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Goddard School of Elgin brings fitness to forefront

Preschooler BrendStone mimics his PE teacher Nikki Victorino Tuesday during excercise learning class The Goddard School Elgin.  September 4

Preschooler Brendon Stone mimics his PE teacher Nikki Victorino Tuesday during a excercise learning class at The Goddard School in Elgin. September 4, 2012 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 17, 2012 6:03AM

When Nikki Victorino coached gymnastics one day per week at Goddard School of Elgin this summer, she was surprised when some of the toddlers didn’t have basic gross motor skills.

Teaching them the fundamentals in the weeks that followed, Victorino was so excited with their progress that she approached owner Sheryl Nelson about expanding the fitness offerings for the youngsters. Now, Goddard School of Elgin has a full-time PE instructor in Victorino, and a new program aims to instill fitness foundations early in life.

“The Midwest has this propensity to have unpredictable weather, and we don’t have an indoor gym,” said Nelson. But we want to make sure our children get 30 minutes of exercise every day.”

Although inclement weather might prohibit outdoor activity, Victorino has developed fitness ideas for the classrooms, too. With parachute games, yoga and other exercises, the children are engaged with movement, regardless of the outdoor climate.

“Exercise helps them feel balanced, helps them feel focused, and gives them a feeling of well-being,” Nelson said.

Victorino’s goal is to guide the children to benefit from physical fitness as she has.

“I was always very active, whether it was gymnastics, dance, volleyball,” she said. “I think it’s important for kids to learn to be active when they’re this young so it comes naturally.”

Over the summer, Victorino coached children ages 2 to 8 years at Goddard. The apprehension some of them showed was striking to her.

“There were huge fears, even with something like jumping over a stone,” Victorino said. “And two months later, they were doing it — and doing handstands, too — and they weren’t afraid.”

Since her background entails coaching older children, she was surprised that the exercise skills of the younger children were yet to be developed. She saw that as an opportunity to promote fitness at the school and approached Nelson about it.

“I took for granted that kids have the large gross motor skills already, but they don’t,” Victorino said. “Sometimes they don’t know how to do something as simple as arm circles.”

Nelson said while the Goddard School has long offered sports as part of its summer programming and promotes outdoor and indoor play, the addition of the full-time PE teacher means expanded fitness potential.

“It’s going to be fun, programmed, developmentally appropriate exercises,” she said. “They’re going to be learning some new skills, and we’re incorporating their lesson planning into the games.”

Nelson said childhood obesity is on the rise, and good exercise habits in the early years can make a difference. Spending time in front of the computer screen is one way children become more idle than is ideal, she added.

“As long as people are active, that’s what’s important,” Nelson said. “And it doesn’t have to be an organized sport.”

In fact, children’s learning is negatively impacted if they don’t exercise enough, she explained.

“Children are not able to learn with their frontal lobe unless their basic needs are met,” she said. “Food, comfort, love and physical need for movement and getting some of the energy out so they can focus are all very basic needs.”

With a schedule of regular monthly activities for the children to learn at school, Victorino plans to encourage the children to do their exercises at home, too. Nelson said the new program was something she felt strongly about from the moment Victorino pitched it and added, “We decided this is the right thing to for kids.”

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