Loachapoka School Children Unwind with Yoga, Learn Motor Skills

June 30, 2014

Every summer for the past five years, approximately 70 students from Loachapoka Elementary — a small school in a rural town west of Auburn – have come to campus for a fun-filled movement-based summer camp. The children enjoy active fun and games, swimming, and now … yoga!

“This is our fifth consecutive year of having the children in from Loachapoka for a really fun and active summer camp,” said Dr. Sheri Brock, Associate Professor in the College of Education’s School of Kinesiology and the camp’s director. “The camp lasts two weeks and is operated on funds from the University Outreach Program. It has become a real tradition for our students and faculty, as well as for the children themselves.”

“I teach a graduate class every summer to school professionals, most of whom are Physical Education teachers coming back to Auburn to earn their Master’s degree. They conduct the actual activities, and are assisted by approximately 30 undergrads who take part in the activities. So in addition to having a 2:1 campers to counselors ratio, all of the people involved grow very close during this special time.”

The students from grades K-6 are divided into three groups and have their assigned counselors. Children participate in movement-based activities and games throughout the morning sessions, and at the end of the camp there is a lunch celebration. Every child also receives his or her own bag and t-shirt, specially designed each year by a local artist featuring the camp theme.

“The best part for the kids, of course, is just getting to come to campus every day and having fun in an active, structured setting,” Brock said. “We might include some nutritional information, depending on who is on staff, but always there is an emphasis on motor skills – running and jumping – and enjoying being physically active.”

And this year the camp introduced surprising new hit activity – yoga.

“Associate Professor Danielle Wadsworth instituted yoga this year and it was unbelievably popular with both boys and girls from all age groups,” Brock said. “The children are always cooperative and enthusiastic, but this is something they really got into. At the end of the camp when we went around asking what they liked the most, 80 percent of the children said yoga was their favorite activity. I was amazed at how well it went over.”

Research component along with the fun

As is often the case in the College of Education’s summer outreach activities, research for grad students and professors is part of the program.

“From an experience standpoint, our pre-service teachers get hands-on experience in a real school setting,” Brock noted. “But we also try to engage in some sort of research. For the past three years we have tried to find ways to get our group of campers – one that historically has had a fear of water and swimming – introduced to the pool in a positive way. We have Red Cross Certified instructors provide swim lessons, find fun and safe ways to get the kids into the pool, and then teach them the basics of swimming. Our interviews before and after show that this is an effective way to teach swimming, and the campers certainly feel much more comfortable in the water as the program goes along.”

The researchers have also examined the effectiveness of using technology as a teaching tool.

“Historically, when we are teaching a new movement concept, the teacher personally demonstrates the technique, over and over, to every new pupil or group or class,” Brock said. “We are experimenting with filming the teacher’s demonstration and loading it onto iPads that the students can use, observe, and watch multiple times if they so desire. One obvious advantage is that the demonstration will be the same every time on the iPad, which is not the case in a live demonstration. The children particularly enjoy using the iPads!”

“This has become a great tradition and we have built a real partnership with Loachapoka Elementary,” Brock concluded. “The most important thing is that the  children get to become part of our campus, be active in a safe setting, have fun, and hopefully find activities and games they enjoy to become active for a lifetime. Everybody wins!”

Story by George Littleton