The elementary school received OSU Extension toolkits, which promote physical health and improved learning.

Students at Molalla Elementary have upped their physical activity through a program that was facilitated by Oregon State University Extension Service.

OSU Extension researchers developed the Balanced Energy Physical Activity Toolkit to increase physical activity for rural kids who, according to a press release from OSU Extension, "are more at risk of becoming obese than their urban counterparts."

The toolkits were distributed to every classroom at Molalla Elementary through GROW Healthy Kids and Communities, a multi-state initiative led by OSU's College of Public Health and Human Sciences Extension Service.

"The activities are designed for the purpose of giving teachers immediate access to simple materials they can use to give kids 'brain breaks' throughout the day," said Robin Bergin, the counselor at Molalla Elementary.

The toolkits contain activity cards, a user guide, video tutorials and other supplies for activities such as "Activate the Alphabet," "Bean Bag Balance," "Dicey Moves" and Fruit and Veggie Volleyball."

PHOTO COURTESY OF OSU EXTENSION - Pictured is a sample activity card from the kits that OSU Extension provided for all Molalla Elementary classrooms.

"The toolkits that OSU gave us provide a wide range of 'tools' to use—a book of games and ideas, mini beach balls, marker mats, jump ropes, scarves—just to name a few," said Uli Sparks, a Molalla Elementary first grade teacher. "I'm always amazed at how many tools were packed into those tubs."

OSU Extension tested the implementation of the program at two levels: low support, in which one toolkit was given to each grade in the school; and high support, like at Molalla Elementary, in which every classroom received one.

For all the schools they tested at the high support level, they found that for 1st-3rd graders, kids whose teachers used the kits regularly took an average of more than 400 additional steps per day. For 4th-6th graders, in classrooms where teachers regularly used the toolkit, boys took more than 1400 additional steps and girls took more than 900 additional steps, according to the press release.

"The toolkits are an amazing resource for indoor activities that provide our staff with the ability to give quick brain breaks and get some movement going when students are required to have so much seat time," Sparks said.

The staff at Molalla Elementary are excited about the potential not only for more movement in the classrooms, but for the educational benefits of increased activity.

"Learning can't happen sitting still all day." -Danalyn Workentin

"Learning can't happen sitting still all day," said Danalyn Workentin, Molalla River School District's occupational therapist. "Studies show that [activity and movement] enhance not only mood, but the ability to learn. Exercise and activity and blood flow increase learning, not just during the activity; it increases learning for the next 30 minutes to an hour."

Workentin has been working with Molalla teachers for several years to implement brain breaks in the classrooms, which are five-minute activities that take place every 30-60 minutes. She works with kids who have sensory needs or learning disabilities, who are required to have those breaks. But she believes the value of them extends to the whole class.

"I've always talked to the teachers about how this is not something that you need to go and send that one student off and have them come back later," Workentin said. "This is something that benefits everybody in the entire class, and of course having more options provided by OSU for the entire class to participate is an amazing opportunity to help everybody in the class, including those with learning disabilities."

But what do the kids think?

"My kids love them!" said Leslie Johnson, a Molalla Elementary first grade teacher. "The activities provide a nice transition between lessons and provide a great way for students to release energy."

With a committed staff at Molalla Elementary and the help of OSU Extension's toolkits, Molalla's kids are stepping toward improved habits, learning and health…and they're having a little fun along the way.

Kristen Wohlers
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