By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Foster Field looked – and sounded – a lot like a carnival Friday afternoon.
Elementary students laughed and smiled as they played with a giant parachute, tested their Spikeball skills, ran through an obstacle course and competed in beanbag tic-tac-toe.
They were having fun while exercising, which is one of the goals of Nebraska Kids Fitness and Nutrition Day. The 15th annual event brought more than 800 fourth-graders from 10 area communities to the University of Nebraska at Kearney campus to learn about healthy living habits.
“The primary purpose of the event is to open the eyes of young people to the ways physical activity and nutrition work together to maintain health,” said UNK exercise science professor Kate Heelan, who created Nebraska Kids Fitness and Nutrition Day with Kaiti George, a registered dietitian at the Kearney Hy-Vee.
At Foster Field, UNK physical education students and members of the Loper softball and wrestling teams led fun activities that also focused on team-building and exercise.
Inside the Health and Sports Center, fourth-graders learned about the benefits of a healthy lifestyle through the Hy-Vee KidsFit program, and stations in Cushing Coliseum taught them about nutrition facts labels, portion control, the MyPlate nutrition guide and importance of food safety and hand-washing.
It was Angela Haussler’s first time attending Nebraska Kids Fitness and Nutrition Day, and she was impressed by the event.
“I think it’s great,” the fourth-grade teacher at Park Elementary School in Kearney said. “It gets the kids active and gives them opportunities in different activities.”
Haussler said many elementary students aren’t learning about the importance of physical activity and nutrition at home, so it’s up to schools to provide that information.
“It’s even better that UNK invited us over here for the kids to learn,” she said.
The curriculum developed for Nebraska Kids Fitness and Nutrition Day supports what’s being taught at Kearney Public Schools and other area districts. This curriculum is also used to host similar events in Hastings, McCook, Ogallala, Chadron, Sidney and Alliance, reaching more than 2,600 fourth-grade students in total.
At UNK, nearly 200 students, faculty and staff members from the College of Education assisted with the event, which is funded by the Nebraska Beef Council.
Heelan, who serves as director of UNK’s Physical Activity and Wellness Lab, said it’s an excellent opportunity for experiential learning as students prepare for careers in exercise science and education.
UNK senior Christian Bradley, an elementary education major from North Platte, also sees that value.
“Working with kids is always a great thing to do if you’re an elementary education major, plus it’s just fun to be around them,” he said. “It’s good practice for your major.”
Bradley, an instructor at the event for the second consecutive year, took note of how excited the fourth-graders were to learn about fitness and nutrition.
“It’s always encouraging to see that,” he said.
Matt Fischer, a senior elementary education major from Hickman, agreed.
“Today has been super-fun,” he said. “It’s a really cool way for them to get out of the classroom environment and learn something new.”
Fourth-graders from Alma, Amherst, Elm Creek, Franklin, Gibbon, Holdrege, Kearney, Overton, Pleasanton and Shelton attended Friday’s event.
In addition to the health lessons, the day is also an opportunity to introduce elementary students to UNK through a fun experience on campus.
“Fourth-grade teachers tell us all the time that this is their favorite field trip of the year,” Heelan said. “They look forward to coming here.”
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