Re-Booting The Camp Mentality

By Gary Takacs

Healthy and active programs for children have a pivotal role in today’s recreation industry. The child-obesity rates reflect a lack of understanding, interest, or opportunity in living a healthier lifestyle. It is imperative to reach out to children at their most influential stage in life and provide them with accurate information. When lifelong health and well-being are at stake, this type of healthy lifestyle is both an obligation and a commitment.

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Last year, the Lynchburg Parks & Recreation Fairview Center in Virginia hosted its first “Fairview eXtreme” summer camp, which focused on creative thinking and experiential learning. Participants were challenged by numerous activities daily, some of which came as a surprise even to the staff. Campers hit the ski slopes at the Liberty Mountain Snowflex Centre on Candler’s Mountain, navigated across swinging suspension bridges on the Creekside Trail, and reached new heights at an indoor climbing wall!

At another event—Olympic Day—campers were joined by NFL cornerback and Lynchburg native Chris Cook as well as two Lynchburg Hillcats baseball players who discussed the importance of sportsmanship, teamwork, and athleticism. Campers competed in various events on an “Olympic-based” stage, while being cheered on by the athletes. While this may seem only a small perk, it was a thrill for the campers to get that close to a professional athlete.

Running And Physical Training
In addition to bringing role models to further emphasize a commitment to healthy and active programming, two other activities were created to help drive home the point. Fairview eXtreme incorporated its first 8-Mile Challenge and physical-training curriculum to its daily schedule.

The Challenge consists of 8 miles—4 walking and 4 running—during each of the 4-week sessions. Upon completion, finishers were awarded a souvenir medal and a certificate. Make-up days were scheduled to give everyone the opportunity to complete the event. By the end of the first session, Challenge finishers logged a total of 152 miles! Other participants who fell short of the 8-mile requirement logged a total of 70 miles (that’s 222 miles in the first session)!

The physical-training aspect of the program originated from my experience at basic military training with the United States Air Force, but was modified to suit children under the age of 11. In written evaluations, parents stated they “like the idea that the camp is promoting health and fitness,” and that it “increased their energy level.” Their children “have more stamina,” which “increases their mood.” Parents were equally thrilled to have staff members who were willing to participate in activities with the children, and serve as role models. L. Spinner, a parent said, “I’m really glad that the staff [members] are taking the time and have the patience to work with them [the campers].”

A Place To Start
Throughout the summer sessions, campers are given ample opportunities to showcase their fitness and knowledge skills. Physical training is on the schedule three times per week, on alternating days from the 8-Mile Challenge. Overall, the participants learn proper exercise technique and good form, flexibility, strength training in a group setting with peers, as well as muscle groups and muscle function.

But having the opportunity to learn how to warm up, work out, stretch, and cool down muscle groups is only the beginning. Participants now are able to put their knowledge into practice and have a fun way to learn about health and wellness, rather than merely sit in a classroom. Fairview eXtreme was designed with experiential learning in mind, and is only one example of Lynchburg Parks & Recreation’s obligatory movement toward programming healthier and active lifestyles.

I have always said, “If [children] don’t do it with parks and recreation, they may never do it at all.”

Gary Takacs is the Senior Recreation Specialist at the Yoder Center for the Lynchburg Parks & Recreation Department. Reach him at Gary.Takacs@lynchburgva.gov .