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20 Exercise Ideas for Tweens (8-11yrs)

If you are worried that your child’s physical fitness levels plummeted during lockdown, you are not alone. Lots of parents report struggling to keep children physically active when so many traditional exercise routes (sports’ clubs, swimming pools, indoor play areas etc) were unavailable. And given that children in the UK went into lockdown with already historically low fitness levels, parents are right to worry. Especially about children in those middle years who risk abandoning exercise altogether if we don’t keep them moving.

So, now is the perfect time for some new exercise ideas for tweens to get them up and about and physically active.

Research shows that children become less physically active each year of primary school. By the age of 11, children are doing an hour less exercise per week than at age 6. It is estimated that between 55% and 79% of UK schoolchildren fail to meet recommended fitness/activity levels for their age. And many of those estimates were pre-pandemic. During lockdown, surveys show that 44% of children did either no activity or less than half an hour’s activity each day.

The tween years (8-11yrs) are a particular challenge as they are a time of growing independence and realignment. Indeed, for many parents it can feel like the teenage years have arrived early! Tweens often start asserting themselves and caring deeply about what their friendship group thinks. They can feel anxious about being left out and can become suddenly obsessive about online socialising or gaming. Their play behaviour might shift away from active, running around or imaginative play towards more sedentary occupations. Leaving parents scrabbling around for exercise ideas.

But the tween years are also a time when opportunities for new and challenging physical activities expand rapidly. Becoming active as a family is much more realistic (and a lot more fun). So, to get you going (and to get your children moving!), I have pulled together a list of exercise ideas for tweens that will get them fired up and eager to join in.

Geocaching

OK, so this does involve some tech but it’s a great bridge to get your child out of the house. Geocaching is basically a treasure hunt using an app on your smartphone. Every time you find a geocache, you sign the logbook and put it back for the next person. Tweens can log their finds on the app. A fun excuse for a walk!

Paddleboarding

The great thing about tweens is that they are old enough to try some more challenging activities. And, with a low centre of gravity, they are perfectly designed for Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP). And, seriously, SUP is it a good full body workout!

Kayaking

If sitting down appeals more, then there are lots of places where tweens can try out kayaking or canoeing. If you live near a river or lake, you could even buy an inflatable version so you can go paddling whenever suits you (see these safety guidelines first).

Mountain biking

If you want to spice up your bike rides, why not try mountain biking? If you don’t have suitable bikes, you can hire them at most mountain biking hubs. The MTB trails are free to use and make it easy to find a route to suit all abilities. I freely admit that watching my boys riding fast down hill over jutting rocks and slippery gravel definitely gave me the maternal heebie-jeebies – but they loved it! And, unlike road-biking, you can actually talk while mountain biking if you do it together as a family.

Photography

I know it doesn’t sound like one of the best exercise ideas, but if you have a smartphone and a creative tween, photography is a great hobby for getting them out into nature and exploring. It even got my tween up pre-dawn once to film the sunrise!

Gardening

If you can get your tween interested in growing vegetables or flowers, gardening is a great for getting them outside on a regular basis. If you don’t have a garden, could you approach the local allotment association to see if anyone needs a hand with digging or manual labour in exchange for learning about plants?

HIT sessions

If you are looking for an exercise idea that is free and can be done every day, how about a short high intensity training session comprising 1-minute stints of burpees, star jumps, running on the spot, mountain climbers and knee lifts, with 30 second breaks in between?

Walk don’t drive

Small every day choices can make a big difference to physical fitness. Choosing to walk not drive – to school, to the shops, to everywhere you need to go that is local – is a simple change with a big cumulative effect. Why not lend your tween your fitbit and get them counting their steps?

Set a goal

Which brings us to setting goals. Setting a goal or working towards completing a challenge can be a big motivator. Your tween could set themselves a weekly steps target, or build up to swimming 50 lengths, or train to complete a bike ride within a certain time. Or they could build up the number of sit-ups they can do – whatever lights their fire and gets them engaged!.

Running

If your child responds well to a goal, running is a great option. Follow a training programme together (like Couch to 5K) or join in your local Park Run and try to beat your personal best.

Do it for charity

Getting sponsored is another great way to keep up exercise motivation. Tweens are often really fired up by good causes, so why not harness that and encourage them to do a sponsored event?

Swimming

Don’t forget the old favourites – swimming is great all-round exercise. Even if tweens aren’t swimming every moment, just being in the pool provides resistance to each movement.

Family Triathlon

And now that you have done biking, running and swimming, why not pull it all together and set a big goal to do a triathlon? UK Triathlon organises triathlon and duathlon events for tweens as well as family fun runs.

Skateboarding

If it’s cool and their friends are into it, tweens are much more likely to get involved. So what’s the latest fad in your area? Skateboarding, rollerskating, scooters? Can you harness those (safely!) to get your tween active?

Go camping

Regular readers will know I am a big fan of camping. It is naturally low tech, nature-based and provides so many opportunities for kids to get active. My favourite camping experiences have been next to lakes so we can also do dawn to dusk watersports.

Indoor Climbing

A lot of local leisure centres have climbing walls and that little sprinkling of controlled danger can be very attractive to a tween. My kids still talk about our session at XC in Hemel Hempstead bouldering and climbing. Bouldering is done without ropes on quite low walls on a soft floor (in case you fall off) whereas climbing walls are higher and involve safety harnesses.

Climb a mountain

And, while you’re at it, why not go climb a real mountain? Or, at least, walk up a big hill. There are some easy routes up Snowdon if you are in Wales (I’d advise going early in the morning to avoid the crowds). And as well as being great exercise, successfully getting to the top of a mountain also carries some wonderful life lessons for tweens.

Ice skating

Anything that involved a cup of hot chocolate always seemed to get my kids off the sofa. And ice skating is the perfect excuse for hot drinks! We are also lucky enough to have a mini grass ski slope locally where kids can slide down on inflatables (and have to walk up again!).

Walk a dog

I openly admit to using dog walking duties to boost my boys’ fitness levels surreptitiously. Even if you don’t have a dog, maybe you have a neighbour or family member who would appreciate a bit of help with dog walking?

Join a club

Being part of a sports club has many benefits for tweens in terms of self-esteem, social skills, life skills, resilience on top of providing a regular schedule for physical exercise (see What can sport teach children?). It doesn’t matter which sport it is, the best sport for a child is always the one they want to do!

There you have it, 20 exercise ideas for tweens! There’s bound to be something in there your tween will go for. Let me know how you get on – and if you have any brilliant exercise ideas for tweens that I have left off the list, please do share in the comments.

[Please do refer to local Covid guidelines whenever you are reading this to keep yourselves, your family and everyone else safe.]

photo of child swimming to illustrate Exercise Ideas for Tweens article by parenting expert Anita Cleare

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2 responses to “20 Exercise Ideas for Tweens (8-11yrs)”

  1. These are great ideas. If you have a slope nearby I would also add skiing. 🙂
    Our local dry ski slope offers cheaper after school sessions.

    • AnitaCleare says:

      Good idea! Our local dry ski slope also has a smaller slope where they could slide down on big inflatable rings – brilliant for tweens who can’t ski!

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