As a runner, it’s exciting to cross the finish line of a race with my children cheering me on. But it’s even more of a thrill to stand at the tape and root for my kids as they compete in running events. Fun runs provide a unique way to introduce children to the lifelong habit of keeping active. In recent years, there’s been a boom in racing events for children, some starting as soon as a baby can crawl. Diaper dashes, toddler trots, and children’s fun runs are popping up all over the country, offering children of every age and running ability the chance to race.
Studies show that only 9 percent of Canadian kids ages five to 17 get the recommended 60 minutes of exercise each day. As parents, it’s up to us to help our children discover an eagerness for exercise, so why not sign them up for a fun run?
When Shari Moelenkamp’s daughter, Hailey, was eight years old, Shari entered Hailey in a fun run. “I can tell she feels excited to be a part of the event. She loves picking up her race packet and pinning on her number; it makes her feel important and part of a group,” says Shari.
The excitement and anticipation of running a race, the simple freedom that comes from running, along with a medal, ribbon, or T-shirt at the finish line, make fun runs for children exactly what they say: ‘fun!’
There are many ways your child can benefit from participating in a fun run:
Healthy fun. Obesity rates among children and youth in Canada have nearly tripled in the last 30 years. Exercise strengthens bones, improves heart health and controls weight, as well as reduces anxiety, stress, and improves self-esteem.
Shari says participating in fun runs improved Hailey’s self-confidence: “I can tell by the proud smile on her face when she recalls the races to family and friends.”
Carol Goodrow, author of the book Kids Running: Have Fun, Get Faster & Go Farther, encourages parents to get their child excited about running. “Running is natural for children. It allows them to set and reach goals,” says Goodrow. And that’s a major reason why Hailey enjoys running. “The best part of a fun run is that it makes me feel good to accomplish a mile; it makes me feel proud,” says Hailey.
Eye-opening fun. Many children are exposed to sports at a young age. They may start kicking the soccer ball around as a toddler. They may swing a bat and play T-ball as a preschooler. Fun runs open children’s eyes to the world of running as a sport. Whether or not they continue by joining a running team in school, the more active they are as a child, the more likely they’ll keep up with an active lifestyle as they grow up.
Simple fun. For the most part, running is an uncomplicated sport. For very young children who have not mastered basic skills such as kicking, throwing, or batting, running allows them to keep active in a simple way. Fun runs also provide an avenue for children who aren’t interested in organized sports. Running only requires a child to be able to put one foot in front of the other and, as a result, can make a child feel good about what they can accomplish.
Inexpensive fun. A pair of tennis shoes is all your child needs to enjoy running. Organizers of fun runs sometimes charge a registration fee for a race, but the fee is usually nominal.
Family fun. Running is a way for families to build healthy habits together. Parents and children alike can adopt active lifestyles by lacing up their shoes and pounding the pavement.
Jen and Tim Ziemer signed up their son, Kyle, for his first fun run when he was seven. “We signed Kyle up because Tim was doing the marathon and we thought it would be fun for them to share that experience,” says Jen. “We wanted to give him the thrill of racing and hopefully instill a love for running.” It worked! Years later, Kyle still loves to run.
As for me and my family, race days are a great bonding experience creating lasting memories. It’s especially exciting for me to witness my kids having a blast without giving a second thought that they’re exercising - they’re just having fun.
Deanne is a marathoner, cross-country coach, and a freelance writer. She enjoys writing about health, fitness, and family fun. Find out more at deannehaines.com.
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