How to teach children about joyful movement

In today’s society, it’s hard to escape the constant barrage of diet culture and beauty ideals. So, in Body Happy Kids, campaigner and mum-of-two Molly Forbes guides parents, with the help of experts, on how to teach children and teens to care for their body with kindness.

Molly Forbes

One way to do that is to encourage kids to see fitness and movement as something fun and pleasurable as opposed to punishment or a way to change their body. It’s time to embrace the idea of joyful movement!

A photo of Molly Forbes' book Body Happy Kids on a multicoloured (coral, hot pink, dark blue, light blue and yellow) paper background

The science

If you want to help your kids develop a positive relationship with movement for the rest of their life, then encouraging them to move for how it makes them feel (the ‘intrinsic motivators’) over how it makes them look (the ‘extrinsic motivators’) is key.

We’ve also heard that function-focused comments, as opposed to appearance-based ones, can improve mood and boost body appreciation and that giving children access to a wide representation of diverse athletes will help them understand that movement is for everybody.

The thing about joyful movement is that it doesn’t need to be planned – a spontaneous game of catch or a family hula-hooping competition (which I always lose at) can be just as beneficial as a family bike ride or a football lesson. Remember, all movement is valid.

With that in mind, don’t see this planner as something you have to follow to the letter. Instead, use it as inspiration, a starter point, a source of ideas for ways to incorporate movement into the life of the children in your care in an inclusive, happy and joyful way. You never know, you might find it useful for yourself too!

The tool: a joyful movement planner


Activity: Kitchen disco

Tip: Movement can be spontaneous, fun, and silly. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate activity that’s been planned out for hours beforehand. Kitchen (or any room for that matter) discos count too! For older kids and teens, this could be a fun time to learn some TikTok dances together. (For TikTok novices, open the app, go to the ‘discover’ page and search ‘dance with TikTok’. And if you want more dance moves you can copy, you’ll find lots of other great free resources online* away from TikTok.


An illustration from Body Happy Kids of two children jumping in the air surrounded by stars and small lightning bolts
Illustration © Stacie Swift 2021

Activity: Organised sport (football, swimming, netball, martial arts, tennis, gymnastics – anything goes!)

Tip: Organised sport can be a great way to build social connections for kids, as well as foster discipline, boost self-esteem, and give children the chance to experience failure (losing) in a safe and supportive setting. It’s about more than just moving their bodies, but nevertheless, sports also come with all the other intrinsic benefits of movement too.


Activity: Yoga

Tip: There are some great free yoga sessions for kids online.


Activity: Trip to the park

Tip: Don’t overthink it. Even half an hour running off steam at the park counts as movement.


Activity: Family bubble party

Tip: Celebrate the end of the week with a family bubble party. Blow the bubbles and jump, hop and reach to pop them. There are lots of eco-friendly bubble mixture recipes online if you want to make your own.


Activity: Running

Tip: If team sports aren’t something your kids enjoy then they might be interested in running. There are running events for kids across the country, or you could just organise a family run round the local park.


Activity: Family movement (a bike ride, scooter trip, or a walk)

Tip: Avoid framing the activity as ‘exercise’. Instead talk about the fun adventure, a chance to get outside in nature, as well as how the activity will boost ‘happy hormones’ (endorphins) and help build stamina and strength. 

Extra tips

An illustration from Body Happy Kids of three children (including one child who is disabled) moving for fun surrounded by stars and small lightning bolts
Illustration © Stacie Swift 2021

Being everyday active: Incorporating movement as just part of day-to-day activities is a great way to get kids moving – it doesn’t always have to be an ‘activity’. Don’t underestimate the little things, if you’re able to do them. Walking to school, for example, or taking the stairs over the lift, or just doing some simple stretches with the kids when you wake up (if you have time – I know how hectic mornings with children can be!) are all valid.

Representation matters: Introduce the children in your care to a wide range of athletes to show them that movement is for everybody.

Here’s a list of inspiring sporting heroes to get you started:

•  Prince Fielder
•  Jessamyn Stanley
•  Louise Green
•  Scott Reardon
•  Leah Gilbert
•  Peter Crouch
•  Sarah Robles
•  Marcel Hug
•  Krista Henderson
•  Mirna Valerio
•  Valerie Sagun
•  Dana Falsetti
•  Jill Angie
•  Vince Wilfork
•  Schuyler Bailar

Some online resources:

•  For fun, free, and diet-culture-free kids’ movement sessions, check out the following YouTube channels: Cosmic Kids Yoga, GoNoodle, Just Dance, and Koo Koo Kanga Roo.

  Parkrun is a global free-running movement and takes place in parks all over the world. Saturday morning events are 5k and Sunday morning events are 2k junior park runs for kids aged 4–14. For more info visit parkrun.org.uk

•  Beat, the UK’s leading eating disorder charity, can be found at beateatingdisorders.org.uk

•  Childline has online advice regarding children and body image, with a 24-hour helpline on 0800 1111 and an online counsellor chat service at childline.org.uk

•  Mental health services directory the Hub of Hope can be found at hubofhope.co.uk

•  Rethink Mental Illness is a provider of mental health services in England and can be found at rethink.org

•  The Children’s Society has online resources and local drop-in centres for young people in some parts of the UK and can be found at childrenssociety.org.uk

•  The Mix is a UK charity providing free confidential support for young people under 25 and can be found at themix.org.uk

•  Young Minds offers guidance for young people struggling with self-esteem and has a parent support helpline on 0808 802 5544 and online resources at youngminds.org.uk

Sign up to the Penguin Newsletter

For the latest books, recommendations, author interviews and more