Let's Move

UNC Researchers Bring Physical Activity Programs to Area Elementary Schools

Students at Rolling Hills Elementary School in Aurora participate in a before-school activity program organized and run by UNC faculty and students.

Photo courtesy of Megan Babkes Stellino

With childhood obesity on the rise, a University of Northern Colorado faculty researcher and her students are encouraging elementary students to make physical activity a part of their daily lives with the help of grant-funded programs they've started at schools in Aurora and Greeley.

Megan Babkes Stellino and students in UNC's Sport & Exercise Science graduate and undergraduate programs lead before-school physical activities twice a week at Rolling Hills Elementary School in Aurora and Billie Martinez Elementary School in Greeley.

The programs at Rolling Hills and Billie Martinez feature non-competitive physical activities and games, such as tag or obstacle courses, and skills, such as learning the proper lunge or plank. They are designed to be fun and set children up for a good day in the classroom through improved focus — by "reducing the wiggles through physical activity and sparking their brains for learning," Babkes Stellino said. She and undergraduate and graduate students participate in the activities with the children.

"I've had teachers tell me that some of the more difficult students were actually paying attention on Mondays and Wednesdays," said Sarah Paul, who majors in Athletic Training and coordinates the Billie Martinez program offered on those days of the week. "It's a fabulous opportunity to get to know these kids and help make a difference in the school and community."

The Active Schools Acceleration Program, part of Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign addressing childhood obesity, supports the "Building Our Kids Success" (BOKS) initiative used by Babkes Stellino. The national grants will allow BOKS programming to be offered at both schools through spring.

Babkes Stellino, a professor in the School of Sport & Exercise Science, specializes in social influence on youth sport experiences; physical activity and childhood obesity; and motivation in sport, exercise and physical activity.

For this project, she is researching the overall impact of before-school physical activity programming on both children involved and the service-learning leader experience. The data she's collecting, including evaluations by child participants, teachers, parents of children in the program, and the program leaders will help inform how physical activity aids in attention, focus, time on task, and behavior in the classroom. Her further research will focus on how before-school physical activity programming contributes to daily amounts of physical activity recommended for children.

An Hour a Day …

U.S. health experts recommend 60 minutes of daily physical activity for children. Babkes Stellino said this should be moderate-to-vigorous activity - think of a range from a brisk walk to jogging, skipping, running and dancing. As part of her research, Babkes Stellino studies motivational influence on physical activity. "When adults are engaging, supportive and encouraging, children are more likely to be physically active. A big piece is adults participating with children." Her suggestion for parents with their children at home: "Shut off the TV, put on music, and have a dance party or an indoor snowball fight with soft sock balls or wads of scrap paper."