A self-proclaimed fitness buff makes exercise play for children.
Courtney Grady understands the allure of video games. “I grew up on Nintendo,” she said. And she still plays games today.
In fact, as an owner of a gym for children six weeks to 13 years old, she sometimes lets the kids play these games for hours at a time.
But there’s one big catch.
“They don’t just play the game,” Grady said. “They get to be the game.”
Grady’s gym is called My Gym, part of a 31-year-old international chain. During craft time, the kids sometimes make red hats with an “M” like Mario of Super Mario Bros.
Then Grady and her staff place yellow discs on boxes hanging from the ceiling so the kids can run around on the padded floor, jumping and punching the boxes to knock free the discs. Kind of like what they’ve seen Mario do in the video games.
Grady even plays the theme music from the video game while the kids play.
“That is the best theme for games I can think of,” Grady said of video games.
Running a kids gym requires plenty of imagination to keep them engaged. And she and her staff seem to have no shortage of it. They’ve installed a zip line and rearrange the gym each week.
They use coloured duct tape to make Angry Birds out of foam balls.
When the staff recently watched Disney’s Monsters University, the Scare Games scenes inspired a day of active fun for the kids.
“We said we’re doing the Scare Games and we set it up the next day,” Grady said.
One staffer, Britney Thurston, even played the role of the scare simulator. In the movie, this is a robot that sits up in bed and screams when it’s scared by the monsters.
The kids ran around having fun, laughing as they scared Miss Britney and were totally oblivious to the fact they were also exercising.
This is may be the key in the battle between exercise and screens for children’s attention.
“Exercise doesn’t have to be a negative thing,” Grady said. “It can just be tons of fun playing. And that’s enough sometimes.”
Grady grew up in Michigan where she played softball at Ferris State University. As the daughter of two college athletes – they attended Ferris State’s rival school, Grand Valley State – she’s always been a self-proclaimed gym rat.
“It was fun and it was always important to me to be active,” Grady said. “And even as I grew up it was still important to me. It’s engrained in me.”
So when she graduated and moved to Western Washington to work for a cable sports channel, Grady quickly missed the active lifestyle she left behind.
After over a year, “I said I have too much energy to be locked up in this control room.”
Grady worked as a recreation director at a senior centre before she found her passion helping parents raise active children.
Making exercise fun is hard for some people, Grady said.
“For some people, it’s a negative thing because it takes time and dedication,” Grady said. “We’re all so busy that the idea of taking time to play is kind of a hard concept.”
But once you do, exercising can become the highlight of your day.
This is what works for the kids in her classes.
It works so well, some parents have told her they can’t even drive by the gym without their kids begging to go to the gym.
And this is what has always worked for Grady.
“I still have a hard time getting on a treadmill,” Grady said. “But I love playing. I could play with these kids all day.
“You just need to find something your kids like and go with it,” Grady said. “Do it to the max and have fun with it.”
She also believes the kids fall in love with exercise because she sometimes asks them to take tiny steps outside of their comfort zones.
They climb rope ladders to the ceiling, ride the zip line and do flips on the trapeze (all, of course, while being spotted by a staff member).
“It’s amazing to see how this builds confidence in the kids,” Grady said.
But when it comes to raising active kids, Grady said, there is one thing that works even better than indoor zip lines, rope ladders and video game-themed workouts – active parents.
“If you make it important,” she said, “they make it important.” – The News Tribune/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services