal.

Deal or No Deal


  • Exercise cards
  • Number cards
  • Quiz cards with questions of any kind (math, science, history, etc.) appropriate to age group (or skip the cards and make up any question to ask your child!)


Ask the child if they want a deal or no deal. 

No deal = Child selects an exercise and number card and performs that number of specific exercises.

Deal = Ask a question from the quiz cards. If they get it right, they only have to do 3 jumping jacks (or other exercise.) If they get the question wrong, they select an exercise and number card and perform that number of specific exercises. 

For Groups

Select one person to decide if there will be a deal or no deal and answer the question. Then, let the child lead the rest of the group in the exercise.

Change it up!

Make the questions about something specific they are learning or did for homework. This will motivate them to remember what they are learning if it means by getting it right they only need to do a couple reps of the exercise.

Challenge (2 or more people)


  • Exercise index cards
  • Number index cards


One number card is drawn (kids can decide who does this with rock, paper, scissors or agree to trade off with each round.) Each child picks an exercise card and exchanges it with their teammate.

At "GO!" the kids start their exercises. Who ever completes their exercise first, wins the round. 

Do this 3 or 5 times to determine the "ultimate" winner.

52 Card Pick-Up


  • List of 12 or more exercises with a heart, spade, diamond or club next to each exercise
  • Deck of playing cards
  • Bucket, bowl or bag


Place cards face down scattered around the floor.
At "GO!" child picks up cards and places them in the bowl/bucket/bag.
At "STOP!" the child grabs 3 cards from the floor and compares the suit to the exercise list and selects one of the exercises that is associated with the suit of each card. Then using the number on the playing card, performs that many of the exercise chosen.

Change it up!

Skip the scattering of the cards and have the child pick 3-5 playing cards that you hold in a a fan in your hands. 

Mollie Protzman


Mollie is an Omaha native and a mom of two boys ages 13 and 8. She's been married for 20 years and spent most of those first 10 years living in various cities around the country. Before kids, she was in marketing communications and public relations and then stayed home with her boys for 11 years while doing freelance writing on the side. The day after her youngest one went to kindergarten, she just about went berserk with the quiet in the house and nothing constructiv ...

Learn more about this author

Categories: development, health-notes,