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Montreal Families

Free fitness program gets kids up and moving

Kids today are much less active than they used to be, in most cases spending more time with tablets, computers, TVs and other electronics. But a free fitness program offered in more than a thousand schools across the country hopes to encourage educators to create opportunities for active play in their classrooms and steer children towards making healthier lifestyle choices.

The BOKS (Build Our Kids’ Success) program offers free curriculum plans to elementary and junior high schools to encourage physical activity, nutritional education and mindfulness in youth.

Pia Falconi-Di Bacco, a daycare teacher who uses the program at Our Lady of Pompei Elementary School, says it can help with behavioural issues, hyperactivity, anxiety and overall restlessness in children.

“These days, the body part children use the most is their thumbs,” Falconi-Di Bacco says. “It’s important to teach them to move at a young age.”

The program aims to help children meet the Public Health Agency of Canada’s recommended dose of 60 minutes of physical activity per day. According to BOKS, today’s kids are the least active generation in history and only five per cent get the recommended amount of activity per week.

The program usually takes place before school starts, but can also be offered at lunch or recess. The early morning sessions are said to help students burn off excess energy and can have a big impact on their productivity and focus throughout the rest of the day.

Educators are encouraged to modify the program to suit their teaching style and curriculum. For example, Falconi-Di Bacco incorporates music into her lesson plan and, since she teaches the program to kindergarten students, she focuses on games and team-building rather than strength training.

She also uses the program’s “burst” activities as often as possible. These last 10 minutes, can be carried out at any time throughout the day and include squats, jumping jacks and passing a ball around.

“They’re perfect for midday slumps or for when it’s raining,” Falconi Di-Bacco says, adding that the breaks help her students refocus and stay alert in the classroom.

The lesson plans are offered in two, 12-week sessions and consist of activities for children of all ages and skill levels. Each school designates a lead trainer who is provided with free resources, booklets and other necessary program information. The focus is non-competitive play with the aim to motivate children to get active and work together rather than score points or win games.

A typical lesson includes warm-ups, a running activity, a focus on the skill of the week, (which can be anything from push-ups and sit-ups to squats and planks) and an end-of-class game. There is then a cool-down period, where trainers lead students in a stretch and discuss a nutrition tip of the week.

The program was started in 2009 by Kathleen Tullie, an American mom and athlete. After 18 years in the corporate real estate world, Tullie decided she wanted to spend her time working on something that would make a difference. She had her “aha” moment after reading Spark by Harvard professor Dr. John Ratey, a groundbreaking book that lays out a compelling argument for the positive correlation between exercise, academic performance and behaviour issues.

BOKS is designed to be easily incorporated into physical education classes and can be adapted to suit the needs of a school and its students. At Hampstead Elementary School, which has been using the program for four years, the program is split into two age groups and four different days to accommodate the roughly 80 students who participate on a weekly basis.

“Our students run to the door after they’ve gotten off the bus because they’re so excited to start BOKS,” says Hampstead physical education teacher Michael Creamer. “They like getting that extra activity time in the morning.”

For more information about how to get BOKS into your child’s school, visit bokskids.ca.

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