When Fort Morgan resident Allison Howe began to explore opportunities for her young children to get active in her community, she found few options.

She considered t-ball, but waiting in line to hit the ball and standing in the field the majority of the time just wouldn’t quite do the trick to expend her kids’ boundless energy. What they really needed was a structured setting where they could run around, use their imaginations, and interact with other kids. Since such a program didn’t exist, Howe used her imagination to create one.

sand-summer-outside-playingConcerns about safety and less parental free time to supervise make a structured play environment appealing for many parents. “Kids aren’t getting as much free play these days. Neighborhood kids aren’t playing together. Everything seems to need some sort of structure. So, I thought about what a structured community program could do, while also offering the kids an opportunity for free play,” Howe says.

She started making connections with the community recreation department and joined committees. At the time, there were a lot of arts and crafts programs for kids, but nothing that got them moving. So she pitched an idea for a fitness club for kids that connected free play with the city’s parks. The city supported the idea, and the community was ready for it. “The first play session included twice the number [of participants] I had planned for,” Howe says. Miles of Smiles was born.

The program started in 2013 with hour-long sessions for nine weeks in a row. Each week featured a theme with different imaginative games, scavenger hunts, and races. The goal was to introduce the concepts of physical activity to kids in an engaging way. Miles of Smiles is a great segue into organized sports and other team activities for the kids when they’re physically and emotionally ready. Plus, all of the games are easy and fun for parents to recreate at home.

Such games include Rainbow Moves, a movement and color recognition game for kids. The concept is simple: Put out cones (or frisbees or buckets) of a different color in a large outdoor space or gym. Then, pick two cards – one labeled with a type of movement, the other with the name of a color. Kids can dance to the blue cone, lunge to a green cone, or hop to purple. Everything you need to try this and other activities with your kids is on Howe’s website, DontPanicMom.com.

miles_smiles_2Participants are also encouraged to run, walk, or bike a total of five miles throughout the duration of the program. Together with their families, kids can track their miles using a list of pre-measured distances in each of the Fort Morgan city parks. For example, participants complete one mile if they bike up and down historic Rainbow Bridge just north of downtown Fort Morgan, and later in the week they can add another mile by walking around the downtown block at City Park. The final session includes a field day and awards ceremony recognizing the children who completed their five mile goal.

The program is now going into its third year, and has grown to include additional staff to support the increased interest from Fort Morgan families.

Are you inspired to get some free play started in your family? Check out Howe’s LiveWell Moms blog posts:

5 Fun, Outdoor Family Games

Animal Movement