Keeping Kids Moving During Distance Learning

Kid running over green grass

Therapeutic Associates

With kids pushing through their school days stationed at home working on computers and tablets, the hours often slip by without much thought to movement. Between scheduled meetings, live virtual instruction, assignments, tests and projects, finding time to fit in physical activity may seem daunting to families on the distance learning journey. Luckily, even short, simple bursts of movement throughout the day is all students need to keep their bodies – and their minds – healthy and strong.

While avoiding abnormal postures and positions with an ergonomically correct workstation is a great way to protect your kids’ musculoskeletal systems, it’s never a good idea for anyone to spend too much time sitting in one position. Our muscles, bones and brain all need regular movement breaks.

“Our bodies and brains crave movement and variety,” explains Physical Therapist Mindy English. “By moving during breaks, you are stimulating your brain and body to perform better.”

The key for kids, English emphasizes, is to make movement fun. Whether it’s before, during or after school, make sure you’re giving your students multiple chances to play and bounce their energy out. Better yet, play and bounce with them – after all, it’s not just good for their health, it’s good for yours, too.

Set them up for success with dynamic pre-meeting warm-ups

Before your student plops down at their desk to meet their teacher and classmates on screen, take a few minutes to lead them through these 10 fun and simple moves designed to prepare them for periods of online learning.

Once your kids have done each of these moves for 30 seconds apiece, they’ll have released tension from their necks and shoulders, increased blood flow to their brains so they’re ready to focus and connected the left and right sides of their brains by reaching across the center of their bodies.

Click below to expand the instructions and videos for each exercise, and download our printable to easily refer back to this dynamic warm-up.

Dynamic Warm-Up Exercises

From a standing or seated position, lift your shoulders up toward your ears and then back and down. Add some extra calm by linking your breath with the move – inhale up, exhale down.


Stand with feet hip width apart, arms out to the side. Move your arms in circles forward 10 times, and then backward 10 times. Try making big circles and then little circles or start little and increase to big and then reverse.


Stand with feet together and reach arms up to the sky. Gently reach both hands to the right side, feeling a stretch through the left side of the body. Hold for 5 seconds. Return to the starting position and then switch sides.


Reach both arms out in front as if hugging a big tree then open your arms up and squeeze your shoulder blades together.


Bring right knee in toward chest as you stand on your left leg. Keeping all your weight on your left leg, move your right leg behind you, letting your chest come down toward the floor (you can touch the floor with your hand if you have enough balance). Return to standing as you put your right foot down and then try it with the other side. Young kids may need to do a few repetitions on one side before switching to the other to help with coordination.


Start standing with feet slightly apart. Bend forward until your hands touch the ground. Walk your hands out until your body is in a plank position. Hold for 2 seconds and then walk your feet up to your hands.


Start on all fours with legs straight. Move forward across the floor, moving the opposite arm and leg at the same time. Try to keep legs as straight as possible as you move.


Start with feet in a straddle position, arms straight out to the side. Bending at the waist, reach your right hand toward your left foot and return to the starting position. Repeat on the other side.


Start with legs in a straddle position and arms straight out to the side. Hop your feet together crossing one leg in front of the other and cross your arms in front of your body at the same time. Hop to return to the starting position. Repeat, alternating which foot lands in front and which arm crosses over the top.


Start standing with feet hip width apart and arms straight out in front. Take a step with your right foot and lift your left leg up to your right arm. Then step with your left foot and lift your right leg up to your left arm.


Limited time between meetings or other school activities doesn’t have to mean your students spend their entire school day being sedentary. While the American Heart Association recommends that kids 6 to 17 years old should get at least 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity every day, the time can be broken up into multiple shorter sessions throughout the day. So, whether they have three minutes or 15, these five fast activities are sure to get kids’ hearts pumping and their smiles spreading all while adding up to that optimal hour of exercise.
Two kids doing wall sits

Minute to Win It

Challenge your kids to perform as many repetitions of an activity as they can in 1 minute. Follow with a short rest and then try another. Keep it up until it’s time to log back in. Here are some ideas to include:

  • Jump Rope (If your child can’t jump rope or you don’t have one, create a line to jump over and back – pool noodles, shoelaces, or just plain old tape work great!)
  • Jumping jacks
  • Squats
  • Sit ups
  • Pushups (modified to a wall or on knees if needed)
  • Fast feet (run in place)
  • Burpees
  • Mountain climbers (standing or in plank position)

Animal Relay Races

Mark off an area of your house (10-30 feet will do) with tape or cones if you have them. Call out an animal and challenge your children to race from one end to the other and back, moving as if they’re the specified animal. Here are some creature moves that are fun to mimic:

  • Frog Jumps
  • Bear Crawls
  • Crab Walks
  • Kangaroo Hops
  • Duck Walks
  • Horse Gallops
  • Pig Rolls
  • Snake Slithers
  • Penguin Walks

The Floor is Lava or River Stone Hops

Challenge your kiddos to get from one area of the house to another as quickly as possible without touching the floor (set boundaries about what is and is not acceptable to stand or climb on prior to starting).

Activity Jar

This is great for older students. Write down a selection of movements on separate pieces of paper. In between assignments or meetings, have your kids draw a piece of paper from the jar and perform the movement for the time or number of reps specified.

Download our printable spinner to add a little more fun to the activity selection. Print it, cut it out, place a paperclip with one end at the center of the circle, secure the tip of a pencil or pen at the inside edge of the paperclip at the center of the spinner and spin to see which move you’ll be doing!

Activities Spinner
  • Run in place for 1 minute (mix it up and alternate high knees and butt kicks for 20 seconds each)
  • 20 squats
  • 15 jumping jacks
  • Alternating side shuffles for 30 seconds
  • 5 inch worms
  • Stand on 1 leg for 30 seconds, then switch (challenge them to hold it in Tree Pose)
  • Hop on 1 leg for 30 seconds, then switch
  • 5 star jumps
  • 10 frog crunches
  • 15 crossjacks
  • 20 alternating lunges (10 each side)
  • 20 skater jumps

Remember, your children love to mimic you and thrive when you lead by example. Doing these moves with them teaches them how easy it is to have fun while being active. Try to arrange your schedule to align with theirs throughout the day so you can get the most out of your breaks, too!

“Our bodies and brains crave movement and variety. By moving during breaks, you are stimulating your brain and body to perform better.”

Recouping Recess

It’s hardly a surprise to parents and caretakers when kids joyfully shout “Recess!” when asked what their favorite part of their day was during a regular school year. This year, with kids navigating the rigors of their academics from home due to school closures across the nation, recess is not necessarily built into the day’s schedule.

While “recess” during distance learning lacks the plethora of social benefits associated with interacting with other children, the physical and mental benefits are not lost in the absence of peers and a playground. Additionally, taking time for free, unstructured, active play time has been shown to greatly improve academic performance.

Kids have a lot of energy and when they’ve sat for too long, it shows. They fidget, they get noisy, they doodle, they may even fall out of their chair repeatedly. Recess to the rescue.

Try to avoid allowing the lure of video games and streaming platforms to draw your students into even more sedentary screen time during their downtime, and instead send them outside. Unless the weather outside is truly frightful, kids don’t care. If it’s too stormy out, get creative with the indoor space you have – it doesn’t take a lot of room to get moving.

Creating fun opportunities for kids to move doesn’t have to be stressful. A brisk walk through the neighborhood, a bike ride or a jumping session on a trampoline if you have one are all great options. Looking for something a little more engaging? With a little setup and minimal supervision, these alternative activities are all excellent options when your online learners need a change of pace.

Create an obstacle course

Using a wide range of safe objects (buckets and balls to tires and tables) combined with natural obstacles in your space (trees, bushes and boulders) get your kids running, jumping, twisting, turning, kicking, throwing, crouching and crawling their way to Ninja Warrior status.

Give your kids sidewalk chalk and have them draw a course that includes a variety of actions from start to finish.

If you need to keep them inside, incorporate pillows, stools, boxes, and anything else you can arrange to get their muscles moving.


Go on a timed scavenger hunt

If it’s nice enough to be outside, have your kids race around to collect a list of things that they can find in nature. If your space is small, consider hiding a collection of small objects for them to find – plastic eggs, coins, rubber bracelets … anything works.

If it’s a day for indoor recess, challenge your little learners to collect something for every letter of the alphabet as quickly as they can. Extra points for double letters, such as a Blue Bowl or a Pink Pillow. Make it interesting by challenging them to put everything back faster than they gather it.

Hold a dance party

Let your kids pick some of their favorite songs and challenge them to dance around the yard (or throughout the house) for an entire song without stopping.

Mix it up with a copycat challenge where each dancer gets to choose a way to groove and everyone else follows along. Take turns so everyone gets a chance to lead!

Try a freeze dance! It’s like a twist on musical chairs. Everyone moves to the beat but has to freeze whenever the music stops. Wait until your kids’ dancing is extra energetic before you hit pause.

mom and daughter take time to move during a break from their daily routine

Draw Ten

Create a large collection of activity cards featuring any fun exercises you can think of from cartwheels or skipping to hula hooping or squats and have your students draw ten cards to complete. Decide how much time they’ll do each card in advance, so the move is a surprise, but the duration is not.

When it’s one of those days and none of these recess options are in the cards, there are many active online activities that are sure to bring your kids joy AND get them moving. Some of our physical therapists’ favorites are GoNoodle, Cosmic Kids Zen Den, and Les Mills’ Born to Move. The goal, after all, is simply to work regular physical activities into kids’ daily lives to help them create healthy habits now that will stick with them for life.

Is your child experiencing pain or discomfort?

Schedule an assessment with us!

At Therapeutic Associates we want to help your family make the most of virtual learning. If you have questions about creating a regular activity routine for your child, or if your child is complaining about bone, joint or muscle pain – especially during or after exercise – give us a call to schedule an assessment today. Don’t let their discomfort keep them from getting the movement they need to keep their body and brain happy and healthy.

Most insurance policies include direct access coverage, so you can see a physical therapist without a physician’s prescription or referral. We are happy to verify your benefits for you.

We are here for your family through in-person or telehealth appointments.

Would you prefer to chat with someone on the phone? No problem! Contact your preferred location today.

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