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Family Fitness Night a Popular School-Wide Event

Reaching students with the message about the importance of fitness isn't enough. Schools are going for the gold with events designed to bring in kids and their families too. Included: Four teachers share different Family Fitness Night approaches.

"I was trying to figure out a fun way to get families involved, not only with their own children, but with the entire learning community of our school," Nancy Hennefer told Education World. "I wanted to do this while promoting physical activity. I also wanted to make them aware of the wonderful resource that was within one mile of the school's neighborhood -- a beautiful county park complete with a lake, amphitheater, hiking trail, Frisbee golf course, and volleyball courts, among other facilities."

Hennefer, a physical education teacher, organized her first school-wide "family campout" evening at Oak Grove Regional Park for students and families at Creekside Elementary School in Stockton, California. It was such a success that she carried the concept with her when she moved to a new school within the same district, Julia Morgan Elementary School. Although the park was nearby and offered abundant opportunities for physical activity, many students and their families had never been there!


Word of mouth, school bulletins, and fliers spread word about the upcoming campout. The evening involved a "bring-your-own" picnic dinner. Hennefer supplied charcoal and prepared the park's grilling facilities. During two half-hour "activity sessions" that followed dinner, eight different "stations" were in operation. Some of the activities Hennefer included during the program's four years were fly fishing, a nature scavenger hunt, parachute activities, on-land wind surfing (with a simulator board), a nature hike, and making s'mores!

"At the end of the evening, we all go to the amphitheater where we have a good, old-fashioned sing-along with campfire songs," said Hennefer. "My brother, Tom Hofsommer, a park ranger, did a nature slide presentation a couple of the years, and one year our school's principal read a ghost story to everyone before the sing-a-long!"

Everyone enjoys the pseudo-campouts, said Hennefer. The success of this family event, she added, lies in attention to details such as reserving facilities, learning whether the park will collect entrance fees, and locating funding sources if they are needed. Teachers who assist Hennefer at the activity stations are provided with "goodie bags" that contain a bottle of Gatorade, a granola bar, some insect repellent, and chocolate!


When Leslie Christine shared her step aerobic unit with her students at El Segundo Middle School, their original routines with music of their choice and unique steps were outstanding, so outstanding that she felt the need to share their work with parents. Now a program coordinator for two after-school programs for junior high students in Lake Oswego, Oregon, Christine still recalls the popular unit for both girls and boys.

"Each year the step aerobic nights got more and more popular," she reported. "The last night we had it, we had over 100 parents and friends watching. Sometimes kids would show up on the first day of the unit with their routine already planned and ready to go -- that is how excited the students got about this fun event!"

Christine started out her unit by showing students the basic step aerobics steps similar to those used at health clubs. She and the students then devised a routine to music. Next, the students formed groups and built their own routines. A rubric identified what the routines had to contain. They had to include stretching at the beginning and steps side to side. Among the other requirements were that the routines had to be a specific length and accompany a musical beat.

"Then the students got to practice, and we helped with some ideas of other steps to include if they needed help," Christine explained. "We had kids perform for each other at the end of class, if they wanted to, to let others see what they had been working on. The family step night was for the kids who did exceptional routines and chose to perform."


"I hope the message the students receive is that their health is important," said Genni Kennedy, a physical education teacher at Harrison Elementary School in Lakewood, Ohio. "If you don't take care of yourself, then you won't be very happy."

Rules of Thumb
For Family Campouts

After four years of family fitness events, Nancy Hennefer offers this advice for the would-be campout planner
-- Offer activities that will appeal to all ages.
-- Make use of any experts.
-- Put a call out to parents who may have a talent to share.
-- Have a plan in case bad weather causes last-minute cancellation.
-- Schedule the campout during Daylight Saving Time, but tell people to bring flashlights.

Hennefer shared one last tip based on her initial experience: "Make sure people know you are not really camping," she said. "The first year, I had two families show up in their travel trailers. The wanted to know where the hookups were!"

Kennedy holds Harrison Family Fitness Night in January "because most people are making resolutions and lifestyle changes at the start of the new year."

Kennedy's family fitness event fills a need; many of the school's families have low socioeconomic status and don't have the resources necessary to keep their children healthy. There are also a number of non-English speaking families in the school. Kennedy and a social worker founded the fitness night together and have continually increased the offerings to create a comprehensive health event. Each year, the fitness night has a different theme. For example:

  • 2001: A Family Fitness Odyssey
  • How Fit Are You in 2002?
  • 2004 Open the Door to Good Health

Hospitals, the fire department, the police department, the teen center, the health department, and other organizations are part of the evening's events. A local optometrist, dentist, pediatrician, audiologist, respiratory therapist, clinical counselor, the school nurses, and many other individuals also play a role.

"We have physical activities going on in the gym like karate, kick-boxing, aerobics, dance, yoga, Pilates, hip hop, and body sculpting," Kennedy stated. "In the main hallway, we have information tables. In classrooms off the main hall we have free health screenings taking place."

Especially popular with students are the opportunities to try physical activities. That gives students a chance to see if the activities are enjoyable before they enroll in expensive classes. Parents often make connections with healthcare professionals who can help them find treatment for themselves and their children.

Kennedy also involves the community in the event as much as possible. Grocery stores and other organizations have donated money each year for healthy snacks and juice drinks and bottled water, and local television stations and newspapers regularly cover the evening.

"I also got my own personal people involved," said Kennedy. "By this I mean my physical therapist, my daughter's pediatrician, and a respiratory therapist I had seen. I simply explained to them what I was doing and asked them if they would like to take part, and they were more than happy to do so. I think the partnership between the school community and the local community is key and very valuable."


Terry Stouffer also wanted to encourage parents to get their children involved in fitness activities and involve the community in their quest. His "Families In Training" (FIT) program is a healthy start to a lifetime goal of family fitness.

"I think the kids enjoy working out with mom and dad, and vice-versa," he observed. "The most popular FIT events are the mile run, dance, and the swim, but different families enjoy different activities."

A new year of FIT activities begins each October. Throughout the school year, students at East Coventry Elementary School and other schools in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, are invited to participate in fitness activities that occur in different locations around the district. Students who join in at least five of the events are awarded an original FIT prize, such as a T-shirt.

"My hope is that children who participate in fitness activities with their parents and families will continue a fitness activity attitude into their adult life and perhaps pass on the tradition of family fitness to their children," Stouffer explained. "Also, there are many different ways to get in shape and stay physically healthy. I enjoy participating in these activities with my own family and hope to continue when my grandchildren are old enough to participate."


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