What are the goals of the program, and what is a typical day like? Below, a few of our occupational therapists share their thoughts on the Fitness Center in Burien.
CTC’s Fitness Center is designed to serve children who are, on average, between the ages of 7 and 16 – an age group that’s often difficult to engage. How does the Fitness Center help accomplish the goal of keeping them interested in therapy?
Many of the kids we see have been in therapy their whole lives. As they get older, they tend to lose motivation. This is normal. Older children tend to do well in Fitness Center because it’s a group setting with peers. Kids see their peers working hard and want to do the same. We build some natural competition into the group sessions for that reason. We also try to refer to our group as a “team” and encourage kids to work hard for their teammates.
How is a typical Fitness Center session structured?
We try to keep the same routine every week so the kids can become more independent and autonomous. We might start with cardio exercise followed by push-ups and sit-ups. Then we engage in the focus exercises for the week – balance, core strength, upper body strengthening, agility, or ball skills. We give the children a home program exercise sheet to help them remember and practice the routine.
How do you encourage independence and autonomy?
One of the kids in the program, Abby, has been part of several sessions at both Burien and Kent and at this point she’s ready for more autonomy. We ask her to keep an eye on the clock and tell the rest of the kids when cardio time is up. She is also used to the routine by now, so when we ask her “What do we do next?” she automatically knows to wipe down her equipment and record her stats.
We try to give all the kids more autonomy by asking them their goals, and we let them choose which piece of equipment they are going to use.
Beyond fitness, what else are kids learning in these sessions?
Fitness center sessions are great for developing social skills. We model for the children how to say hello when a new kid walks in the door, how to ask someone’s name if they forget, and so on. We practice taking turns on the equipment and demonstrating exercises, and we engage in lots of partner exercises. We also allow them to navigate the situation with their peers if two kids walk towards the same piece of equipment at the same time, which happens all the time at the gym!
We also try to facilitate a team environment and cheer each other on. We have a team cheer every week at the end of the session!
What’s the ultimate goal for kids attending the fitness center?
It varies a bit from person to person. For Abby, we hope the direct therapeutic intervention we provide for her motor skills will help her to perform with her peers in PE at school. Ongoing cardio exercise will always be really important for Abby due to her diagnosis and the related natural tendency for weight gain. If we can help keep her motivated to exercise and learn the routine, the ultimate goal would be for her to continue with the home program exercises and/or eventually engage in exercise at the gym or a community program.