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Kelso's Fit Kids use exercise as a focusing technique

The program's Fun Run is Saturday, May 31

Teachers at Kelso Elementary have noticed it is becoming more difficult to keep the attention of kids who are being raised in the digital age. As their time spent in front of screens increases, their ability to focus in a classroom decreases.

Second-grade and third-grade teachers Jennifer Johnson and Denise Stratton have created a classroom program turned nonprofit as a solution: Fit Kids.

“We were seeing a need,” Johnson said. “We thought, ‘What if we get them up and moving?’”

When students returned from spring break in April 2013, the two teachers decided to go for it.

They decided to spend some time with their kids doing circuit training. Students were divided into groups of eight to 10 and sent to different stations to do an exercise together for 30 seconds.

The two teachers have looked at research that says exercise and physical activity help concentration. “We’ve seen that with out classes,” Johnson said.

As Kelso students take PE only twice a week for 30 minutes, Johnson and Stratton wanted a way to get their students doing physical activity every day of the week.

“We do it for the kids,” Johnson said, “so that they can have that healthy take on life.”

Classroom application

While Fit Kids sometimes includes going to the gym for circuit training — 30 seconds of exercises such as jump roping, planking, using hula hoops, and doing ski jumps — or going out to the track when the weather is nice, it can be as simple as taking a “brain break.”

Johnson and Stratton’s classrooms include a bucket of Popsicle sticks, each displaying a different brain break activity. If students start to lose focus, they can choose a stick. They then participate in a quick physical activity and are then ready to come back to their lessons.

Fit Kids also incorporates yoga cards, each displaying a simple yoga pose that all students can participate in to help calm their bodies and minds.

Each physical activity is usually followed by a literary connection. Students keep Fit Kids journals to reflect on their activities.

Johnson and Stratton also try to incorporate their message of healthy living through health lessons. At least once a week, students learn about the human body, and why eating healthy is important.

In looking at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s program Choose My Plate, the two teachers had students look at each represented section of a good plate — fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy — and choose one that they aspire to eat more of.

“It doesn’t mean you can’t still have school parties,” said Johnson, hoping to combat the belief that kids would prefer eating cupcakes and sweets during class celebrations.

At their last party, Johnson’s students ate fruits and vegetables and loved it, Johnson said.

Stratton said she and her husband had introduced kale smoothies into their morning routine, and the two teachers thought it would be fun to bring their blenders and introduce their new snack to the kids.

To their surprise, the students enjoyed the smoothies. “They couldn’t get enough,” said Johnson.

Stratton said she was making the rounds of her classroom when she noticed a student doodling, “I love kale smoothies.”

“It’s great to see them enjoying things you think kids would never like,” Stratton said.

A cartoon of a jogging kale smoothie has become the mascot for Fit Kids’ annual Fun Run.

Johnson and Stratton hope to instill healthy eating habits at a young age so the students will continue to make good decisions as they get older.

Negotiating for attention

The Fit Kids program is not only spreading within the school, Johnson and Stratton also have been to multiple conferences presenting their program and its rewards to other teachers.

“The question we get asked most often is, ‘How do you find time within your day to do these things?’ “ Stratton said. She added that it doesn’t have to take a lot of time.

Every morning, Stratton and Johnson get their students ready for a day of learning by showing a video, just over 1 minute in length, that shows kids dancing. The youngsters mimic the movements in the video and work off their energy before class starts.

“We’re buying back that time twofold,” Stratton said.

“We would normally spend that time trying to rein them back in after losing their attention,” Johnson said.

This summer, Johnson and Stratton hope to put together a resource book on the program for other teachers. It would include research done in their classrooms and a description of the application of the program, what’s worked and what hasn’t.

The templates for Fit Kids yoga cards and brain break sticks also are available for download by other teachers.

Fun Run

On Saturday, May 31, Fit Kids will hold its first annual Fun Run, a family friendly 1K. Registration will begin at 8:45 a.m., and the run will start around 9 a.m. at the Tickle Creek Trailhead on Dubarko Road.

Registration is $5 per person or $15 for a whole family. T-shirts sporting the jogging kale smoothie cost $10.

The Fun Run will raise money to purchase more equipment for the Fit Kids program to be enjoyed by all students at the school. Johnson and Stratton hope to buy new hula hoops, jump ropes, balls and possibly yoga mats.

“We don’t really know what to expect,” Johnson said. “We’re hoping for a couple hundred people, but who knows?”

The Fun Run is being partly sponsored by Sandy TCBY. The first 100 kids to finish the run will receive a gift certificate for frozen yogurt.

Fruit and water also will be available after the run.

Participants can register or preorder T-shirts online at www.fitkidsstrongbodystrongmind.org. Registration also is offered the morning of the event and is open to all.

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