Keeping Kids Active and Adventurous in Unusual Times

During 2020, kids have faced challenge after challenge – the shift to distance learning during the spring (and for many kids in the fall as well); normal interactions with friends curtailed; and for many kids the cancellation of school and community sports leagues.

All of these factors have also conspired to take away many of the normal channels through which kids get exercise. As we head into the winter months, we at FOSS are thinking about ways to help your kids get the activity they need.

Yes, one answer is swimming. But we want to share some other perspectives too. So we connected with our friends at Cyclehealth, a kid-powered wellness program based in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area that is helping kids engage in healthy activities outside the normal parameters of youth sports. FOSS was an original sponsor of Cyclehealth, and continues to sponsor and partner with the group. We encourage you to check them out at and join their newest initiative at – a site to assist in physical activity ideas for kids.

Cyclehealth hosts four major kid adventure events each year:

  • Resilinator, a gritty obstacle race kids complete with a buddy
  • Kidarod, a winter adventure race
  • ForEverest, a hiking/climbing challenge
  • Breakaway Tri, a kid-friendly triathlon (FOSS is a partner helping run the swim component)

The organization has modified its event activities to be safe in the age of COVID, but also sees this unusual time as an opportunity to help kids take even greater control over their health and activity while they are at home. Here are excerpts of our conversation with co-founders Tony Schiller, Chief Motivator, and Betsy Grams, Executive Director:

Tell us a little more about the philosophy behind Cyclehealth.

Tony: “We saw this perfect storm affecting kids’ health 7 years ago when we founded Cyclehealth. Society was overscheduling kids, and parents were thinking they would farm out physical activity to sports leagues, which are great for some kids, but others are just hanging on and the cost and time requirement of some organized sports keeps a lot of kids out. You also had the pull of digital entertainment. Kids weren’t learning to be free-range kids. The result was the least healthy generation of kids. So we asked, how do we reset this?

“We think kids are supposed to have adventures. We decided to provide fun seasonal events where kids can actually get away from their parents for a while. We created a training calendar, to help kids get motivated and take more control of their activity.”

How has the pandemic and the shutdown changed things?

Betsy: “In COVID time, everyone moved to distance learning. All sports were cancelled. Think about learning at home. Pediatricians recommend kids move at least 60 minutes a day, but it’s so much harder with everything parents are juggling. We thought, how do we help kids move more at home? So we created, a digital program that gives kids 12 five-minute challenges each day, and tells them what to do for the next 5 minutes. If they do them all, they’ve got their 60 minutes. We’re really pushing frequency over duration. You can tell when a kid has lost inspiration, when they’re bored. That’s a perfect time to do a burst. The bursts break up the madness, and you can just see how the activity centers a kid’s brain.”

Tell us more about the 12 Bursts program.

Tony: “It’s a free program we did at first on a shoestring, but our partners at the YMCA put some horsepower behind it – they were looking for ways to engage kids too with the shutdown. Every day loads 12 new challenges that anyone can do, like jumping rope, or playing games, or projects, and with a free account you can track your progress and activity levels and access additional challenges and features. It’s now being promoted and used nationwide.”

What advice would you give families as we head into the fall and winter while still under restrictions?

Betsy: “First, I would say move outdoors. Whatever you’re doing, try to do it outdoors. Reading, folding laundry, anything. It’s amazing the impact of being outdoors. Second, we know a lot of kids are not allowed past their yard. If they are ready for more independence, have an intentional conversation and identify a loop where they can go by themselves with your permission. Maybe it’s just around the block, or to a nearby park and back. But let your kids have their say, you might be surprised what they are ready for. Then expand it as they are ready for more responsibility. Third, focus on frequency of activity more than duration. Get moving many times a day instead of trying to do one big thing. Establish these habits now so you can continue them in winter.”

Tony: “I would also say put something on the calendar. Talk to your kids about what they want to do. There are lots of opportunities to play as a family, like disc golf, or bike rides or family races. If kids are interested, they’re more likely to do it. There is power for kids in deciding their own activity. But put it on the calendar. At the same time, if you have kids at different ages, interests, or abilities, you may have to split up and give each child their own time. Each child deserves to do things and explore at their own level.”

We thank Cyclehealth for the work they are doing. We’re glad to have partnered with them over the years. We’re hoping you and yours find ways to embrace activity and growth, even in COVID times.

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