It’s exercise disguised as Irish dancing, or rock-climbing.
Nontraditional physical activities can benefit children who shy away from traditional sports, perhaps because they need a different challenge, get easily distracted or feel uncoordinated. Other kids struggle because of behavioral or learning difficulties.
Still, children should get at least 60 minutes a day of physical activity.
Parents can help by introducing kids to activities with more individual and mental focuses, including a top-five list suggested by Brain Balance Achievement Centers, a group of U.S. after-school learning centers working with kids who have behavioral, social, or learning difficulties.
“I do have the students who don’t fit the mold for P.E. or traditional team sports,” said Amy Vogel, owner of Spokane Irish Dance. “Irish dancing is very beneficial for musical timing and counting. When you’re staying in a beat, you have to focus, and it’s well-structured.”
Here’s more about the five recommended alternative activities for children in the Spokane area:
Kids learn routines made from various combinations of steps. The Celtic-inspired costumes and music also can trigger an interest in history and folklore.
Vogel works with students who practice in a north Spokane studio she shares with a hip-hop dance school. She said the high-energy steps build both stamina and strength. Kids focus on skills individually while also making friends with other dancers.
“I do have some students who have opted out of P.E. at school and are taking Irish dance as P.E.,” Vogel said. “Three are home-schoolers; one student is part of the Mead district.”
She’s instructed autistic kids who enjoy the upbeat music and mastering skills. Spokane Irish Dance teaches both individual Irish step dancing and a group folk dance called Ceili dancing.
Irish dancing involves group practices and some public performances. Vogel has watched shy kids learn to enjoy going before audiences because of the positive responses they get from people.
“Typically, when they’re shy, they find it’s fun to perform, and people are always clapping,” she said.
Dancers from the group will perform Saturday at the Spokane Fall Folk Festival at Spokane Community College.
Wild Walls is among options in Spokane with climbing classes geared to kids. Children gain confidence learning the ropes, literally.
This sport requires concentration but very little teamwork. It builds muscles, plus a sense of accomplishment when reaching the top.
“It’s a really good full-body workout,” said Rachel Clark, a Wild Walls coach who teaches classes for children. “It’s a pretty challenging mental sport.
“Kids learn problem-solving and gain self-confidence through that. Lots of times, they think they can’t do it, and then they realize they can.”
Clark instructs a class called Spider Monkeys geared to children ages 4 to 10. She also coaches Climbing Club for kids ages 10-15, where children learn more intricate body movements and techniques to run the ropes.
Children in classes have a variety of abilities, some athletic but many who otherwise aren’t active. Some of the students have disabilities.
“I think it’s accessible to all kids,” she said. “That confidence they gain translates into other parts of their lives.”
“That’s true especially with the older kids class. They get to use the ropes themselves and tie their own knots. They’re taught these serious adult responsibilities.”
Detail-oriented kids will enjoy this game of throwing a Frisbee or plastic disc toward basket targets.
Players can move through an outdoor course at their own pace, playing at a level that suits them, which alleviates nervousness and pressure.
That’s part of the appeal for Spokane resident Steve Simmons, a professional disc golfer playing since 1999. He has helped support after-school disc golf clubs for elementary schools, and he said interest is growing among families here for year-round play.
Local public disc golf courses include ones at Downriver Park, High Bridge Park and a small course near the North YMCA on the Newport Highway. In Coeur d’Alene, both Bluegrass and Cherry Hill parks have courses.
He also refers to Camp Sekani near Upriver Drive that has natural landscape features and elevation changes. A few smaller neighborhood disc courses are scattered around Spokane, including ones for Liberty Lake and Eagle Ridge communities, Simmons said.
“At some of these neighborhood courses, it’s perfect for kids and it’s easy to do,” Simmons said. “You can throw the discs any way you want. It’s just a matter of finding the way it works for you.
“You just show up and play and it’s free.”
People do need to bring the disc to throw. Benefits include walking, fresh air and companionship, playing as a family or among a few friends.
“Every time you finish the hole, you succeed,” Simmons added.
It’s a classic: Roller skating with friends, music and lights. Yet skaters get an aerobic workout.
Classes are available, and children soon learn to glide slow or fast, while building muscle strength and full-body coordination.
Pattison’s North Roller Skating Center in Spokane has a beginner’s skate trainer that is a frame held in front while children learn balance and skills, said Shaun Pattison, co-owner with wife Jericho Pattison.
“Roller skating is something they can do at their own pace,” he said. “For kids, once they gain confidence, they pick it up fairly quickly.”
The facility in north Spokane offers a one-hour skating class at 10 a.m. Saturday that costs $8 that draws 6-year-olds to those . Ages range from 6 to people in their 50s, he said.
People enjoy it so much they often don’t think about it as exercise, and the activity is fairly easy on the joints, Pattison added. It’s also in a climate-controlled environment for year-round participation, whether for fun or by joining a skating race team.
Pattison has coached inline speed racing for 20 years, including for kids who have autism or social anxieties. Once they’ve mastered skating skills, he’s watched them flourish because they realize they’re really good a skating.
“The skating is something he or she can take pride it,” he said.
Other options? Check out Roller Valley, 9415 E. Fourth Ave. in Spokane Valley (www.facebook.com/OfficialRollerValley, 509-288-4811, and Skate Plaza, 5685 N. Pioneer Drive, Coeur d’Alene (cdaskate.com, 208-772-9507).
Many children love animals, and horseback riding can nurture that and provide a physical workout.
“Horseback riding really concentrates on using your core balance and core strength,” said Jennifer Kuster, an instructor who owns ShowBiz Riding School, operated out of Busy Bee Ranch in Airway Heights.
Another benefit is children get immediate feedback from the horse. As an example, children will use their legs to move a horse from a halt to a walk.
“If they don’t use their legs enough, the horse won’t move,” she said. “If they get a little over zealous and get ahead of themselves, the horse may strike off into a trot and go faster than the child originally wanted.
“I’ve taught several autistic children. That helps encourage them to focus because of that immediate reaction from the horse.”
She also sees benefits among children as they build trust with the horse, moving from fear – leaning forward and gripping tightly – to being able to unfold and relax while riding. As confidence on a horse grows, kids rely more on balance and thinking through situations.
“As they unfold, I just see a lot of confidence in these kids,” Kuster said. “They’re able to think it through instead of reacting physically. Usually they come in quiet, and as confidence increases, they become more verbal and excited.”