After a long, cold winter, the weather finally seems to be breaking as spring makes a welcome return. Residents are slowly emerging from their homes to rediscover the great outdoors as local parents look for ways to convince their kids to follow suit.
This is where the Healthy Kids Running Series comes in. Following closely on the heels of the new season, the spring series represents the perfect opportunity to get young people to put down the electronics, put on a pair of running shoes and get active.
The five-week running program serves kids pre-k through eighth grade and requires no previous running experience, just participation.
The Healthy Kids brand has steadily grown since its inception 10 years ago with several programs located throughout Burlington County. This spring, the national, community-based nonprofit will be hosting races in Cinnaminson, Haddonfield, Marlton and Mullica Hill.
Lauren Leight is the coordinator for the Cinnaminson series. As a mother, ensuring her children are healthy and active is a top priority. She got involved with Healthy Kids when she noticed there were few activities in her area for children as young as her 4-year-old daughter.
“It was me looking for something she could do that is active and gets her out, not in the house watching TV,” said Leight. “I wanted something she could do that was a little more local to us, that’s how I got into it.”
Leight saw the running series as the perfect opportunity for her daughter, and she knew there were other parents like her.
“A lot of the participants that we have are the younger kids: 2-, 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds. Their parents are trying to find something to do that isn’t a big time commitment and not a huge distance,” said Leight.
Leight is a big believer that kids are never too young for their parents to establish a foundation of healthy habits for them and expose them to new experiences.
“I got my daughter involved in so many things when she was young and it’s actually helped her because now she has less apprehension with trying new things,” said Leight.
The Healthy Kids Running Series offers programs for kids of all ages, including 50- and 75-yard dashes for pre-k children, a quarter-mile race for kindergarteners and first-graders, a half-mile race for second- and third-graders and a one-mile race for grades four through eight.
In addition to serving a wide age range, the Healthy Kids Running Series is expanding its program further to ensure children with special needs can join in the fun.
Coordinator for the Mullica Hill/Mantua series, Merideth Daniel, is excited to start a new feature at her location called the Challenger Race. Currently this pilot program is exclusive to Mullica Hill and the home office in Thornton, Pa.
“If everything goes according to plan, then we’ll have it at all locations in the fall,” explained Daniel. “I know that some people might be hesitant to come out if their child has special needs and they need a little extra assistance, so I think this is a great way for everybody to be out there with us.”
Participants in the Challenger Race run the same distance as other children their age, but are allowed any assistance or guidance they may need from a parent or guardian.
The Mullica Hill/Mantua Healthy Kids Running Series begins Sunday, March 31, at 5 p.m. at J. Mason Tomlin Elementary School in Mantua. Races are open to children ages 2 through 14. The five-week program is $35 and includes five races, a T-shirt and medals and trophies the final week of the series.
To register, visit healthykidsrunningseries.org and enter your ZIP Code to find the race nearest to your location.