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Play more than 60: How to keep kids moving during winter break and beyond

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Catherine W. Idzerda
December 27, 2013

JANESVILLE—Today's experts include the Centers for Disease Control, the NFL, professional educators and Michael Hare, 10, of Darien.

Today's issue? You need to get out more, and you need to take your kids with you.

Every year, physical education teachers such as Delavan-Darien's Doreen Grams strive to find ways to keep kids moving while they're not in school.

It used to be that “moving” defined life outside of school. School was for sitting at desks, while vacation was ideal for action verbs. In winter, that meant sledding, skating and building snow forts.

Not any more. Here's how bad it's gotten:

--Citing studies from the University of Michigan, the National Wildlife Federation noted kids spend four to seven minutes of unstructured play outside each day.

No, really, four to seven minutes a day.

--The American Heart Association and the National Football League have teamed up to get kids to engage in “moderate physical activity” each day. By now, everybody's used to the ubiquitous “Play 60” advertisements.

Yes, really, it's an ad campaign to encourage kids to play.

Grams doesn't need any studies. She sees it in her kids. And she does all she can to combat lethargy.

Before the holiday break, she talked with all her classes about what they could do to stay active during their time away from school.

It's harder these days, she said, because kids aren't used to unstructured play. Kids who play on teams depend on adults to set the rules and settle disputes. And parents aren't comfortable sending kids outside to play, unsupervised, with their friends, she said.

The CDC is concerned about the increasing rates of obesity in children, but staying active isn't just about weight loss. It's about mental fitness, too.

Kristi Flood, a second-grade teacher at Wileman Elementary School, Delavan, has her kids do “brain-based” exercises for five minutes every afternoon at 2:30 p.m.

The district recently added 30 minutes to the elementary school day, leaving kids in school from 8:20 a.m. to 3:50 p.m. In addition, kids don't have a recess between 12:30 p.m. and 3:50 p.m.

The five-minute exercise session breaks up the afternoon, helps kids work off the fidgets and significantly improves academic quality for the remainder of the day, Flood said.

“Brain-based” exercises usually require the participant to cross from one part of the body to another, such as touching a toe with an opposite hand.

“The research does show that it stimulates students' brains,” Flood said. “I tell them why we are doing the exercises. I tell them, 'This isn't fool around time.'”

Flood also encourages her students to do the exercises at home. Many of the exercises are featured in YouTube videos, and Wileman students all have personal computing devices they can take home.

But Hare doesn't need help from a video. He's his own exercise expert.

The fourth-grader at Darien Elementary became one of Grams' star pupils last year. When she told kids to go home at night and make up their own special exercise, he would come in the next day with classics such as “The Hot Dog Machine” and “The Water Bug.”

His advice for staying active during break and beyond?

“Sledding is a great exercise,” Hare said. “You can run up the hill.”

This is especially good exercise when he's “pulling a heavy sled.”

Hare's sledding hill ends in a frozen pond that extends his ride.

Inside, he can do “The Hot Dog Machine,” an exercise that involves starting on all fours and then rolling across the floor.

Yes, really, rolling across the floor. Where does he come up with these ideas?

“They just pop into my brain,” he said.



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