By J.M. Copeland
For Hometown News
Some adults might tell the children running and laughing at the Ormond Beach YMCA to settle down, but not Child Care Coordinator Diana Martin.
Running around the gymnasium was exactly what she wanted the happy energetic children to be doing.
The children are part of the YMCA SPARK Program, a national initiative created from research on physical activity and fitness. A white school bus with the red and blue YMCA letters picks the elementary age children up from school every day.
"They don't know they're getting exercise," Ms. Martin said. "They think it's a game."
Some of the games have new twists to involve as many children as possible.
"The way the games are approached is a big part," said Bev Johnson, YMCA vice president of health strategy. "The kickball version played at the Y involved more children than the traditional game. As many kids are as active as possible. Instead of only one kid running, all of the kids run the bases when the kicker kicks."
Johnson said sometimes calling an activity by a different name gives the children the confidence to try.
"We often work on skills and drills without calling it that. Many children might not want to play basketball because they don't feel they are good at it," Ms. Johnson said.
Speed ball is one of those activities that teaches the same hand-eye coordination and passing skills of basketball without the pressure.
"It's a way to include everyone, including those with the preconceived notion that they are not good at it," Ms. Johnson said.
Skylar and Summer Martin enjoy the after-school program and not just because mom works there.
"It's better than video games," Skylar said. "We don't have to sit home and do nothing. That's boring."
Summer peeled a tangerine while Skylar enjoyed string cheese.
HEPA -- Healthy Eating and Physical Activity -- national standards are followed. The children are given fresh fruit, vegetables and water so even if the foods aren't served at home, the children get some benefit from the snacks every day.
"The Southeast Volusia YMCA in Edgewater has a community garden," Ms. Johnson said. "The kids take care of it in a garden club of sorts and grow phenomenal vegetables."
"Food and fun after school teaches the kids to think outside the box and try new things," Ms. Johnson said, giving the example of tofu smoothies. "Many parents wouldn't even think of trying tofu smoothies. If we can excite the kids to try something new they will ask their parents about it."
To draw the parents into their children's new healthy lifestyle, Healthy Family Home newsletters with a focus on health, playing together and proper sleep, as well as recipes, are often sent home. There is also SPARK Friday Family Nights to give families the opportunity to play SPARK games and share other information.
"If we give the children the information, the message will get there," said Ms. Johnson. "Not all families have access to fresh food and vegetables. It's not because they don't have the desire."
Although a healthy weight is the objective, actual weight is never addressed.
"With children it is incredibly important not to focus on their weight," Ms. Johnson said. "We focus on healthy eating and physical activity."
A minimum of 150 minutes of physical activity during the week is achieved with a goal of 300 minutes.
"We instill in the children it's physical activity, not exercise. Healthy weight and strong heart. Just play every day. Just get out and be active," Ms. Johnson said.