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Pre-school Instructors Help Kids Wiggle Their Way To Fitness

Credit Michael Spooneybarger/ CREO
Dr. Christopher K. Wirth teaches during the 5-2-1-0 Let’s Go Northwest Florida! teacher training session Saturday January 23, 2016 at the Bayview Center in Pensacola, Florida.

Dozens of adults marched like soldiers, waddled like penguins and pretended to climb invisible ladders inside the Bayview Center during a recent Saturday morning.

Why such playfulness? They were preschool caregivers, and they were wiggling for University of West Florida professors Debra Vinci and Christopher Wirth. The official name of the program is “Let’s Wiggle With 5 2 1 0: Promoting Physical Activity and Healthy Eating in Childcare Settings.”

Although studies show that moderate exercise can increase brain activity, improve concentration, attention and classroom behavior, help develop coordination and combat obesity, Escambia County students might not reap those benefits, according to the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps program developed by University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

Health Institute studies in Escambia County indicate that 34 percent of preschool students and students in grades 1 to 3 are overweight or obese.

Based on all this research Vinci, associate chair of UWF’s Department of Exercise Science and Community Health, and Wirth, visiting assistant professor of physical education, used a $200,000 grant from the Florida Department of Health to develop, facilitate and evaluate “Let’s Wiggle 5 2 1 0”  workshops for Escambia County.

Credit Michael Spooneybarger/ CREO
Dr. Debra Vinci teaches during the 5-2-1-0 Let’s Go Northwest Florida! teacher training session Saturday January 23, 2016 at the Bayview Center in Pensacola, Florida.

The numbers 5 2 1 0 correspond to experts’ recommendations for maintaining good health. Eat five or more servings of fruit or vegetables. Restrict screen time to two hours or less per day. Get at least one hour of exercise per day. Consume zero sugary drinks each day.

Many schools have regularly scheduled exercise programs, but Dr. Wirth points out that “Let’s Wiggle With 5 2 1 0” is designed to incorporate even more movement into their daily routines.

“We don’t ask teachers when children go outside,” he said. “We ask them when their circle time is because kids are usually running and playing during outside time anyway.”

During the recent workshop, Wirth lead dozens of participants through a deep knee bend and jump exercise during which they acted out the trajectory of a rocket launch. The exercise combines stretching and jumping and helps children practice counting. Workshop attendees then divided into groups to learn things such as how to do simple yoga stretches, how to perform different dance moves and throw and catch thin, opaque scarves, and how to toss a large parachute and scurry underneath it.

Graduate and undergraduate students from the College of Health’s Department of Exercise Science and Community Health led the small-group activities.

“It was a really fun way to remind us what we know about getting kids moving,” said Barbara Deem, the preschool director at Gateway Christian School. “I also like the fact that there were UWF students there during the rotations of activities. Those of us who have been doing this for a number of years got to exchange ideas with people who are going to be new in the education field.”

Deem and other participants left the workshop with kits that will help them implement the lessons they learned at the workshop in the classroom.

A packet of 18 physical activity curriculum cards lists the name of the activity, the required equipment, the age group and the learning standard to which it is tied. For example, the “Bounce and Catch” card states, “Show individual children how to bounce and catch a ball with two hands. Prompt them to count the catches… Have them count together to see how many catches they can get in a row. Incorporate distance, height and various ball sizes.”  This activity, which is recommended for children ages 3 and older, helps them learn problem-solving skills and math while they are exercising their muscles.

This article is part of a collaboration between WUWF and the UWF Center for Research and Economic Opportunity.