Family fitness nights are about a lot more than fun and games. By holding a family fitness night, you can emphasize the importance of physical fitness, get kids interested in sports and active games, and help families connect with resources in their community.
A family fitness night or gym night is an evening of fun and physical activities for students and parents using your school’s equipment to stress the importance of staying healthy. “It’s a great way to expose kids to different activities and really let them see what a sport or activity is all about,” says Liz Adams, first vice president for programs with the Hendricks Avenue Elementary PTA in Jacksonville, Fla. “It’s a sports sampler.”
A gym night at Churchville Middle School in Elmhurst, Ill., gave parents an opportunity to have fun with their kids at school, something that can be rare in middle school. “It’s a very popular event,” says PTA president Liz Eder. “We received a lot of positive feedback and it gave the community an opportunity to come to the middle school, which doesn’t happen often.”
Another benefit of this type of fitness night is its relative low cost. By getting help from local businesses and community groups, PTOs can keep costs to a minimum. Here’s how to go about planning an event for your parent group.
Be sure to choose a location large enough to comfortably hold all the activities you want to include. A gymnasium or cafeteria usually works best. Consider combining your efforts with another school with larger facilities if yours aren’t big enough.
It’s best to hold your fitness program during a time when you won’t be competing with other events. Winter is a great time because the weather isn’t conducive to playing outdoors and it’s a down time for most sports. The beginning of a new calendar year might also gain you a few more attendees, since many folks will be making resolutions to live a healthier lifestyle. Or you could choose the month of May to tie your event into National Physical Fitness and Sports Month.
Everyone Loves a Fun Family Night
Not only do you need to determine how long your event should be; you also need to consider at what time it should be held. One to two hours should be an adequate amount of time for families to rotate through your activities. Early evening on a weeknight or late morning on a weekend generally works well, but you know your school community best, so plan accordingly.
Bring your physical education teacher on board early in the planning process. You’ll need her approval to use the school’s PE equipment. She will also be able to give feedback on what activities will interest students, and can help promote the event to students. “Parents typically don’t see the PE teacher at conferences or during open houses, so this is her time to shine,” says Christine Zona, president of the Townwide PTO of New Milford, Conn.
Don’t forget to gain approval through your principal or central office, filling out any necessary forms along the way.
Many schools that host fitness nights set up stations for different activities throughout the gym or school. At Hendricks Avenue Elementary, one station has a video game dance mat, another has bicycles, yet another an obstacle course, and so on. Here are some activities you may be able to do using equipment already at the school: basketball shoot-out; obstacle course relay (with bicycles or tricycles, if available); Hula-Hoop, limbo, or jump-rope contests; and wall climbing.
Up the fun factor by giving families a chance to try new activities. Ask instructors from a local gym or martial arts studio to give short lessons. Consider stations for aerobics, latin fitness dance, or line dancing; yoga or Pilates; karate or other martial arts; and kickboxing.
Work out a system for moving people through the stations and preventing long lines from forming. It’s best to keep things moving fairly quickly to keep children from becoming bored and disruptive while waiting their turn.
You may want to allow participants to wander through a series of short activities at their own pace. For stations where instructors lead participants in activities like yoga or dancing, set time limits and have a signal designating when it’s time to move to the next station. You could use a whistle or bullhorn, or ask a DJ to volunteer his services. A DJ can help keep energy high throughout the event and can hand out door and raffle prizes.
Get the Community Involved
In addition to physical activities, many schools tap their local communities to provide services such as free health screenings, chair massages, bike helmet fittings, bicycle safety demonstrations, CPR demonstrations, and body mass index readings. Organizations you might contact include the American Red Cross, the American Heart Association, local police and fire departments, dentists, doctors, or optometrists, and the county health department.
To acquire door prizes or raffle items, offer table space for sports clubs, aerobic instructors, local youth sports organizations, personal trainers, dance schools, gymnastic facilities, bicycle shops, martial arts instructors, and exercise equipment vendors.
You might also ask a local business to sponsor a craft booth where participants can create stress balls (fill an empty balloon with corn starch and tie securely—don’t use water balloons, they’re too thin) or water bottle weights (fill empty water bottles with small pebbles or sand). These will provide a “workout” of another sort and provide participants with a reminder of the event and what they learned.
Keep Food Healthy
Your family fitness night is a great opportunity to teach people about healthy snacks (read “Healthy Snack Ideas for PTO Events” for some suggestions). Provide bottled water (consider a custom label with your school logo), fresh fruits and vegetables, pretzels, granola bars, and unbuttered popcorn. You might want to sell refreshments to help cover costs. However, be sure to provide water coolers with disposable cups at no charge in various locations throughout your facility.
An event stressing the importance of healthy eating is also a great venue for allowing students to try unfamiliar foods by setting up a taste-test station. Various fresh fruits and vegetables, dried fruit, yogurt, trail mix, baked chips, and even whole-wheat pastas are easy to provide in small quantities.
Round Up Volunteers
Volunteers will ensure the success of your event. You’ll need two volunteers at each activity station. Limit volunteer time slots to no more than 45 minutes so that helpers can enjoy the evening with their families, too. Volunteer jobs include setting up, explaining station activities to participants, replenishing station supplies if needed, distributing refreshments, and keeping participants engaged.
Don’t limit your volunteers to just parents. Ask local high school or college athletes, teachers, coaches from local sports teams, Scout groups, and community leaders. Hendricks Avenue Elementary reports using physical education students from Jacksonville University, a recommendation from the PE teacher.
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