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Early Risers: Physical Activity Program Gets More Kids Active Before School

| Iowa

Apr 18, 2022

More kids are being active in Leon, Iowa because of a new before school program. Kids are learning healthy habits and learning how to have fun with physical activity, thanks to the Iowa Department of Public Health SNAP-Ed program, Play Your Way!

Play Your Way contractors work with school staff and community partners to assist schools to make policy, system and environment (PSE) changes. PSE changes help students to be active, before, during and after the school day. Play Your Way projects are specific to each school and range from in-classroom physical activity breaks to other opportunities throughout the school day.  Opportunities include walking and biking to school, shared-use agreements, recess, and time before and after school. The Play Your Way social marketing campaign promotes one hour or more of daily physical activity.

kids climbing on a rock climbing wall

Decatur County has a higher than state average physical inactivity rate. It is important to promote healthy behaviors in kids at a young age. In rural communities like Leon, Iowa it can be a challenge to find opportunities for kids to be active outside of the school day. Students at Central Decatur South Elementary in Leon had an established before school program called “Cardinal Muscle”.  However, this program did not have structured opportunities for physical activity built into the program.

Last school year, the Decatur County Public Health collaborated with the Central Decatur Community School District and their Success Coach, Kerry Welch. They incorporated physical activity and yoga into the before school program at Central Decatur South Elementary. This took place Monday through Friday. The “Strong Bodies, Strong Minds” initiative was met with great enthusiasm among students and staff.

Kid playing with a hula hoop

2019/2020 School Year

  • Average attendance was 15-20 students.
  • Activity stations to rotate through were created.
  • Equipment such as jump ropes, activity balls, hula hoops, and tumbling mats was purchased.

2020/2021 School Year

  • Word spread and popularity grew among the youth.
  • Average attendance increased to 30-35 students.
kids playing in an indoor gym

A second grade student heard about the “Strong Bodies, Strong Minds” activities and insisted on being at school by 7:15 am every morning to participate with his peers. Since school doesn't start until 8:00 am, families had to adjust their schedules to attend the early morning program. The student's mother stated, “While his desire for 'working out', as he calls it, is pleasing to us, it sure has thrown a curveball in our consistent household routines!” Because her son is adamant about attending the program, they have changed their morning routines to allow him to share in the fun with his friends for a healthy habit.

“Social and emotional learning has great importance especially this school year with the impacts of COVID. The activity stations are set up to help kids increase motor skills and to promote self-regulation, helping to prime their brains for learning before beginning the school day.”
- Kerry Welch, Success Coach

Sarah Taylor-Watts, Physical Activity Coordinator

Play Your Way! One hour a day!




IDPH Iowa Department of Public Health
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