Getting Your Families Active with Family Fitness Nights by Eric Turrill
I feel I am very fortunate to see my elementary Physical Education students three days a week for 30 minutes. In total that comes out to 90 minutes a week. For some of you that is going to sound on the low side, for others you are thinking you would love to have 90 minutes. The fact is, 90 minutes per week of physical activity isn’t cutting it. The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, issued by the US Department of Health and Human Services, recommend that children and adolescents aged 6-17 years should have 60 minutes or more of physical activity each day. (US Department of Health & Human Services, 2008) The question is, how can I get my students active outside of my Physical Education classes? In this article I’m going to share with you the multitude of Family Fitness Night Activities I have held in the past 23 years. Currently I offer one Family Fitness Night per month with the exception of December & January. Those months are busy enough. 23 years ago I only had one Family Fitness Night. A few years later I added a second in the school year. Few years later added a third. This past school year I had nine Family Fitness Night events. I have found how to keep them simple yet effective. Functional for my time and my parents. Not every family comes to every night, but with the wide variety of activities being offered, I am able to meet the needs of most of my families.
Promoting: The more you can get the word out about your upcoming family events, the more successful your events will be. Not everyone is going to be able to attend your events. Not every event is going to meet the interest level of every family. But if you can properly promote your
program then families will be able to pick, choose, and plan. Many families are busy with work, sports, and various other millions of activities. The more notice you can give families on upcoming events, the happier they will be. Here are some examples of how to promote: School website, Physical Education website, social media (don’t use personal social media, create professional Physical Education only social media sites), schools weekly newsletter, school email blast, school phone home blast, morning TV show, school scrolling announcements, school entrance marquee, bulletin board, flyers over water fountains, flyers in the office, events calendar poster, PE program first of year trifold, classroom teachers weekly newsletter, just to name a few. I’m sure you have others that are clicking in your mind right now.
Community Support: Family Fitness Nights serve two purposes. 1) Get Families moving together. 2) Promote you and your program. At some point in your career a child is going to say something about you that isn’t fully the truth. If you have built a solid relationship within the community (comma) then the parent is better suited to give you the benefit of the doubt. They will either let it pass or come to you directly and ask for your side of the story. If you have also built a solid relationship within your community, getting funding or support for any future projects also becomes a lot easier.
Here are several examples of Family Fitness Nights I have held in the past. There have been variations of each one presented below. Please, keep in mind, these examples work at Round Hill Elementary in Round Hill, Virginia. If you plan to implement any of these plans at your school, you will have to adapt. Every child, school, and community are different. In education nothing is cookie cutter, you will have to change something to suit your population.
Family Flag Football Night: Towards the end of September for grades 3rd-5th. In Physical Education, we have just finished a two-week unit on flag football and related skills. We invite our parents and siblings to the school after hours to play flag football or pass, punt, and kick around with one another. After school from 3:00-4:30, I would set up 3 flag football fields. A parent volunteer to help organize and run each game. I have two different color flag belts at each field. The parent volunteer divides up the teams, explains the rules of the game. No blitzes, two catches make a first down, can’t deflect your flag, after a score other team starts at the five-yard line (it’s an orange line spray painted on the field, nothing fancy) I provide water jugs and cups, but encourage filling water bottles. The families just play. Its simple, effective, and families enjoy the comradery and time with each other.
Family Hike Night: In our community we have a hiking trail called the Washington & Old Dominion Railroad and Regional Park (W&OD). What used to be a railroad that was built during the Civil War turned into a hiking trail in 1982. For one evening, in early October, I will set a date for my families to meet me at the local high school, that backs up to the trail. I’ll set up my West Virginia University gold/blue canopy, provide a map of the trail, jug full of water and from 4:00-8:00 families will come and hike the trail, together. The trail has ½ mile markers, so families can choose how far out they want to hike. I remind them to keep in mind how far out you go is how far back you will need to come. I encourage them to start out based on how much time you have. Go out half and see how far you traveled, then come back another day and travel out a little farther. With the map, I can also show families other places they can enter the trail, so they can see other aspects of the trail. Simple, effective, and promotes a feature of their community that is already in place that they may have never known existed.
Color Run: This was a fundraiser we held to raise money for a new playground. I rarely charge any money for my Family Fitness Events. Occasionally, we’ll ask for a canned food donation for the local food bank. This was an exception. Our students got sponsors who pledged money for how long they ran. Our PTA set up four color stations around the oval bus loop in front the school. One Friday evening from 6:00-8:00 families were invited to come run or walk the oval for as long as they wanted to go. Each participant was given a white shirt. At each color station there were volunteers who were tossing the color powder up in the air for runners to go through. We had red, blue, yellow, and orange clouds floating around the front of the school. As they were running, the color powder was blending in with their white shirts. It was awesome! At 8:00 we had the local Fire Department spray a mist in the air for everyone to clean themselves off. We had parents say they could see the color cloud over the trees from the local interstate. I was streaming the event live on Periscope, while playing DJ music. It was such an amazing fundraiser that brought our community and families closer together.
Turkey Trot/Heart Healthy Run: Turkey Trott is ran in November and the Heart Healthy Run is in February. Both events are organized and ran the exact same way. One day after school in October & February from 3:00-3:45 we invite the parents and students down to the school. If weather is nice we will run the track; however, if weather is not nice we will run in the halls of the school. The halls in our school make a rectangle 1/7th of a mile. Our track is 1/6th of a mile. The first race is for Kindergarten through 2nd grade students and families. They will run a half mile while the 3rd, 4th, & 5th grade parents and students are gathered around the outside of the track; however, if we are inside, they will gather in the side hallways throughout the school cheering and supporting the runners as they go by. Each child has three pieces of paper. For each lap they run, they will put one strip of paper in any of the tubs at the Start/Finish line. After they have put their final piece of paper in the tub their race is over. Every child gets a participation ribbon and gets to sign the event poster that I will hang up in front of the gym for the rest of the school year. After every K-2 family has completed their run, I will get on the school PA or outside bull horn and announce for the 3rd-5th grade families and students to come to the Start/Finish line and grab six pieces of paper each. I know my inside mile would be seven laps equals seven pieces of paper. I don’t worry about it. Keep it simple. If half a mile was three then full is six. We don’t time the students and families, so it’s not that big of a deal. While the 3rd-5th grade families are running, the K-2nd grade families are gathered around the outside of the track or in the side hallways of the school cheering and providing support for the next runners. Having families cheering on other families for participating with their children is such a rush. My community really gets into these runs.
Family Bowling Night: One night in November, during Family Education Week, my school librarian and I will do a joint event. She will have an evening book fair, while I host a Family Bowling Night. The event runs from 5:00-8:00 and I can have 100 families bowling within that 3-hour span. Families go to a www.signupgenius.com page to book their families bowling time and lane. Families can choose 45-minute blocks of time. From 5:00-5:45, 5:45-6:30, 6:30-7:15, or 7:15-8:00. Within each time slot I have 25 bowling lanes set up for them. For this event I must borrow bowling equipment from three or four other schools around the area. I can fit 11 lanes in my gym, eight in the cafeteria, and six more in the hallways. Every 45 minutes I get on the school PA system and thank the one group for coming and encourage them to visit the local bowling alley some other night, and to also stop by the book fair in the library. I make sure to tell the families coming out to leave their bowling pins but please return the bowling balls. Then I follow up by announcing for the next sets of families are now free to go to their bowling lanes. At the main entrance I have a table set up with a print out of every families bowling times and lanes. I have a large cart full of indoor elementary physical education rubber bowling balls and a smaller cart full of nerf soccer balls/basketballs for younger siblings. Each family has to share one bowling ball and, if needed, one lighter nerf ball. As the families are leaving I have family certificates for the student to write their families names on the certificate and go home and hang it on the refrigerator. This event takes a little more work before the event, but once the event gets rolling (pun intended) it runs quite smoothly. This is a staple event my families would never let me take out. We always fill all 100 lanes and have other families double up. Here is the link to my signupgenius:
Running Bears Club: For this event I need a few teachers and parents to help organize. Our Running Bears Club is a spring after-school, twice a week club that meets every Monday & Wednesday from 3:00-4:00, for 12 weeks. Our end goal is to run in the towns Memorial Day 5K race. Our PTA treats our Running Bears Club like an after-school enrichment class. Parents pay $60. $30 goes to the teachers and $30 goes to the PTA, but the PTA pays each child’s $15 Memorial Day 5K entry fee. Each runner is required to have a running buddy. Running buddies only pay the $15 race entry fee. When we began our running clubs eight years ago we knew we needed guidance on how to train young runners, but also how to teach the benefits of running. For the first year we started with Girls on the Run and the next year switched to Running Stars to give our leaders guidance and a curriculum. After gaining the proper information, the next season our instructors felt comfortable branching out on their own. This past season we had 92 runners. Very excited for our leaders and community.
Family Disc Golf Night: In our Physical Education classes we have been playing Frisbee games and progressing towards playing disc golf. Towards the end of our unit we host a Family Disc Golf Night. In May we set a date to meet out at the local disc golf course and from 4:00-8:00 families can come meet me at my West Virginia University blue/gold canopy and play around of disc golf. I’m able to get a good deal on 30 used discs from a local used sports store that my PTA/PTA purchases for me. The first 30 students who come out get a free disc golf disc. Any
additional family members can borrow one of my personal discs or one of my Physical Education equipment discs. The borrowed discs must be returned at the end of the round, but I provide them with the information of the local used sports equipment store who has disc golf discs for sale. As each family comes, I greet them and give them a map of the course, a disc that they can keep, and show the additional family members what discs they can borrow. We then walk up to the first tee. I explain to them how disc golf is played and then help them along their way. After the round I follow up with each family, getting them to share a fun moment, then letting them know this course is here year-round for them to use for FREE. Before we had this local disc golf course I would set up a course on my school grounds using hula hoops, cones, and baskets made from tomato stakes and laundry baskets. Simple, effective, and highlights a part of the fitness community they may have not known existed before. Here’s a link to a GOPHER Webinar I lead on Disc Golf in Physical Education. https://www.gophersport.com/info/webinar-recordings
Field Day: I consider my Field Days as family events. My school has 570 students divided into 24 different classes in grades K-5. For my field day I set up 25 stations that are extensions of what we have played throughout the school year in physical education. Each class is led by their teacher and a parent volunteer. Two or three parent volunteers lead each station. Parents are encouraged to volunteer for the full day, but many times they can only give us a morning session or an afternoon session. Do the math: my field days encourage right around 100+ parents to come in and interact with their children. All my stations are non-competitive, and many be replicated at home or in the community. Once again, I utilize Sign Up Genius to organize & communicate with all my parent volunteers. Here’s the link: https://www.signupgenius.com/go/10c0c48aba72baafb6-round
Round Hill Center for Fitness: This is an event I did for one winter 15 years ago. I turned the gym into a fitness center every Tuesday & Thursday evening from 4:00-6:00. Stations would alternate between strength training, cardio, & flexibility. I would have 21 stations and participants would rotate every 60 seconds with a 15 second
rest/rotation/prepare break. Families could come and go as they needed. There wasn’t a starting station. Families would find an empty station and rotate clockwise to the next station. I really enjoyed this program, but once my boys got older I no longer had the time to do this. It’s a great event that just didn’t fit my personal schedule.
Specialist Family Night: This was an event I did 20 years ago. Our Art, Music, Physical Education programs had united to host a Specialist Family Night. We would pick one grade level and put together a program where each class would perform either a dance or activity one class at a time while the parents sat in the bleachers proudly taking pictures and clapping. The art department would have the children’s art work displayed around the gym or part of their costumes would be made in their art classes. These events are great for promoting your programs and yourself, but they don’t encourage the families to get actively engaged together.
I hope I was able to provide you with some ideas of what you can do for your school/community. Please keep in mind that my ideas work at Round Hill Elementary School in Round Hill, Virginia. I encourage you to take these ideas and mold them to fit your school and your community. By personalizing your program to your families your families will support you. Be proud of being your school Physical Education Specialists. Promote, promote, promote. You should be what they are talking about at the dinner table, you should be what makes them excited to come to school.
Eric Turrill has been teaching Physical Education for 23 years in Virginia at Round Hill Elementary. He has been published by GOPHER, PE Central, Great Activities Magazine, and VAHPERD Magazine. He has presented for GOPHER Webinar on Disc Golf, Educating Physically for classroom teachers and Utilizing Technology in Physical Education. Eric is the 2008 VA Elem. PE Teacher of the Year. He enjoys teaching, announcing baseball and spending time with his wife, two sons, and his dog, Bishop.
Round Hill Elementary; Round Hill, VA
YouTube Channel: RHEPE