America On The Move

After-school programs that only offer video games, the use of portable game stations and other sedentary activities are growing at an alarming rate because parents want to see their children happy, and after-school programs want to increase attendance.

However, physical activity is essential, and 30 minutes of physical education twice per week is not enough for kids to stay healthy.

The YMCA in Lakeland, Fla., is on a mission to solve that problem, while simultaneously putting big grins on children’s faces. This year, it introduced “America on the Move,” an after-school program that has transformed the children, in an atmosphere of friendly, healthy competition and the use of some old-school moves that children love!

A New Spin On Old Games

“America on the Move” uses tools grownups remember using as kids --jump ropes, Hula Hoops and even a boom box. The idea is not to give the children the hoops and ropes and then tell them to give it a whirl, but to make it an exciting new venture. The local YMCA is getting a great response from kids and parents.

You can implement this program at your facility without spending hundreds of dollars on renovations or equipment. Cynthia Lester, who runs one of the after-school care programs, says, “The kids love it, and to watch them get the hang of something is just such a joy!”

I attended one of Lester’s classes to find out how she implements the program. She monitors kids of all ages, which may seem like a challenge, but is an effective tool in teaching the group to encourage others.

A Description Of The Games

Starting with the little ones, ages 3 to 5, she puts Hula Hoops on the floor. The kids learn balance and agility by maneuvering through the hoops in a serpentine line. This instills teamwork and coordination skills at a young age, and the older children enjoy cheering them on.

She then uses the jump ropes in a non-traditional way--the children grab one end of the rope and maneuver it through the maze so they can learn hand-eye coordination and walking backwards.

The children in grades one through three use the Hula Hoops and jump ropes in a more traditional way. First, they learn some basic moves: getting the Hula Hoop going and maintaining the proper rhythm, which teaches musicality. Lester then starts a Hula Hoop competition to see who can hula the longest.

Each child is deemed a winner simply for trying, but the idea is to last the longest. During the competition, she encourages the other children to cheer on the competitors, saying, “Now let’s cheer for Liz-

zy, Liz-zy, Liz-zy … now let’s cheer for I-saac, I-saac.”

In addition, the kids learn a sense of teamwork, pride and accomplishment, regardless of whether they are the last one standing.

For the older age group in jumping rope, Lester teaches double-dutch and individual play, where the kids feel challenged and encouraged throughout the process. One boy attempted jumping for several minutes and didn’t want to leave with his mom until he got it right!

He was being encouraged by the YMCA staff, telling him he could do it. Other children played double-dutch with teachers as they practiced for the upcoming jump rope competition.

On A Musical Note

For each competition, Lester plays a wide variety of cute songs. A new rap version of “The Big Bad Wolf,” one of my favorites, was played for the Hula Hoop contest.

Children were encouraged to clap and dance with the music while others competed. She also uses her boom box to let the kids dance and teach each other dance moves. She plans to have a dance contest next, and the winner will be the one with the smoothest moves!

I was enlightened by this new program, and noticed that the class was alert, interactive and well behaved. These were happy children, proud of themselves and each other.

For more information, visit or contact the Lakeland, Fla. YMCA at (863) 644.3528.

Kati Trammel is the advertising and public relations account executive for MCCS Marketing, Semper Fit Retail, Food and Beverage, based in Okinawa, Japan. She can be reached at