School-Aged Kids and Physical Activity

Kids in school gym playing with hula hoops

Christopher Futcher / Getty Images

Does your child run, play, and move for at least 60 minutes a day? For school-aged kids, physical activities are (and should be) fun, but they're also important. Kids this age need that daily hour of moderate to vigorous activity to stay fit and healthy. The time should be divided among aerobic, muscle-strengthening, and bone-strengthening activities.

Short bursts of 10 or 15 minutes count toward this daily tally, so make sure your child has lots of opportunities for physical activities before, during, and after school. 

Physical Activities at School

Academics are important, but so is finding time for fitness. When kids have the chance to run and play before school and at recess, they focus more and fidget less during class. Brain breaks also help. Physical education (PE) provides another opportunity to move during the school day. It also exposes kids to new sports and games and introduces important health habits.

But not every child gets enough recess and PE time:

  • Just five states (Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, and Oregon) plus the District of Columbia require the 150-minute weekly PE total in elementary schools.
  • Only eight U.S. states require elementary schools to provide recess every day.

The Society of Health and Physical Educators, among other groups, recommends at least 150 minutes of PE a week for elementary schoolers — that means an average of 30 minutes a day. The association also urges schools to schedule at least one 20-minute recess period every day.

If your child's school doesn't offer enough physical activity time, ask the principal or school board to consider changes. And look for ways to help your child stay active outside of school hours.

Youth Sports

By early elementary school — age 6 or 7 — most kids have the physical coordination and attention span, plus the ability to grasp rules, which they need to play organized sports. A few years later — between ages 10 and 12 — most can handle the added pressure of team competition.

You can help your child get enough daily activity via sports and extracurricular activities if these fit your schedule and budget. Look for classes and recreational leagues that stress fitness, skill-building, fair play, and most of all, fun.

If your child enjoys team sports, try:

If your child prefers individual pursuits, consider:

  • Dance
  • Golf
  • Gymnastics
  • Horseback riding
  • Ice skating
  • Martial arts
  • Rock climbing
  • Skiing, snowboarding, or skateboarding
  • Swimming/diving
  • Tennis
  • Track and field, or participating in a running club or 5K race
  • Yoga

Note that many of these individually-focused sports can also be done as part of a team.

Ask your child what sports they're interested in, and give them the opportunity to try as many different activities as interest them. That means letting them quit if they discover the activity is not for them. You both might be surprised at what they're good at and love to do.

At Home

Provide kids with as much time and space to play as you can. Encourage lots of different physical activities. Mixing it up helps keep kids from getting bored, and also helps work many muscle groups. Emphasize fun and movement (rather than competition or "shoulds"). Try these family fitness ideas that are simple and accessible for many kids and adults:

  • Biking or in-line skating
  • Indoor dance parties
  • Jumping rope or spinning a hula hoop
  • Outdoor group games like tag or kickball
  • Playing catch or Frisbee
  • Running in the sprinkler, spraying each other with a hose, or other water play activities
  • Sledding or snow-shoeing
  • Visiting a playground
  • Walking or hiking (make it more exciting with geocaching)
3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. HSS. Physical activity guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition.

  2. American Heart Association. Recess helps kids learn better in school.

  3. Society of Health and Physical Educators (SHAPE). Shape of the Nation 2016.

Additional Reading
  • SHAPE America - Society of Health and Physical Educators and Voices for Healthy Kids. 2016 Shape of the nation report: Status of physical education in the USA, April 2016.

By Catherine Holecko
Catherine Holecko is an experienced freelance writer and editor who specializes in pregnancy, parenting, health and fitness.