Teaching Children Healthy Habits To Last A Lifetime

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Andy Towle/Roundup

Students at Julia Randall Elementary School learn about teamwork in their physical education class by working together to toss spiders in the air from a “parachute” and then catch them.

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Andy Towle/Roundup

In individual exercises, Shaun Robinson tries his hula-hoop skills.

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Andy Towle/Roundup

Abby Gladden and Tameron Sarnowski do a crab walk while balancing beanbags on their bellies.

Teaching elementary physical education classes all day fails to wear out Donna Moore. She still steps two miles every day on the Stairmaster and weight trains at night.

She needs the personal time, she says.

Moore’s zest for physical fitness is contagious, and it sends her out seeking the most modern and most fun ways to teach her students at Julia Randall Elementary School.

Dodgeball? That’s a thing of the past, Moore says. It targets the athletes and the whole point of gym class is to develop healthy habits in kids who are not naturally inclined to exercise.

That old model of forcing kids to run a mile? Gone. Moore said as a young athlete, even she detested running the mile in gym class.

One recent day, each first-grader in two groups of six or eight took hold of a piece of parachute. The goal was for all the kids to simultaneously throw up the parachute, thereby rocketing the spider balls that were previously lying on its top into the air.

Then, again as a group, the kids had to catch the spider balls on the parachute.

It teaches them teamwork, but it also gets them moving.

“Kids that are unhealthy as kids are almost guaranteed to be unhealthy as adults,” Moore said.

During another lesson, a circle of stations featured color-coded cones told kids what exercise to accomplish. A red cone marked the jump rope station, and signified cardio. Blue cones marked abdominal exercise stations, and yellow signaled muscle strength.

“They learn their components of fitness,” Moore said. Young kids understand the purpose of each activity instead of blindly obeying their teacher.

Recent body mass index and cardio tests, which students districtwide took in preparation for a grant application, revealed that Payson students are not healthy.

At Julia Randall, fourth-graders were the unhealthiest with 28 percent overweight or obese. Second-graders were most healthy, with 11 percent overweight and no one obese.

Results from a running test that measured students’ fitness levels revealed worse results. Students had to run 15 meters in between recorded beeps. The beeps speed up every minute, and students run until they can’t keep up.

Seventy-eight percent of third-grade boys failed the test, although just 15 percent of third-grade girls failed.

Girls consistently outperformed boys.

Fourth-grade saw the biggest gender discrepancy, with 53 percent of boys failing the running test compared to 4 percent of girls.

“We were shocked, because it just showed us how overweight the kids were getting,” Moore said.

In July, Moore will find out if the district will receive the $1 million grant. She would buy an adventure course and add the popular Dance Dance Revolution, where kids mirror dance steps from a video game, to all the schools.

“You’ve got to go to where the kids are today and the kids are into video games,” she said.

Moore attends conferences to find fun activities like the Cuban shuffle dance.

“You have to stay on top of your field. When you go to places and you learn from the best in the United States, you bring that back,” Moore said.

Not all kids like to dance, just like not all kids will like a Harlem Globetrotters warm-up, which involved kids doing tricks like spinning the ball around their bodies before passing it to a classmate.

Whenever Moore blew her whistle, the kids would run behind whoever had the ball in a line. In the organized chaos, the only rule was that one group couldn’t intersect another group.

“If you can give me your best, we can find something you absolutely love,” Moore said.

“Physical education is by far their most important class of the day.” A student can study hard and receive straight As, but Moore says the work is no use if he dies from a heart attack at 25.

And, kids learn self-confidence from confronting challenges.

An “I can’t do this,” mentality changes to “I can accomplish anything.”

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