Kids have boundless energy, which they need to learn, grow and interact with the world around them. Typically, kids are able to expend all this extra energy at school, where they can socialize with classmates and play during recess. Even older kids, in middle and high schools, have gym class and after school activities to let out their extra energy and keep them physically fit and in shape.

Unfortunately, as COVID-19 has shut down schools, closed parks and driven everyone indoors, kids are finding decreasing opportunities to use their natural energy. Parents and guardians can benefit by planning ways to their children an energy outlet. Here’s how.

Elementary Age

Most younger kids are used to being on the move in some form or another — in youth sports, in P.E. classes, on the playground, etc. Some schools continue to offer daily or weekly video calls with gym teachers, who can keep little ones active remotely with some age-appropriate exercises and activities. However, this structured active time probably isn’t enough to keep kids calm, happy and healthy in quarantine.

Parents and guardians should consider scheduling a sort of “recess” for several periods throughout the day. This allows kids to settle down and focus on schoolwork, knowing they will have the opportunity to run and play in an hour or two. Child development experts suggest giving kids at least a full hour of “recess” during the day, which parents can split up into three 20-minute sessions or two half-hour sessions.

If possible, kids should be allowed to go outside during their recess. This is easiest in homes with backyards, where kids can run and play without encountering other kids. In more urban environments, parents might take their kids on a walk or bike ride through their neighborhood. As always, parents and kids should stay at least six feet away from anyone they meet on their excursions outside.

Finally, if a child’s school is not continuing with remote physical education, parents should consider building a more structured exercise regimen for their kids. This can be a family activity, to help older teens and adults stay in shape during isolation while keeping younger kids active and entertained. There are plenty of family-appropriate workouts available online, and parents can tweak workouts to fit their own and their kids’ athletic level and needs. Parents should try to change the exercises every day to keep kids excited and engaged.

Tweens and Teens

Older kids might be a bit more accustomed to being sedentary. Usually, schools stop offering recess around 6th grade, so tweens and teens rapidly adapt to sitting still in class all day long. Even so, older kids need physical activity to maintain their health; in more normal times, they would continue to be active through after-school sports programs, gym class or other extracurricular efforts. If left to their own devices, some older kids might eschew physical activity altogether, which can be dangerous for short-term and long-term health.

Tweens and teens who were active in sports should continue to train appropriately for their sport. Parents should stay in contact with their kids’ coaches and develop conditioning workouts that keep their tweens and teens performing well. If parents hope to enroll their kids in a good basketball program at a private sports academy, for example, this kind of conditioning throughout quarantine is essential.

It might not seem like it, but tweens and teens tend to copy the behavior of their parents — especially when that behavior is poor. Thus, if parents are avoiding exercise and overindulging in junk food, older kids are likely to do the same. Family workouts could be especially important for tweens and teens who lack an athletic focus to keep them accountable to physical activity. Parents and teens should take the extra free time gifted by the COVID crisis to get in the habit of working out, even if that means an hour of yoga, walking or something simple.

During times of stress and significant change, being active is a smart way to release anxiety and work toward achievable goals. By developing a plan for keeping kids active, families can reduce the strain around the house and actually enjoy their time in isolation.