It’s February in Syracuse. What to do? Turn your house into a gym, with circuit training, calisthenics and games. Children of all ages can stay fit in their homes—even those with limited space—when the weather is bad.

Most of the activities here have spurts of intense effort balanced with rest time (like Tag). This allows for longer play and gets in a great aerobic workout.

Kids need activity. Their bodies are made to move and play. Using large motor skills increases their concentration and alertness. It keeps bones and muscles strong, decreases health risks like diabetes, and helps reduce depression and anxiety. Structure from games also keeps them busy and less likely to get into trouble with their siblings.

To them it isn’t work: It’s having fun. Here are 22 heart-pumping activities to get started. Whether it’s scaled down for inside or expanded for outdoors, the modifications are endless.

Wheelbarrow and Crab Races

Identify a start and finish line. Contestants for the crab race are stomach up and use only their hands and feet to travel. For wheelbarrow races, break the group into partners (one person on her hands, the other holds her legs and feet) to travel. This will end with everyone laughing and Mom and Dad will realize how many muscles they don’t use on a regular basis.

Noodle Jumping

Using a wrapping paper tube or pool noodle, sweep around in a circle or back and forth and have the kids jump over it.

All Hands on Deck

Use three separate areas of the room, with one side as the “ship,” the opposite side the “shore” and in between is the “deck.” One person is the Captain, who barks orders. When he yells “All hands on deck!” all must run to the deck and sit. The order of “Salute!” has everyone stand up to salute. “All hands on ship!” means everyone must run to the ship side. The order for “All hands ashore!” means everyone must run to the shore side. Each takes a turn as Captain. Try variations such as two pushups for each visit to the shore or three situps when returning to the ship.

The Blob

One person starts as the Blob. Chase another until he is caught. That child grabs the Blob’s hand and becomes part of the Blob. Continue holding hands but with only the free hands continue to catch others, growing with each capture. The Blob can either tag or encircle its prey. The Blob can also split off to form its own Blob as long as there are at least two members. The game ends when everyone is caught.

Musical Chairs

The number of chairs should be one less than the number of people playing. Walk around the circle of empty chairs that face outward while music is playing. Once the music stops, everyone must find a chair. Whoever remains standing is out. Remove a chair and continue until there’s a winner.

Freeze Dance

While the music is on, all dancers boogie down. Once the music stops, all must freeze until the music starts again. This is a great substitute for watching TV one night a week and allows the little ones an opportunity to show off their moves.

Jumping Jacks

If you are setting up a circuit, have a certain number of jumps to complete. Have participants count to 20. Little kids can count to 10 twice. Do they know how to count in Spanish? Can they jump in time to “Mary Had a Little Lamb”?

Crab Walk Balloon Kick

Strengthen stomach muscles while keeping a balloon up only by kicking it. Is it possible to keep it in the air to the finish line?

Crouch and Bear Walk

Have each child walk while squatting around the tape pieces in a zigzag pattern. This is tougher than it sounds! Then have players lumber around the tape in a bear walk. Only hands and feet on the floor!


Have two kids sit on the floor back to back, with arms linked at the elbows. See if they can work together to stand without coming unglued. Have them walk around and pick up items off the floor, all the while staying together.

Penguin Shuffle Relay

Hold a small ball between your feet or knees while hopping to the bowl at the finish line. Get the ball into the bowl. If it misses the bowl, go back and start again.

Football Hustle

Put a piece of masking tape on the floor every 12 inches or so.  With feet together, have kids jump on them, hop in front, hop behind, hop side to side (like football practice jumping in tires). Younger kids can do a single hop or hop on one foot.

Hot Potato

Sitting in a circle, participants toss a small ball or beanbag from person to person while music is playing. When the song stops, the person holding the “potato” is out. Continue until there’s one winner.

Sock Basketball

This is my favorite and one that my boys love to play. Put a large bowl or bucket in each room. I use plastic stacking mixing bowls. Give each player a balled sock and have him or her stand in the doorway and try to toss the sock into the basket.  When a participant scores he can move on to the next room.  The first person to make all rooms’ baskets wins.

Simon Says

Make sure “Simon says” comes first! Be sure to include toe touches and run in place.

Pick Up/Put Down

Anything can be used for the object. Use a key word to stand and hold a toy every time it’s heard and another key word to squat and put the object down.  Try it to a nursery rhyme or a song such as “The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round.”

Clean the House

Have each child get into the crab stance. Can she balance a toy on her belly? How many can she hold while moving to a finish line? Can she move her toys to her room without dropping any? (This is a great way to make picking up a little more engaging.)

Go Words

The same concept as above. Choose a repeated word from a book read out loud. Almost anything by Dr. Seuss will work (One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish or The Cat in the Hat). Have the kids stand up and sit down each time they hear it.


Choose a wall as a support and have child stand on her head. Compete with others for upside-down time.

Snowball Race

Dump a dozen cotton balls on the floor. Using a spoon and crawling, children move each one into a bowl placed in another room. Set a timer if you wish.

Dance with a Friend

Gather a few stuffed animals, turn on the music and dance. When the music stops, freeze. Whoever moves picks up a “stuffed partner.” Dance and pause until all the animals are in play. When the next person moves during a freeze, he takes the animal from his opponent. Continue until one player has all the animals.

Active Games

Ideas from these websites supplemented my own family’s games and activities.



Laura Livingston Snyder is a writer and mother of four who lives north of Syracuse. She blogs at

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