We all know that our core muscles – the muscles found in our abdomen, back, and pelvis – are the center of control for our bodies, and in a day and age where classrooms focus less on play-based activities in favor of academics, and children are spending hours upon hours attached to their iPads, we’re seeing more and more children with weak core muscles. Developmental delays like autism, ADHD, and sensory processing disorder are also much more prevalent than they used to be, and researchers have found that poor core strength can affect our children’s ability to learn.
Sounds sort of weird, I know, but if you think about it, the idea that weak core muscles can impact a child’s ability to sit still and concentrate in a classroom setting makes perfect sense.
Our core plays an integral role in everything we do, and if a child has weak core muscles, it will not only impact her gross motor skills and her ability to navigate the playground equipment at recess, but it will also make it difficult for her to control the fine motor skills needed to engage in academic activities like writing and cutting with scissors.
And if she isn’t able to get a good, solid foundation for those 2 skills early on, it can impact her ability to excel and learn new skills as she progresses through school.
So, what do we do?
How do we strengthen our child’s core muscles in an age-appropriate way to help support her academic growth?
In an ideal world, we would go back to a play-based curriculum for kids in kindergarten and lower elementary school, but in the face of school cutbacks and academic pressures, our control is sort of limited on that front, so we must do the next best thing:
Limit screen time and engage in core exercises for kids at home.
Whether your child suffers significant developmental delays that impair her fine and gross motor skills, or has weak core muscles as a result of a sedentary lifestyle, this collection of core strengthening exercises for kids feels more like play than practice, and if you add different variations and props along the way, your child is sure to love them!
20 super fun core exercises for kids
HOPSCOTCH WITH A TWIST: There are so many ways you can switch up a good old game of hopscotch. Have your child only jump on odd or even numbers, ask her to switch from jumping with 2 legs to one leg, instruct her to jump backwards and then forwards at different intervals, and yell out random numbers to keep her guessing and engaged.
EGG RACES: You can make this as easy or as hard as you want to. Start with a simple race across your living room, and then make the game more difficult by putting blankets and pillows on the floor. You can also have your child switch between her right and left hands to add an even bigger twist!
TWISTER: If your child has weak core muscles, this classic party game offers a brilliant way to engage her core while still having fun!
TIGHTROPE WALKING: All you need is a bit of masking tape and a little imagination, and you can make all kinds of tightrop obstacle courses using your child’s favorite toys. A simple example is to have her walk from one end of the room to another with an object in each of her hands, and then have her stand on a step stool at the end of the ‘tightrope’ and bend over to place each object into a bucket. Simple, easy, and effective!
PLANK: While boring on its own, engaging in a contest to see who can hold a plank the longest can make this core strengthening exercise a little more exciting, and you can step it up even further by having fun wind-up toys walk beneath your child while she holds the plank position.
BRIDGE: Similar to the plank, you can make this activity more exciting by having a contest and using wind up toys. You can even place a toy on your child’s abdomen while she’s in the bridge position for added weight and to see how long it takes for her to drop it!
PILLOW FUN: You can do a lot of core exercises for kids with pillows! If you have a couch with big pillows, set them up on the floor and ask your child to turn them over as many times in a row as she can. You can also have her drag them from one end of your living room to the next and place a couple of toys on top along the way to see how long she can go without dropping them! Don’t have large couch pillows? No problem! Grab a couple from your bed and have your child walk up and down the stairs while holding the pillows in her arms and remind her NOT to use the handrail for better core engagement.
ANIMAL WALKING: Write a bunch of different animals on different pieces of paper, throw them into a hat, have your child randomly choose a few, and then have her walk across the living room while pretending to walk like the animal she chose and see how long it takes the rest of the family to figure out what the animal is. Make sure to include bunny rabbit, snake, bear, and crab in your choices and demonstrate the moves ahead of time so she engages her core properly.
STAIR SCAVENGER HUNT: Using 2 puzzle sets (for example, you can use this wooden number set by Hape as well as this wooden number puzzle by Lanka Kade), create a scavenger hunt on your staircase (in this example, she would be matching numbers). Have your child choose 1 puzzle piece from a bucket and then walk up the stairs to find the matching piece. Ensure she doesn’t use the hand rails while walking up and down the stairs, and that she crouches down into a squat position when picking up each puzzle piece. As an added twist, have her assemble both puzzles on the floor while standing on a stepping stool.
SUPERMAN POSE: Core exercises for kids have never been easier than with the superman pose. Have your child lie on her tummy and then lift her arms and legs off the ground and see how long she can hold the pose. She can do this on the floor and on an exercise ball, and you can keep her giggling by running race cars over her back!
SQUARE SCOOTER: Square scooters aren’t just fun – they also help create a ton of different core exercises for kids. For example, you can have your child lay with her tummy on the scooter, and then ask her to navigate around your living room using only her feet while she picks up various objects off the ground with her hands. Another idea is to have her sit cross-legged on the scooter and then move herself around the room using a broom while singing, ‘Row Row Row Your Boat’!
LEG KICKS WITH AN EXERCISE BALL: Have your child lie on her back with her hands at her side and her knees tucked into her chest. On the count of three, gently throw an exercise ball toward her, and have her straighten her legs in front of her so she can kick the ball back to you with her feet. It’s challenging to get the hang of, but it can be lots of fun!
WHEELBARROW RACES: If you’re looking for fun core strengthening exercises for kids you can do outside, wheelbarrow races are another classic party game that can help strengthen weak core muscles. Have your child lie face down on the ground, pick up her ankles, and have her ‘walk’ on her hands. Too difficult? Try holding her by the knees instead.
DIY CRASH MAT: Getting your child to walk across a crash mat can be a lot of fun, and it’s easy to make your own one at home. All you need to do is place a bunch of pillows on the floor and throw a few blankets overtop. BOOM! It’s that easy. Play around with the height and number of pillows to make it more challenging!
WALL SQUATS: In addition to strengthening weak core muscles, wall squats (or wall sits) can help strengthen your child’s upper legs. Have your child stand with her back against the wall with her feet a foot or so in front of her, and have her slowly slide down the wall so she is ‘sitting’ without a chair beneath her bum. See how long she can hold the position, and reward her with 2 minutes to play with her favorite toy in between reps!
FUN WITH BLANKETS: Have your child pull something heavy on a blanket from one end of the room to another. This could be a sibling, a pet, or a bunch of her favorite books. It isn’t easy, but if you cheer her own from the sidelines, she may surprise you with her strength!
TUG OF WAR: Ah, I love this game! And you can switch it up in so many different ways, which makes it one of many fabulous core activities for kids. You can use a rope, pillow, or blanket, and you can even use an exercise ball to add a bit of a twist!
LEG LIFTS: Leg lifts are a great classroom exercise for restless kids! Have your child stand sideways behind a chair and, using the chair for support, have her lift her leg up with her knee at a 90-degree angle. Try varying the length of time it takes her to raise and lower her legs (5 counts up, 5 counts down), and then see if she can balance for a count of 10 without holding onto the chair.
BALL EXERCISES FOR KIDS: If you’re looking for simple core exercises for kids you can do at home, an exercise ball is a fabulous tool as you can do so many different things with it. Ask your child to lie on her tummy on the ball and sort objects from one container to another, have her sit on the ball and then lie backwards and reach her arms above her head so she can retrieve objects off of the floor, see how many times she can crawl over the ball, ask her to give you a ‘massage’ by lying on the floor while she rolls the ball up and down your back, get her to push the ball up a flight of stairs…the possibilities really are endless!
OBSTACLE COURSES: While all of these core exercises for kids are fun on their own, setting up several into an obstacle course is even more enjoyable for little ones! You can do this outside in the backyard, or split it up over 2 or 3 floors of your house, requiring your child to walk up and down the stairs in between sections. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy – as you’ve seen above, there are heaps of things you can do with pillows, blankets, a step stool, and an exercise ball! – and the more exciting you make it for your child, the more she’ll want to participate.
If you’re looking for ways to incorporate these core exercises for kids into your daily routine to help support a child with developmental delays (they make great activities to support therapeutic listening program sessions for autism!) and/or to help a neurotypical child improve focus in the classroom, remember to keep it fun. While the activities should be challenging, they shouldn’t be too difficult, so listen to your child and know when to lessen the intensity to avoid exhaustion and injury.
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