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Stretch for Your Best!

To help young people understand what stretches are, why they are important and how to do them the right way.

Ages

3-14 Years Old

Duration

30 Minutes

What You Need

Yoga or other type of mats or a dry, soft, flat area in the grass

Resources

Healthy Families Newsletter

English (pdf)

Spanish (pdf)

To find out how this lesson fits Physical Education and Health Education standards click here.

Lesson Overview

This lesson helps young people understand that stretching their muscles is a part of a healthy lifestyle at all ages. The youth will learn and practice several several stretches together.

Introduction

Provide young people information on the positive benefits and importance of stretching:

  • Stretching is important at any age.
  • Stretching:
    • helps move joints through a full range of motion, by keeping ligaments (attach muscle to muscle) and tendons (attach muscle to bone) flexible
    • prevents injury
    • improves athletic performance
    • encourages a healthful lifestyle
    • helps ease sore or tight muscles
    • promotes better posture
    • avoids stiffness and speeds recovery of muscles after running or playing sports
    • encourages blood to circulate to the muscles and joints throughout the body
    • reduces stress.

Provide young people with the proper way to prepare to stretch:

  • The President’s Council for Physical Fitness and Sports states, “warmed-up tissues are less likely to be injured.”
  • Stretching before warming up increases risk for pulled muscles and doesn’t promote increased flexibility, so it’s best to wait until the end of physical activity, or at least warm up, by walking or jogging and gradually increasing heart rate, for five to 10 minutes before stretching. Warming up helps to deliver more blood to the muscle and helps the muscle become warm and able to stretch easier.
  • Warm-up phase should not cause you to feel tired. Tell the youth to stretch to a point of a gentle pull, not pain, and advise them to stretch after exercising.

Activity: Stretching

On yoga or other type of mats or a dry, soft, flat area in the grass, lead young people in the following stretches. Note the parts of the body that deserve pay special attention in each pose.

Toe Touch

A toe touch stretch is one of the most basic stretches a child can perform. This stretch targets largely the muscles of the legs, especially the calves and hamstrings. From a standing position, the child bends over at the waist and reaches for his or her toes with feet together. If the child can’t quite reach his or her toes, he or she can stretch just as far as is comfortable. From a sitting position, the child sits with legs outstretched and together. The child then bends forward; reaching for the toes or as far as is comfortable. In both stretches, the child should hold the stretch for 15 seconds and then release.

Neck Half Circles

The child starts by stretching right ear to right shoulder. He or she then rolls his or her head around, chin to chest, in a half circle to the left shoulder, and then back again, chin to chest. Slow movements are important to protect the neck muscles from injury.

Shoulder Circles

The child shrugs his or her shoulders and rotates them forward and down in a circle. Switch directions after five or six turns by shrugging the shoulders and then moving backwards in a circle.

Arm Circles

Arm circles can be used to stretch the muscles supporting the elbow and shoulder joint where the arm attaches to the shoulder. The child holds his or her arms out to the side, creating a horizontal line with his or her arms. The child then draws circles with his or her hands, starting with small circles and slowly growing to large circles, then back to smaller circles. Start first by drawing circles clockwise, and then reverse to counter-clockwise. Keep the movements slow, and prevent the child from just flailing his arms around.

Side Bends

Have each child stand up straight with arms to the outside of each thigh. Slowly move the fingers down toward the outside of one knee, while bending at the waist. Alternate sides, do 10 side bends on each side.

Reach for the Stars

Just like the title of this one, have the student reach up as high as they can while standing on their tiptoes. This stretch can even be done while lying down on a mat; the goal is to reach their hands and feet away from each other.

Child’s Pose

The child’s pose is a stretch taken from yoga, but can also be used outside of yoga as part of your child’s stretching routine for more of a full body stretch. To perform the child’s pose, the child gets on his or her knees with feet together. The child then sits on his or her heels and bends her body forward until the forehead touches the ground. Bring the arms around to each side of the body, resting with his or her palms facing towards the sky. Hold the pose for 30 seconds, and then return back to an upright kneeling position.

Conclusion

Ask young people to recall the reasons for stretching offered in the Lesson Introduction above. Hand out the Healthy Families Newsletter in English or Spanish, so that families can continue stretching together at home.

Additional Instructor Resources

Fitness.gov

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