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Get Your Kids on the Run!

My kids see me and my husband head out for a run and come home sweaty and smiling. The older two have accompanied us on many many miles from their seats in our double jogger. And they’ve cheered us on and even participated in a few small races of their own. But for the most part, their own running has been limited to chasing each other around at the playground and racing to the corner. And, until now, I haven’t thought much about introducing my kids to running as an activity in itself.

But my older son just turned 6 and I started to wonder if he is old enough to be involved in more structured running and fitness programs. Is his body ready for that? Is his attention span developed enough? Is his social maturity at the right level? And if he is ready, what’s a good way to make running an extension of himself not a chore or a punishment or something to get over with, but just another way to play?

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  • Here’s the scoop on running programs for kids of all ages. 1 of 6
    Here's the scoop on running programs for kids of all ages.
  • Pre-schoolers 2 of 6
    Pre-schoolers
    Kids younger than age 5 generally don't have a mature running gait. They may fall a lot because they are not as coordinated. Let them run and play as much as they want, but structured programs are better left until they have the coordination and attention span for it. If they want to run the "kiddie dash" at the end of a 5K, no problem, as long as they can stay on their feet that long.
  • Ages 5-8 3 of 6
    Ages 5-8
    Between 5 and 8, kids are more coordinated and more socially developed. Running at recess, playing tag, and other games that lets them use their whole bodies are good for their development. Keep it fun with chasing games. If they are still smiling, you're doing it right.
  • Pre-teens 4 of 6
    Pre-teens
    Kids ages 9-12 are still growing a lot and their bones are not fully developed. Running too much may result in injuries. Make sure they are balancing their running with other activities, and that if they compete, it's not too serious, or too far. If they want to run a lot, encourage them to put their energy into speed over distance.
  • Middle Schoolers 5 of 6
    Middle Schoolers
    During the early teen years when many kids hit puberty and grow very quickly, be careful not to push too hard: too much running may lead to stress fractures. But running clubs and school running programs can be great ways to help socially awkward and emotionally unsteady teens find a support group and an identity.
  • High Schoolers 6 of 6
    High Schoolers
    High schoolers who are more serious about competing, more comfortable in their bodies, and more mature in their ability to set goals may run year-round. But they should also be encouraged to keep up other activities and maintain a balance to keep them from developing overuse injuries . . . and to keep running fun. As it always should be.

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