Inspire the World to Fitness®: KID-FIT inspires preschoolers with a multifaceted wellness message.
When Michele Silence, MA, stands in front of her group fitness class, it isn’t unusual for her to pretend she’s a dinosaur. She’s not demonstrating a new dance move, but teaching kids ages 2–6 years old the benefits of exercise. Silence teaches a structured physical education curriculum called KID-FIT that is designed to educate children about healthy lifestyle habits.
Silence founded KID-FIT in 1986 with her husband, Jim. Both were already active in the fitness industry and specialized in reaching the deconditioned population. When their son started preschool, the Silences couldn’t help but notice an abysmal lack of movement programs. Seeing so many obese and inactive children only made the situation harder to accept. So Silence set out to create a program of her own.
It took the Silences 5 years of full-time work to get KID-FIT to the point it is now, although she says it is still a work in progress. Michele’s master’s degree in clinical and sport psychology included early childhood development courses that complemented her fitness experience perfectly. “We wanted to create a program that not only addressed movement but cultivated positive attitudes and beliefs about fitness and healthy lifestyles,” she says. “And it absolutely had to include continuous movement and nonstop fun.”
The yearlong curriculum includes nine sessions, each emphasizing a different body system and why exercise, healthy eating and rest are important to that system. The sessions are formatted much like traditional group fitness classes. Each KID-FIT routine begins with a warm-up, followed by stretching, sports skill development, cardiovascular activity, strength and balance using fun props, coordination exercises and a cooldown. Silence uses repetition, humor and questions to keep the children engaged. Every fast-paced session ends with an educational talk about a selected body system. For example, the brain session teaches kids what the brain does and how to protect it.
Silence says the integrated lifestyle approach is more effective than simply conducting an exercise class. “It’s the best way to change the health of future adults,” she says. “Children this small remember just about everything you tell them. They need to know ‘why’ and ‘how,’ not just do. They understand it when the topic is presented at their developmental level.”
KID-FIT is currently taught at 20 schools in California and is expanding worldwide. However, Michele says she and Jim face obstacles every day. The biggest problem is denial. “[People don’t acknowledge that] there is a problem or a need for physical education and fitness during the preschool years,” she says. “Those in charge of making decisions on behalf of preschool children very often have health issues (obesity, poor general health, diabetes, psychological trauma, etc.) of their own that they don’t want to face or be reminded of. That, more than anything else, makes the program difficult to promote.”
In fact, Silence says she faces more challenges with the adults than with the kids, who are “extremely satisfying” to work with. “Some adults are less than eager to help or to even pretend that exercise is fun and good for them. A negative word from a parent or schoolteacher can undermine weeks of education or prevent the program from even getting started. With so many unfit and sedentary adults today, it’s not easy to find enthusiastic role models to carry on the work after we’ve gone.”
As for the many rewards of working with this age group, Silence says it can be more fulfilling than trying to change adults. “Children affect change in the adults around them in ways that no one else may be able to do,” she says. “Like getting a grandfather to quit smoking after 25 years.”
The Silences believe that the fitness industry should be doing much more to reach out to children ages 2–6. Michele thinks many of her peers are afraid to work with small children. “Those who recognize the need simply don’t feel competent or safe with a population this young,” she says. “You really have to be an expert motivator and know child development to get kids as young as 2 to do cardio, strength training and stretching. They’re not going to do what you say, but they will do what you do. Adults also have to be willing to act like kids—be silly, stupid and absurd—to get the end result. Not everyone is comfortable with that. It’s a far cry from teaching an 8-count combination in a fancy club atmosphere.”
Silence says you don’t have to have a full curriculum and proven program to help change the lives of children, just a strong commitment and desire to change the world through them. “Do what you can to help shape healthier lifestyles, foster positive attitudes toward fitness and make it fun,” she says. “Start with the children in your own life.”
For more information on KID-FIT, visit www.kid-fit.com.
Joy Keller is a senior editor of Idea Fitness Journal.
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