12 Outdoor PE Activities for Kids

young girl laying on swing

After months of “cabin fever” while doing distance learning, homeschooling, or online school, warm weather is drawing everyone outdoors and opening up more possibilities for fitness and exercise. Physical education (or PE) happens more naturally during the summer, but how can a health-conscious family ensure that a child has fun exercising, while still maintaining safe social distance?

Below are some ideas geared toward summer—plus suggestions for safe social distancing— that you may want to add to your list of ideas!

Outdoor Races

Children can get cardiovascular exercise by walking, jogging, or running, but races add excitement and help increase their speed and agility. With some advance planning, both relay and timed races can be safe options for family physical education.

When setting up safe social distance races, keep teams and teammates six feet apart. Mark the distances by making visual reminders on the ground using sidewalk chalk or masking tape, or by setting up lines of orange safety cones or hazard flags. You’ll need these distance reminders on both the starting lineup and after the finish line.

In relay races, eliminate baton handoffs or tagging the next person.

Keep in mind that children wearing masks may overheat more quickly. To compensate, you may want to make the distances they need to run a bit shorter than usual and remind them to hydrate more often.

Kids will naturally want to celebrate when they win, but high fives and hugs can spread germs. Instead, encourage them to create a safe, socially distant “happy dance” or routine, similar to a football player’s end-zone dance. Quickly tapping shoes with a competitor can be a safe, good sportsmanship substitute for a high five or handshake.

Here are some ideas for races that can be fun, competitive, and safe:

1. Timed lightning bug hunt.

Encourage children to catch as many lightning bugs in a jar as they can, and see who can capture the most before you call time. Make sure to set the bugs free again!

2. Sponge race.

Each participant in this race needs a sponge and two buckets, one filled with water and the other empty. Players run from the empty bucket to the full bucket across the yard, filling the sponge and returning to the empty bucket to squeeze the water into it. The first person to fill the empty bucket to the designated line wins.

3. Timed scavenger hunt.

Set a time limit for kids to find all the objects on a list of items found in nature. Whoever has the most items when the clock runs out wins. Older children can even coordinate the scavenger hunt.

4. Balloon relay race.

To make this race safe, an adult should inflate balloons using a pump instead of blowing them up by mouth. Set up a laundry basket full of balloons and a hard chair for each relay team. Participants run to the basket, pick up a balloon, then run to the chair, sit on the balloon to pop it, then run back.

5. Sack race.

For this old-fashioned but socially distant favorite, each child will need their own sack or pillowcase. Players stand in their sacks and jump their way to the finish line.

Outdoor Yard Sports and Games

These physical education activities require equipment, but you can easily set up and play them in a yard or nearby park.

To keep everyone safe, use your own items and be sure to sanitize the ball, birdies, or other equipment before beginning. Have children thoroughly wash or sanitize their hands before and after playing. Masks can be hot, so remind them to take more frequent breaks and to hydrate often.

6. Net sports.

Tennis requires a flat court, but you can set up outdoor volleyball or badminton in the grass. Each sport requires a net, and you’ll also need racquets and birdies or a volleyball. Badminton nets are hung right above the ground, while standard volleyball nets are about seven feet high. Two to four people can play each sport and still maintain a safe social distance. Volleyball is always fun at the beach, but you might also find courts at a public swimming pool in your area.

7. Solitary exercise.

Practice jumping rope or Hula-Hooping, both of which are excellent forms of exercise if done regularly.

8. Group games.

Try some variations on classics: flashlight tag, Simon Says with balls or other items, and water bottle bowling in the yard.

Outdoor Pool Activities

As long as they aren’t crowded, pools can still be a safe option for summer. The Center for Disease Control says there’s no evidence to suggest COVID-19 can spread to humans through water, and that the proper operation, maintenance, and disinfection of pools should kill the virus.

The CDC recommends that swimmers continue to practice safe social distancing when in and around the pool, but masks should NOT be worn while actually swimming, because a wet mask will be very hard to breathe through. And of course, continue handwashing and sanitizing!

9. Endurance training.

Swimming or jogging laps is great for cardio exercise and muscle toning. Both younger and older children who want to become better swimmers and stronger athletes should do laps regularly and track their progress.

10. Diving games.

Diving for (sanitized) objects at the bottom of the pool helps swimmers practice holding their breath longer. It’s also a lot of fun if you play diving games, such as racing to find as many coins as possible within a time limit or within one breath.

11. Water aerobics.

Instead of signing up for a water aerobics class, create your own exercise routine to do in the backyard or neighborhood public pool. Kids of all ages and their parents can get involved. Watch water aerobics videos online to learn some moves, and consider using a pair of water weights.

12. Water wars.

There are plenty of ways for children to have fun with water fights. Challenge them to stay on their rafts while practicing their splashing techniques on each other or shooting water guns.

If thunderstorms keep you inside, you can always try these indoor P.E. activities for grades K–5 and 6–12.

To learn tips for keeping kids learning at home, visit Connections Academy’s support page for families who are new to distance learning or online school.

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