Kids Running: The How, When And Why

Kids Running: The How, When And Why

If your child comes home and expresses interest in running, what do you do? The kids running movement is an epic opportunity to help children open their eyes to the joy of movement. Let’s face it, children are made to move!

The key to helping foster an incredible opportunity for your child is to remember that running for kids is, and should be, different than running for adults. Even if your child comes home begging to sign up for a local 5K, if you simply download a training plan you may be setting your son or daughter up for failure.

However, if you play your cards right you might just nurture your child into someone who loves running. And what could possibly be better than your own little running mini-me?

Is It Okay For a Child To Run a 5k?

You bet it is okay for a child to do a 5K! However, you need to understand that your child may not run a 5K. Adults tend to figure out how to pace themselves properly to run the entire 5K distance.

Kids, on the other hand, are more likely to jackrabbit run followed by a walking break. Then another jackrabbit run followed by another walk break. You guessed it. Many kids will continue to do that over and over (and over and over).

Sure, you can try to get your child to understand pace and holding back so you don’t burn yourself out in the first 100 yards, but that’s a tough lesson for a youngster to learn. Plus, if you spend too much time coaching and correcting your child it very well may pull every ounce of joy out of it.

What Is a Good Age For a Child to Start Running?

Most child running programs are in agreement regarding what age kids can start running in preparation for road races. Somewhere between 8-10 years old, most children are able to train for and complete a race like a 5K.

Programs such as Kids Run the Nation, Girls on the Run and other groups tend to start somewhere around third grade.

Ronda Landis Bernath states that her six-year-old has taken an interest in running. Since he is so young and unable to run very far, he often starts or ends mom’s run with her. Other times he bikes alongside her. She says the best part is he typically talks the whole time which keeps her mind engaged and makes time fly by!

Is it Healthy For Kids to Run?

As long as they are being taught a healthy attitude about their bodies and running, it is perfectly healthy for children to run. The thing about child running is that they need balance. Luckily there are many, many ways to create balance regarding kids and running.

Some parents use incentives to motivate, coaches play running games, physical education teachers use tokens in exchange for laps, and some kids are motivated by a cool race on the calendar. Whatever tactics you use the key seems to be finding a way to keep the child engaged and interested.

Coaching Youth Runners

When coaching young people to achieve a particular distance it is important to keep some things in mind. First of all, start small. While an adult may set out to run/walk 30 minutes on day one of a C25K program, with a child you should think even smaller.

A youth running group will often start with half a mile or one mile on day one of training, and repeat that distance the next time they meet. It is not uncommon for a kids’ running program to increase distance by only half mile a week.

Set out a clear training plan so the kids can see what is coming up next. In addition to running, teach kids how to warm up properly. Use correct terms such as dynamic warm-up. Model cooling down and stretching post-run. Include games in your practices so the kids stay engaged.

Most of all, remember they are children. Sure, an adult may be able to self motivate through 10 weeks of training. Kids, on the other hand, may need more finessing.

When coaching kids it is fascinating how far a popsicle will go toward motivating!

Tips From a Mom!

Photo credit: Zoe Hill

Zoe Hill of West Reading, Pennsylvania could see her son Hawthorne had an interest in running and was not sure how to nurture it. She realized early on that if he had something to work toward he was more likely to run and be active. A big fan of Dr. Who, she signed him up for a themed medal. A smart mom, she didn’t expect him to run the entire distance all at once. If they sign up for a 10K they keep track until he reaches the 6.2 miles and then he earns his medal. And who can argue with a face like this? He is clearly feeling accomplished as he finishes up this race distance!

Zara Harding of  Las Vegas, Nevada gave her kids the incentive of a lifetime. She told her four children, then ages 7-14, that if they trained for a 5K the family could go to Disneyland to run a race. Admittedly there was some grumbling, especially on very hot days, but the kids did the work and earned their trip. Harding states that watching dad train was a good motivating factor for her kids and that she was pleasantly surprised when some of the kids decided to continue racing! 

Zara Harding and son Justin Du Pont

Pictured above is Harding and her son Justin. The baby in the above photo is now 19 and works out regularly with mom (including continuing to pin on the race bib!) Harding will tell you if you nurture a love of movement from a young age you just might end up with a workout buddy. 

Motivating Kids to Run

There are many ways to motivate kids to run besides.. well.. sending them out to run.

 Running Games – Making a game out of it keeps things engaging.

 Virtual Races – The beauty of a virtual race is that the distance does not have to be run all at once. You can sign up for a 10k, track the mileage and give the child a medal when they reach the distance.

 A Fun Goal Race – Having a race at the end of a training period is all the motivation some children need.

 Rewards – Some teachers use rewards to get kids to log miles. One teacher explained that each child got a token for every lap they did around the track. Those tokens could be traded for small rewards as they accumulated more.

 Circuits – One running coach described setting up a circuit on a playground. The kids might cross the monkey bars then do one lap around the playground. Next might be a :30 second plank, then another lap. Kids are so busy running to the next activity they forget they are working out!

Running Games For Kids

  • Playground Tag – Playing tag on playground equipment keeps kids moving. The only rule is you can’t stop moving!
  • Ultimate Frisbee – A bit too in depth to explain here, suffice it to say that this is not your parents’ frisbee. Guaranteed to keep kids moving.
  • Red Light, Green Light – Just like we played as kids! This is fun and engaging!
  • Sharks and Minnows – One child is a shark and the rest minnows. The minnows run from one end of a predetermined space to the other. Anyone the shark catches is a shark now, not a minnow. Play until all the minnows are sharks.
  • Freeze Tag – Just like normal tag, the difference is you freeze in place until someone on your team tags you back in!
  • Solve the Puzzle – Divide kids into groups and have a puzzle for each group. Put the pieces in color-coded envelopes and place the envelopes at different stations around a set area (like a field or playground). Each group also gets a table for puzzle construction. The entire team must run to the table and back, and then place the puzzle piece, before heading to retrieve the second piece. This game involves teamwork, running and brainwork!

What Age Can Kids Start Running Track?

Most schools start kids in track and field in 5th or 6th grade. Honestly, though, there is not a minimum age. Many schools also have a field day of sorts with elementary schools with some slight modifications. Instead of the shot put they might throw a softball, for example. In field day the distance runs often cap at 800 meters.

The important thing to remember is that they are children. Expecting a child to hammer out repeats like an adult is not reasonable. Remember: the goal is to keep it fun!

The Daily Mile

The benefits of daily movement in children is so widely documented that in the UK (as well as 79 other countries) children are sent out to walk, run or jog for 15 minutes every single day. Done to help improve physical and mental health, this social activity is showing to improve focus in the classrooms.

Parents are asked to encourage kids at home, participate at school with kids and to encourage The Daily Mile on days when school is not in session. The miles are tracked by school, country and by the movement as a whole!

For the Love of Running

Hopefully, if you play your cards right either as a parent or coach, you will help to instill a love of running in the child so that he or she is hooked for life.