Imagimotion Kidz thrive on exercise, healthy eating

Published December 28, 2013 by

The staff at Worcester’s Rainbow Child Development Center on Edward Street knew that in order to combat the national trends toward obesity among low-income children, they would have to enlist some help. That help comes in the form of fun stretches, teamwork and good food — perhaps eliciting more laughter and giggles than one might expect when talking about such serious subject matter.

Between a high reliance on processed food and working parents who are less likely to have time for fitness-related activities, the pint-sized patrons at RCDC — like kids from financially challenged households across the country — have a couple of chips stacked against them in the national war against obesity.

But programs such as Imagimotion Kidz, which is a part of the landscape at RCDC thanks to a grant from Reliant Medical Group, seek to give them a tool or two — and have fun doing it.

“The kids are having an absolute blast in their movement classes,” said Nancy Thibault, RCDC’s strategic communication and development manager. “And what is so important to us is that our best practices, and what we envision as being fundamental components of our mission, are a part of the daily culture here.”

RCDC was founded in 1972 and is a nonprofit early education and care agency working collaboratively within the community licensed to serve 290 children daily, ranging in age from 6 weeks to 13 years.

The center has contracts with the commonwealth of Massachusetts to provide subsidized child care to low-income families and provide supportive child care to families who are involved with the Department of Children and Families, who are statistically at higher risk for obesity.

According to the Pediatric Nutrition Surveillance System data, more than one third of the 3.7 million low-income children ages 2 to 4 years surveyed were overweight or obese.

While it is not mandated by law for preschools and child care centers to include curricula or programming related to fitness and healthy nutrition, the staff at RCDC recognized the value their families would get from a little extra education — especially when delivered in a funny, fun and relatable way.

Even though the real fun for the kids is in working on their flexibility, strength and endurance as part of their creative movement lessons, those best practices also have quite a bit to do with learning about nutrition.

Children are given information about the My Plate initiative pioneered by first lady Michelle Obama, Rainbow Eating (otherwise known as eating lots of different colors of foods, particularly vegetables, said Ms. Thibault) and food groups.

But more importantly than the learning itself, said Ms. Thibault, is that kids are able to practice their knowledge and skills in the company of their peers — and the social benefits are beyond compare.

“It’s so great to see the excitement and joy on their faces as they learn about teamwork and turn-taking and encouraging their friends,” said Ms. Thibault, who added that nutritional lessons are reinforced during the kids’ mealtimes in the cafeteria, where they try new foods and laugh over their favorites.

For Patty Barr, who founded Imagimotion Kidz in 2000 after starting her career in recreational therapy, the real outcome to all of the kids’ fun and learning and skill-building is the self-esteem and confidence they gain in the process.

“If a child believes they can do something, they will do it,” said Ms. Barr, whose clientele includes more than 20 child-care centers across Massachusetts.. “It is a positive experience for all children to have the kind of encouragement and peer support they get through this program, which helps them to believe in themselves in everything they do.”