As we enter year two of the COVID-era, troubling trends have emerged among our children as a result of the necessary precautions required to protect them from infection: They are spending more time indoors in front of screens and eating snacks, and spending less time playing outdoors and engaging in physical activities.
That’s why Adopt-A-Family’s Project Grow after-school program has prioritized physical fitness and mental wellness as a critical component of its curriculum.
“It’s really important that the kids in Project Grow have regular opportunities to move their bodies and feel the joy that comes with that movement,” said Daron Morse, AAF’s Director of Youth Educational Programs. “Kids need to move to be healthy and to feel happy.”
In addition to hosting exercise and nutrition classes through FLIPANY, Project Grow has implemented physical education sessions for the kids. The program recently partnered with Girls on the Run – an initiative that empowers young girls to develop a connection between physical and emotional health.
The Importance of Exercise in the Age of COVID
Social distancing and stay-at-home orders have prevented many children from playing sports or even walking the halls at school, notes this Stanford Medicine report. For so many kids, the school day begins with them rolling out of bed and sitting up in front of a laptop for class, remaining stationary for hours on end. Even children who attend school in person have had their P.E. classes and recess time limited or eliminated.
“Overall, we’ve seen excessive weight gain during the pandemic,” said Dr. Elizabeth Shepard of Stanford Children’s Health’s Center for Healthy Weight. “For some kids, that puts them suddenly into the range of overweight or obesity and that can be quite detrimental to their health over the long term.”
Before the onset of the pandemic, exercise was important. In this COVID-19 era, it’s essential and even lifesaving.
‘If You Keep Trying It, You Will Get Better’
When Palm Beach County students were off for Spring Break, Project Grow students assembled outside on the playground turf behind Adopt-A-Family’s Lake Worth office one weekday afternoon.
They stood in front of volunteer PE instructor Wayne Garber, who led them through a battery of exercises, like calf raises, push-ups, and sit-ups.
As some of the students began to tire and breathe heavily, Garber, in his most pleasant tone, encouraged them, revealing why those pushups were so important.
“When you do any exercise or sport, your brain has to learn the most efficient way to talk to your muscles, so these pushups will help you develop a pathway,” he said. “If you keep trying it, you will get better.”
Girls on the Run, More than a Race
A few days later, volunteer instructor Ann Olberding led the very first Girls on the Run session with a group of 3rd-5th grade girls. Olberding’s Delray Beach Division 6 Tennis Team generously donated running shoes, shorts, socks, and water bottles – everything they need to train for a 5k race, which concludes the program.
Olberding’s mid-morning class began with journaling activities and concluded outdoors, where they stretched and started doing exercises.
“Right now, we’re going to get our hearts pumping and we’re going to get moving, so the first thing we’re going to do is jumping jacks.”
The half-circle of girls that formed around Olberding followed her fluid and easy movements, as she led them from jumping jacks to arm raises, lunges, and jumps. They ended that first session with laps around the playground, sprinting past their instructor and giggling with delight only to tire themselves out a short time later.
“We did three great laps, next week we’re going to do four,” Olberding said. “This is not about the race; this is all about endurance.”
And it’s also about providing students the right environment to implement physical fitness into their daily lives.
“Project Grow is the perfect space for supportive development in physical fitness, health, and wellness,” said Morse, “The kids feel comfortable in Project Grow so they are willing to try a physical activity they may otherwise decline.”