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Half term activities to keep your kids active

Half term is the perfect time for children to relax and reboot after a busy school schedule. However, as much as they might look forward to gaming or hanging out with friends, it's still important to keep your kids active during this break.

According to the World Health Organization, children aged between 5-18 years should do around 60 minutes of exercise every day. On at least three days per week, this exercise should involve activities that help strengthen muscles and bones1.

Despite the exercise children get as part of their school playtime and PE lessons, many fall short of this target even during term time. In fact, figures show that 80% of children are not meeting this recommended level of physical activity1.

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The half term slump

With packed school curriculum struggling to make room for PE, and activity levels often poor during term time, half term could offer the ideal opportunity for kids to get active. However, research states that children's fitness levels slump even further during the school holidays2.

Children's fitness can rise significantly, even over a relatively short period, so you should encourage your child to get moving during this time. Easing your child into healthy exercise habits now, means they may well want to keep them up when the new term starts.

So how do we inspire our children to exercise?

Warmer weather brings the perfect opportunity for children to increase their activity levels. More free time and fewer distractions from schoolwork create an ideal environment for physical activity.

The benefits of exercise

As well as keeping obesity at bay, regular exercise offers a range of benefits.

"Exercise is incredibly important for children," says Dr Jeff Foster, Medical Director at H3 Health. "Not only does it help prevent obesity, keeping active can help avoid future health problems. Plus, if exercise is taken outside, this helps to keep kids' vitamin D levels topped up."

One of the best ways to incorporate physical activity into your child's holiday schedule is to spend time in parks, gardens or playgrounds. Playing games like tag, football, catch or simply throwing a frisbee to each other are all easy ways to enjoy exercise.

Time in the sunlight can also be good for children's eyesight.

"Evidence shows that the violet part of sunlight has been shown to have a protective element against short-sightedness (myopia)," explains Bhavin Shah, Behavioural Optometrist & Myopia Management Specialist at Central Vision Optics. "At least two hours a day outdoors can reduce our child's chances of developing this condition."

Whilst time in natural daylight can be beneficial, don't forget to apply a high-factor sun cream to your children if they are spending time outside on sunny days.

"It's also important to ensure children's eyes are protected during the summer. "Excessive exposure to UV light can damage the eyes, so, in the same way you use sunblock for the skin, it's essential to protect children's eyes from the sun," adds Shah. "To minimise exposure, choose sunglasses for your child that offer appropriate UV protection, and advise them to spend some time in the shade when the sun is at its strongest."

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Swimming is fantastic for your child's health. Due to its fun, invigorating nature, it's perfect for blending seamlessly into their summertime routine. According to the NHS, regular swimming can offer a variety of benefits.

It can help:

  • Keep their heart and lungs healthy.

  • Strengthen their muscles.

  • Lift their mood.

  • Improve flexibility.

Swimming is also a more gentle way of exercising. This means that it inflicts less stress on your child's joints compared to other forms of physical workout.


Cycling is a great activity for families to bond over. Like swimming, it is easier on your joints than other forms of exercise like running. Choosing to cycle - or even simply walk - somewhere with your children is a more environmentally friendly way to travel. It also provides an opportunity for meaningful conversations while on the move.

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Online activities

If getting your little ones off the sofa is a struggle, play-along online activities like NHS 10 Minute Shake Up games could encourage even the most reluctant child to get moving.

Simple things

Prompting your child to take part in routine activities can be an ideal way of fitting little bursts of movement into your child's day. Examples can include taking the dog for a walk, helping with the gardening or even just dancing around the kitchen to some music. This way, you're not only inspiring healthy habits, you're creating happy summer moments to remember all year round.

Group activities

Making exercise fun is an important part of keeping your child motivated. There are many different ways to keep active, and half term provides an ideal opportunity to try different activities on for size.

"At a younger age, it's about making it fun," says Foster. "It's not about increasing sporting performance. If you can get your children to do something they enjoy, that's the important thing.

Another way to motivate your little ones is to get them to join a local organised sport club where they'll be playing with other children of a similar age. If it's something their friends are doing, they are more likely to want to do it too."

Stay happy

Staying active can help children to feel more positive.

"As well as the physical benefits, exercise ensures our children get plenty of endorphins, which help them to feel upbeat and happy," explains Alex Taylor, Children’s Fitness Coach from KidzLoveFit.

As well as helping them to improve their physical health, keeping fit can also improve classroom performance.

"Exercise and movement have been found to improve cognition, mental function and social development," adds Shah. "Having a strong upper body also helps to keep the head and neck upright and stable, enabling the eyes and visual system to process information more effectively."

Keep to a schedule

In an ideal world, we'd love to take a break from work or household jobs to spend time with our children. In reality, most parents are performing a complex juggling act during the holidays to meet our own commitments and look after our kids.

However, with a little planning, exercise can become habitual and a structured part of each day.

"I suggest parents sit down with their children and create a wish list," says Taylor, who is also a mother of three. "Write down the things you'd like to do during their holiday - from a picnic in the park, to a camping weekend. Then work out a schedule to make sure you fit it all in. I always do this with my children and find that ticking things off the wish list ensures I spend quality time with the kids - as well as reducing my guilt when I have to work!"

As well as the more involved activities, Taylor also recommends working a daily schedule to ensure that children take regular exercise during the day.

"When you're trying to juggle activities, it's easy to sit children down with their iPad® or put a DVD on," she says. "For a small period of time, that's OK - the problem comes when we end up doing that for most of the day."

One way to make sure our children have a healthy balance is to try to build in the same sort of routine as they have at school.

"I try to mirror what they'd be doing during their school day - taking a break where we kick a ball around for twenty minutes, a walk to the park or getting the bikes out," recommends Taylor. "Structuring your day gives children consistency, and also reduces the pressure on you, making it a more enjoyable process."

So, whether it's a walk in the park, jumping wildly on a trampoline or plunging into a swimming pool, keeping children active throughout the half term break is crucial for their fitness - both now and in the future.

Further reading

1. World Health Organization: Physical Activity

2. Watson et al: Children's activity and diet behaviours in the summer holidays versus school year

Article history

The information on this page is peer reviewed by qualified clinicians.

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