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18 Get-Off-the-Couch Games

  • Kids need exercise! Today's kids are getting fat! You've heard people screaming about it everywhere, but do they have to come up with safe, easy ways for children to get their hearts pumping and muscles working? Clearly not, or they wouldn't be making us moms feel so guilty for supposedly raising a generation of couch potatoes. We're here to help your brood the old-fashioned way: with games so fun—and simple—you'll all forget they're good for you, too.

    Classy moves
    Ask your child to teach you how to do a move she learned at soccer camp or karate class, and then share a fancy pose from your yoga class. Take turns teaching each other a skill until one person can't think of anything else to share. First one out of ideas is in charge of making the post-workout popcorn.

  • Speed-read
    Turbocharge storytime: Choose a word that will be repeated often ("green," for instance, if you're reading Green Eggs and Ham) and have your child stand up or sit down each time he hears it.

    Animal charades
    Write the names of various animals on slips of paper and drop them into a bowl. Take turns choosing a slip and acting out the animal (try it with no sounds for a real challenge) until someone guesses correctly.

  • Stephanie Rausser

    Freeze frame
    Gather a few stuffed animals, crank up some tunes, and boogie until one observer (Mom or Dad) pauses the music. Dancers must freeze, and if anyone budges before you start the music again, he must pick a stuffed "dance partner." Keep dancing (and pausing) until all the animals are in play. Then, when someone moves, he must take an animal from an opponent. Dance until one person has all the animals or you're wiped out!

    Catch with a catch
    Have each player toss a beach ball into the air and try to touch his nose or high-five the other players before the balls drop. Make the challenges harder as you go along.

  • Brooke Slezak

    Color walk
    Have your child gather sheets of construction paper or a stack of mismatched hand towels and lay them down in a path all through the house. (To keep her from slipping, tape down the construction paper or towels with painter's or masking tape, which won't ruin your floors.) Tell her to keep colors separate, so there won't be, say, three sheets of red paper in a row. Once she's done, the challenge is on: Can she walk from one room to the next by stepping only on certain colors? Can she make it from one end of the house to the other, stepping only on blue and red? Can she manage it on all fours, or by hopping?

    Balloon volleyball
    Yes, volleyball usually takes more than one person. No, you don't have to play this version. Why? The whole fun of this game is for your kid to play both sides. Blow up a balloon, set up the sofa or a chair as the center line, and have your child run back and forth to hit the balloon before it lands on the ground. See if he can keep it aloft for 21 turns, the usual winning score in volleyball.

  • Snack grab
    Lay down a straight or zigzagging line of tape from the kitchen snack cupboard to the dining table. Place a big bowl on the table, and tell your child she can use it to mix up her own custom trail mix. The fitness hitch: She has to choose one snack at a time (like dry cereal, nuts and chocolate chips) and then walk—or hop—along the tape without stepping off to deliver it. If she veers from the line with an item, she can't use it in the snack mix. You can bet she'll be extra careful when she's carrying the chocolate!

    Crab carry
    Show your child how to walk like a crab: hands and feet on the floor, stomach facing up. Once he can do it, give him a goal. He can balance some beanbags on his belly and move across a marked finish line, or gather some wayward toys and move them to his room. (Don't mention that he's helping you clean up!) Which is faster: carrying one toy across the room at a time, or a whole pile at once—without spilling?

  • Stretch and sprout
    Get ready for spring with this fun stretch: Ask your child to curl up on the floor as tightly as she can, pretending to be a small seed. Have her imagine the warm sunshine, letting her body slowly unfurl and reach toward the sky. Repeat the cycle, getting faster each time until the little flower blooms so quickly that your child jumps into the air.

    Cotton-ball crawl
    Dump a pile of cotton balls on the floor in your child's bedroom and place an empty bowl on the floor in another room. Set a timer for four minutes, and have your child move all the cotton balls from his room into the bowl—using a spoon and crawling on hands and knees. The cotton balls are so light, they're likely to go flying if he isn't careful. If he makes it, challenge him to do it in three minutes!

  • ABC
    We all know the drill when the '70s song "Y.M.C.A." comes on the radio. Take a cue from the Village People and show your kids how to form letters with their bodies. Have them work together to create letters or form their names or short words, either in a standing position or lying flat on the ground. Snap pictures of their letters so they can see how great they look.

    Monster mirror
    Take the classic game of Mirror to gigantic proportions. Have two monsters (aka kids) face each other and mirror each other's movements. Of course, monsters will use BIG motions, with their arms and legs fully extended. Comb that monster hair: It's so long they'll need to stretch all the way to the ground. Wash a monstrous window, way up high. Take a deep breath and growl out a monster roar!

  • Balloon pop
    Tie a balloon to each player's right leg with a three-foot length of string. When everyone's outfitted, assemble the kids in the garage or a room with lots of open space. The goal is to pop the other players' balloons by stomping on them. Once a kid's balloon is popped, he's out. Loud, wild, fun. (Have them pick up the bits of balloon left on the floor afterward. They're a choking hazard for littler kids.)

    Traveling basketball
    Place a large bowl or bucket in each room and give each player a rolled-up sock. Have the players stand in the doorway and take aim, trying to get their sock into the bowl. As each player scores, he progresses to the next room. The first person to complete the entire circuit is the winner.

  • Brooke Slezak

    Hip waddle
    Pull out a beach ball (or blow up a balloon) to rev up a simple walk across the room. Stand two kids side by side and place the ball between their hips. Now send them across the room, and see if they can get there without dropping the ball (it's easier if they link arms, but they'll figure that out!). If they do, they have to pick it up and start over again. As long as you have enough beach balls or balloons, you can play this with any number of kids. It gets harder (but goofier) as you add more players to the line.

    Stand together
    Have two kids sit on the floor, back to back, with arms linked at the elbows. See if they can work together to get themselves into a standing position. They'll need to push against each other in order to get to their feet. Then see if they can stay linked while walking around and trying to pick up items from the floor.

  • Potato drop
    Got some competitive kids? Set up a race: Place two widemouthed jars (or small bowls) at a finish line. Mark a starting point about 15 feet away, and give each child a potato. They'll race, carrying the potato between their knees, to see who can drop it into the jar first, no hands allowed. If racers (walking, hopping, running, falling down laughing) drop the potato, they must go back to the starting line.

    Kris Bordessa is the author of several books of activities for kids, including most recently Great Medieval Projects You Can Build Yourself.

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