Grown-ups aren't the only ones who benefit from becoming more flexible, learning muscle control and building a stronger core. Mat-based Pilates exercises can be fun and effective for kids of almost any age.
It's up to the teacher to choose moves that are appropriate for the child's age and attention span. Younger children benefit from playful moves that don't require a lot of concentration to make micro maneuvers, while older kids can start to incorporate a little more nuance into the exercises. Just remember to keep a Pilates practice for kids light, as the rote work that sometimes happens in an adult class will lose a kid's interest quickly.
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Roll-ups are a standard Pilates exercise for the core. They require concentration, but are a pretty basic concept to master. Keep the repetitions low so you don't lose your students' interest. Also, low repetitions mean less sloppiness as the kids get fatigued or bored. This move is appropriate for children of just about any age.
To do a roll-up: Have the child lie on her back with her knees bent and feet planted. Instruct her to reach her fingers to the ceiling as if she was trying to touch the sky, but keep her back and head in contact with the mat. Then, roll up slowly; challenge her to go as slowly and purposefully as possible — starting with the head, neck and shoulders and finish with the ribs and lower back. At the top, the student should pull her belly button into her spine to form a letter C and roll back down, like each bone in her back is a bead on a necklace that needs to be replaced one by one onto the mat.
Leg circles improve hip mobility and core strength. They also teach precision in motor skills. Use a paint brush or pencil imagery to make it fun.
You might save leg circles for older kids, such as 8 years old and up, as the exercise can get sloppy if they lack concentration and attention to detail.
To do leg circles: Have the child lie on her back and reach her right foot straight up to the ceiling, while the left leg remains outstretched on the floor. His hands should be pressed into the mat alongside his hips. Have him imagine his big toe is a paintbrush or pencil and ask him to draw perfect circles to the right; start them small and let them grow larger if he can keep his hips from rocking. Do about five in one direction, then switch to draw them the other way. Perform the circles with each leg.
Rolling Like a Ball
Just the name of this exercise suggests the playfulness of the move. You scrunch up into a tight ball and roll to train your core and massage tension from your spine. Kids of all ages experience these benefits, too.
To do rolling like a ball: Have the child sit on a mat and plant his feet on the floor, knees bent. He should hug his knees tightly and round his spine to form a letter C. Roll backward, to just behind the shoulders, and use the momentum to come back up, trying to keep his feet from touching the floor. All the while, remind him to clench his butt cheeks and hollow out his belly. Do five or six repetitions.
The seal is as much, if not more, fun than rolling like a ball. It's a similar exercise, but more challenging because the legs are apart. Have your child add in a seal "bark" at the top and bottom of the move. The bark offers a benefit, too — it forces her to pause so she must use core strength during the exercise, rather than momentum. Once your child masters rolling like a ball first, move on to the seal.
To do the seal: Have your child sit on the mat, knees bent and feet planted hip-distance apart. Her arms go inside her thighs and wrap around the outside of her ankles. Have her lift up her feet and rock back slightly so she's balancing on her sits bones. Then, she should pull in her belly tightly to make a C-curve and roll back to her shoulder blades, keeping her chin tucked slightly. When on the shoulder blades, clap her feet together three times — this is where she could bark like a seal — and roll back up, repeating the claps of the feet. Complete about five repetitions. Challenge her to roll up to a stand on the final repetition.
Don't Stop There
Other Pilates mat exercises may be doable by your child, as kids have different levels of strength and concentration. Feel free to teach them bridge exercises, single leg stretches, side planks, forward planks, side kicks and swimming. Older kids are more likely to tolerate 20- to 30-minute sessions, while younger kids will appreciate a few one-off exercises peppered in with other activities.
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