Health & Fitness Exchange, Part 1

Parents and teachers know that it can be challenging to make exercise and nutritional information interesting to children. There are so many distractions nowadays with television, video games and the Internet that health education can sometimes get short shrift. Yet, the practices that children learn while young can dramatically impact their dietary and lifestyle choices throughout their lives. The goal is for parents and fitness professionals to make this education fun so that children will want to learn.

This goal was accomplished at PaineWebber Health & Fitness Exchange with its Campin’ P.W. program. The four-hour weekend event provided a structured, stress-free environment where parents and children could play and learn together. “While many family programs focus on activities for children where the parents just sit back and watch, Campin’ P.W. went one step further,” says assistant program manager LaShawn Michalski. “We had the parents participate in all of the day’s activities. This allowed them to spend quality time with their children and encouraged positive role modeling. It demonstrated the benefits of regular physical activity in a setting that reinforced the bonds between Mom, Dad and the kids.”

Campin’ P.W. evolved from requests for additional family programming in the center’s Annual Customer Satisfaction Survey. PaineWebber responded with the event, which was held at a cafeteria/auditorium on two Saturday afternoons. Staff members dressed up in camp counselor uniforms and decorated the auditorium with painted animals. During check-in, children were assigned to one of two age-specific groups, allowing the staff to tailor instructions to their needs and attention spans. Each group of children then traveled with their parents along a “trailhead” that contained five main stations: Campfire Games, Fitness Works, Nutritious Nibbles, Safety 101 and Living Laboratory. Approximately 30 minutes were spent at each of these stations.

Campfire Games was a fun way to start the event. Everyone sat around a “fire” and listened to a drum concert that featured Cherokee Indian music. Children learned to celebrate diversity as they sang songs and heard stories about the circle of life. This station also served as a staging area until everyone completed the check-in procedure.

At the Fitness Works station, children learned the importance of incorporating regular physical activity into their daily lives. The younger group played Hokey-Pokey and the Chicken Dance, while the older children played beanbag games and other relay events. Parents always played along with their children and often had as much fun as their kids. Each of these exercise programs included a warm-up, stretch and cool-down, with explanations of why these components of a workout are necessary. There were also lessons on various muscle groups. For example, youngsters learned about the Popeye muscle (biceps) and what its function is.

Safety 101 focused on the importance of safety. A registered nurse told children about the 911 emergency number and discussed its appropriate use. The nurse also gave demonstrations of the Heimlich maneuver, showing parents how to help their children if they are choking. A table with objects that young people often choke on was provided, with tips on how to reduce the chances of a choking incident.

Nutritious Nibbles emphasized the right way to eat. Run by a registered dietician, this station provided information on the food pyramid and the U.S. Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) guidelines. The dietician also instructed participants on how to fix nutritious meals. Plates of good and bad foods were available for comparison. Children then prepared a healthy meal with their parents’ help.

Living Laboratory contained a series of experiments designed to teach parents and children how the human body works. Although this station was the most difficult one to develop and administer, the final result was well worth it.

The 31 substations taught the functions of the muscles, bones, organs and senses using a variety of age-appropriate activities. For example, parents performed balancing tests after their children had blindfolded them to demonstrate the importance of vision in balance.

There were also places to measure blood pressure, heart rate and body fat. Participants could determine their fitness level as well with a long jump, high jump and other tests.

At the end of the “trail” was a treasure chest. Participants were allowed to search for treasure that had been hidden throughout the auditorium earlier in the day. Prizes included jump ropes, coloring books about the human body, and stickers with slogans such as, “I am a Healthy Kid.” After the children had discovered their treasures, everyone returned to the campfire for a final round of singing and camaraderie.

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