6 Cheap Ways to Turn Couch Potato Kids Into Ninja Warriors

If your kids are stir crazy this summer, send them on an adventure with ogres, forest nymphs, and heavy rocks.

Summer is here, and for many of us, that means kids are home from school. If you’re finding it challenging to get your workouts in with little ones running around, there’s a simple solution: make your home gym more kid-friendly.

That doesn’t mean you have to go out and buy a bunch of expensive workout equipment for kids. You’ve probably heard the cliché about kids enjoying wrapping paper and boxes more than the toys inside. The same thing holds true for gym gear – it doesn’t have to be fancy. Collect these five objects to add to your gym and create fun workouts for young children.

1. Tire

A small tire is an excellent gym toy for young kids. They can flip it, push it, jump in and out of it, and even try to drag it for a real challenge. We have a small tire that weights about twenty pounds, and it’s perfect for our five-year-old daughter.

2. Punching Bag

My husband has a large muay Thai bag in our garage, but it’s a little challenging for our kids. Instead of spending a lot of money on a kids’ size bag that our children will outgrow quickly, we made a cheaper version with an old rug, duct tape, old clothes, and a trash bag. It probably cost a total of ten dollars. Teach your child a few different kinds of punching and kicking combos, turn on the Rocky soundtrack, and enjoy your workout while she enjoys hers.

3. Rocks

I love rocks. They’re free, they’re everywhere, and you can find a huge range of weights and sizes. Use smaller rocks to toss into and a bucket or circle to improve your child’s throwing skills, or use larger rocks for atlas stone carries and other strongman-style exercises.

4. Bucket

Fill a bucket with water and see how fast your child can walk without spilling any water, or put some rocks inside for a scalable carry. You can teach your child basic strength exercises like deadlifts, bicep curls, and rows with a bucket.

For another strongman-inspired exercise, teach your child to do duck walks with a bucket of water or use a large, empty bucket to perform a mini-variation of the keg toss. Challenge your child to throw the bucket as far as possible, or set up an obstacle for him or her to throw the “keg” over.

5. 2×4 (or a Log)

A 2×4 makes a great balance beam. If you have wood planks of various sizes you can put them together for a longer balancing challenge. Introduce different balancing skills like standing on one leg, walking on tiptoes, shuffling from side to side, or carrying an object while balancing. For more of a challenge, use a log instead of a beam. We also like to use logs for a mini-version of the caber toss.

6. Imagination

Your kids will enjoy playing with these objects, especially if you’re working out with them. But sometimes getting kids to move and be active takes some effort, especially when it’s hot outside. If this is the case, they’ll need a little more motivation.

Enter the imagination. Integrating the realm of fantasy and creativity into gym time will make exercise more like fun and less like drudgery. Imaginative play isn’t just fun for kids – it also plays a significant role in cognitive development. As noted in a study in Early Childhood Research and Practice:

Even if play has not yet been demonstrated to be the cause of long-term school success, the evidence is very clear that it is an integrated coexisting component of young children’s developmental progress…In sum, there is a growing body of evidence supporting the many connections between cognitive competence and high-quality pretend play. If children lack opportunities to experience such play, their long-term capacities related to metacognition, problem solving, and social cognition, as well as to academic areas such as literacy, mathematics, and science, may be diminished. These complex and multidimensional skills involving many areas of the brain are most likely to thrive in an atmosphere rich in high-quality pretend play.

So while your child is making physical gains, they’ll also be using their minds and doing what young kids do best: playing pretend. One of the most effective ways to combine physical exercise and pretend play is to give your child a mission. Tell them a story and invite them to recreate the story in their play.

The Hero’s Quest

Here’s an example of how you can use the five tools I described earlier in this article to create a fun adventure course for your young children.

The king’s golden bucket of mead has been stolen by the mischievous nymphs who live deep in the forest. You, Prince/Princess [insert name of child], have been chosen to retrieve the golden bucket and save the king from his distress. But in order to save the kingdom and the precious mead, you must follow these seven steps very carefully, and as quickly as you can.

You Will Need:

  • Punching bag
  • Ten rocks of various sizes
  • Tire
  • Chalk
  • Bucket full of water
  • 2×4 beam or log

Steps to Complete the Mission:

  1. Go to the castle of the forest nymphs. The door is guarded by a giant ogre (punching bag). To get past the ogre, you must fight him for one minute without stopping. After a minute, he will fall into a deep sleep.
  2. The ogre is not dead. He is only sleeping, and he will come after you as soon as he wakes up. Collect the boulders (ten rocks of various sizes) on the ground and pile them against his door so he cannot pursue you.
  3. You will see an enchanted onyx stone (tire) lying on the ground, right outside the ogre’s door. You must move the stone into the enchanted circle (outline of tire with chalk) in front of the nymphs’ chamber door. But the stone will not move until you jump in and out of it ten times.
  4. Once you have broken the enchantment, flip the stone across the floor until it lands in the enchanted circle. This will open the invisible door so you can sprint to the kings’ mead.
  5. Hurry! The nymphs have woken up and turned into rabid wolves. Run as fast as you can to the king’s mead (bucket full of water).
  6. Carry the mead across the bridge (2×4 or log) that goes over the lake of fire. Don’t forget, you are still being pursued by the dogs. Once you are across, toss the log and throw the dogs into the fire below.
  7. Pick up the mead and carry it to the king. You have completed your mission – congratulations!

In our family, we like to call this “hero training.” Is it a little dorky? Maybe, but only if you’re a prudish grown-up with no imagination. Our five-year-old and three-year-old accomplished the mission with great enthusiasm and ran it several times before mom and dad got tired and wanted to go inside.

What activities are you doing to keep your kids active and fit during the summer?

Photo 5 courtesy of Shutterstock.