IHT is happy to publish this guest post from Spirit System partner and National Advisory Board member, Jim Jenkins, PE and Health Teacher at Jackson Hole High School in Jackson, Wyoming.

Looking for a way to spice up your cardio work for your kids? How about using your local environment to make things interesting for them? Variety, after all, is the spice of life! Plus, we all know exercise and fresh air are good for children’s growing bodies — especially today, when statistics show that American children are increasingly overweight, and spend more time indoors than their parents did.

Which is why using your natural environment to engage kids in activity during your PE class time is so important.

Communing with nature is also good for their souls, scientists say. Research suggests that children learn more when exposed to natural light and the lack of such light has been cited as a possible factor of attention deficit disorder. I’m lucky to live in such an extraordinary outdoor playground like Jackson Hole, Wyoming. But no matter where you are, there are several ways to use the great outdoors as a way to give your students a chance to not only get healthy and fit but experience curiosity, wonderment and a force greater than themselves.

Here are 5 ways to use your natural environment to engage kids in activity:

1. Bike Paths: If you’re fortunate enough to have bike paths around your school, USE THEM! Put your Spirit heart rate monitors on the kids and turn them loose! The nice thing about this is that they have their heart monitors on, so they are responsible for however much time you want them to be in their zone. There are several ways you can use bike paths:

a. You can have the whole class run or walk to a certain destination or distance. If you have a teaching assistant, park them at the end of the run and have them check in kids as they finish. If you’re solo, have the kids wait at the end for you. You can either run or bike with them.

b. You can also give the kids the option to be on the “wheels” of their choice, or to walk or run. Some kids will bike, some will skateboard, and some might rollerblade. If you do this, however, don’t forget that the “wheelers” will be faster than the walkers and runners, (especially the bikers). They might need to do the route two or three times, depending on how fast they are.

2. Sidewalks: If you don’t have bike paths, get them out on the sidewalks! You can do all the same things and still give the kids variety in what they are doing. Have them run around the entire school, or have a “speed clean-up day” where they pick up trash on the run. One of the great, unique aspects of the Spirit System is the ability to customize the target heart rate zones for each individual student, rather than have every student use the same target zone. What a great experience for the students, regardless of their fitness level or the activity!

3. Track Circuit: Rather than just have your students walk or run 400 meter laps around the track (yawn) which can get pretty monotonous, add some zest to your track workouts! Have your students run 1-4 laps at the pace of their choice, stopping every 100 meters to do a different exercise: (100 m): 20 sit-ups, (200 m): 10 push-ups, (300 m): 10 squat jumps, (400 m): 20 jumping jacks or step-ups if there’s a bench. This is a great circuit to rev up cardio AND muscle groups. Students can easily see improvements (if done several times during the semester). You can measure overall laps completed, total time and heart rate effort.

4. Blaze a Trail: We’re fortunate to have access to hiking by our schools in Jackson Hole. During the last quarter, we do a hiking unit with the kids. We have a series of hikes that we do each week that get progressively more difficult as the quarter goes on. The final exam for the class is the longest hike that we do. This is a great way to finish off our cardio for the year and wearing the Spirit Monitors, there’s no limit to the distance they can travel and still have all their data on the effort they put in when their finished.

5. Get Creative Around Your School: If you don’t have access to hiking, how about using the stairs in the stadium? Or have students team up at a bench or a knee high wall. Have one student do step ups while the other student does tricep dips and then have them switch. Have a small grassy hill nearby? Have them do frog hops, bear crawls, lunges, running backwards, high skips, seat kickers or karaoke’s up to the top. Stairs are a great way to get your heart rate up while giving the kids even more variety. will get heart rates racing into the red zone plus work on their muscular strength, balance and overall fitness.

Remember, the more variety you can give the kids, the happier you ALL will be. Get creative. Think outside the box. Use what you have around you to keep the kids motivated.
Jim Jenkins started teaching and coaching for the Teton County School District in Jackson Hole, WY in 1997. He taught elementary and adaptive PE his first 5 years and has spent the past 13 years at Jackson Hole High School. In addition, Jim is also the head swimming and diving coach for the high school and middle school teams. He has coached the high school team to numerous state championships and is a multi-awarded winner as Coach of the Year and finalist for National Coach of the Year. He has been a proponent of integrating heart rate technology throughout his entire career and IHT is honored to have him as a partner and as part of our national advisory team.