This is the time of year when kids in grades 4 and up would typically be participating in their school’s annual track and field meet. Once again, though, they won’t be spending an entire glorious day running around at the local stadium with colourful place ribbons pinned to their t-shirts.
Luckily, there are still ways to capture a bit of that track and field spirit and enjoy some outdoor time with your kids. You don’t need a megaphone or a starter’s pistol – just some creativity and enthusiasm!
Short, top-speed races are the prime-time events of track and field. To help kids re-discover running during the pandemic, Olympic sprinter Andre De Grasse has launched a free initiative called the Race With Me Virtual Challenge. Kids and families can register online and practice running 400 metres at a time, sharing their progress and photos on social media.
It doesn’t have to be highly structured, however. A burst of speed is welcome anytime: out on the sidewalk, with the family dog, or at the playground. More than ever, kids need to unplug and find a healthy outlet for their pent-up energy. Find a wide open space (like a park, soccer field or schoolyard) and let them run free. Or, grab the whole family and make it into a relay – competitive or cooperative, depending on your crew.
There’s also a place for stamina and endurance, in long-distance events like the 800 or 1500 metre. If this is more your child’s speed, keep things simple at first. Use a GPS watch or other wearable technology to measure the distance (or time) your child can run at a moderate pace, without stopping. Next time, challenge them to do a little bit more, and write the results on a calendar or chart. Above all, respect the fact that everyone has their own personal “starting line,” and even small add-ons are meaningful.
Of course, the track events are only part of the story – some kids excel in field events, which showcase strength and power. Don’t worry: the throwing component doesn’t require a javelin or shot put. Round up whatever equipment you have lying around – such as a softball, football, or Frisbee – and head out to a field to fling it around. Use a pylon or other object to mark the farthest throw, and see if they can improve on it.
You can also test your accuracy with popular backyard games like ring toss, ladder ball, horseshoes, or “cornhole” (the target game played with beanbags).
Ever volunteer to help at the school track meet and get assigned to the long jump pit? Thankfully, there’s no raking needed here. Instead, challenge your kids to create a chalk hopscotch game or build an obstacle course with small hurdles to leap over.
Skipping is also a great workout, and ties in with another well-known school tradition: Jump Rope for Heart. Find out if your school is participating virtually, or join up with their National Jump Team.
Track and Field Tips
No matter what activity you choose, here are a few friendly reminders:
- Wear proper athletic footwear and clothing – essentially, whatever your kids would wear for Phys. Ed. class. For safety reasons, avoid sandals and flip-flops.
- Be diligent about sun protection, including sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses.
- Hydrate! Everyone should bring along a water bottle.
- If possible, choose cool, cloudy conditions, to avoid overheating.
- Seek out safe running routes with minimal traffic, such as sidewalks, paved paths, high school tracks, or well-maintained nature trails.
- Bring on the technology. Kids will enjoy recording time and distance data on a stopwatch, GPS, activity tracker, or smartphone app. Also, be sure to take pictures and videos of them in action!
Hopefully, you can make a fun day of it, and who knows? Your makeshift mini track meet could help your kids connect (or re-connect) with something they enjoy. At the very least, it will be a much-needed escape from online school and other forms of screen time. Just getting out there and doing something active is worthy of a red ribbon. So, what are you waiting for? On your mark, get set, go!