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Fitness | Gym Rat

Exercisers at Play

May 17, 1999|GARY METZKER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Beware. The Gym Rat is snooping around Southern California, looking at the best and worst in health clubs. And he isn't just any rat. He's been teaching more than four years at various clubs in the area. He is a member of IDEA, the Health & Fitness Source, and is certified by the Aerobics and Fitness Assn. of America.

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If your aerobics instructor told you during warmups to touch the bottom of your foot to see if a meatball was squished on it or asked you to pretend you were picking veggies, you would think the instructor was nuts.

But for the 20 preschoolers in the 10:30 a.m. Wednesday Kid-Fit class at the School of Little Scholar in Duarte, those instructions for exercises elicit giggles and squeals of joy.

Kid-Fit is a 30-minute interval-training physical education class for preschoolers. The program, started five years ago by Michele and Jim Silence, is available at 12 child care-preschool facilities from Carson to Claremont, although the number of locations changes depending on the time of year.

The Silences are certified personal trainers, and Michele also holds a master's degree in clinical and sports psychology. They started Kid-Fit because the couple said they realized there was little available in the form of preschool movement programs and there were inadequacies in those that did exist. (The three Kid-Fit instructors also are certified trainers.)

"We would take our son to preschool, and when we got there we said, 'Look at these kids, they're fat,' " Jim Silence said. "They're eating bear claws for breakfast and they're not moving, and they probably come to school and eat whatever all day long and then get a Happy Meal on the way home and sit and watch television.

"You know it isn't like when we were kids and everybody sat down at the dinner table and then went out and played," he said. "Now, it's not so safe to go out and play unless someone is with you. Kids are really becoming sedentary. So all those kids may not look fatter, but they're nowhere near as healthy as we were."

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, body fat in children has doubled in the last 20 years, and overweight preschoolers have higher levels of cholesterol than other children.

An unseen benefit of regular physical education programs, experts say, is that language skills are enhanced. Efforts to prevent obesity, including encouraging physical activity and improved diets, should begin in early childhood, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What sets Kid-Fit apart, Jim Silence says, is the lifestyle and educational aspects of the classes, in addition to the exercise.

"Not only do kids learn coordination like in a dance class and strength and balance like they would in a gymnastics class, but they are also learning about their hearts, their lungs, their bones, their muscles," he said. "Today they're learning about their brains and emotions. Next time they'll be learning about fire safety."

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"We're going to learn something new today. I have a picture over here. Let's see if you know what this is," Michele Silence says to the 4- and 5-year-olds.

"It's a brain!" they yell.

"What does our brain do? Does anybody know?" she says. "Thinking!" they shout, and so starts 30 minutes of nonstop fun and frivolity.

Each segment of class lasts about 90 seconds to two minutes. And like a regular aerobics class, the Kid-Fit session starts with a warmup and a stretch. It moves into ball handling skills, a cardio segment, strength, cardio, strength, cardio and counting, more cardio, abdominals and a cool-down/stretch.

In one strength segment, Michele Silence had the kids looking for buried treasure when they were really doing push-ups. And when they went to the "Sad Cafe," a kids' song in the lesson plan, they were doing sit-ups.

"That's quite a workout for them," she said, "and [it's] just teaching them that exercise is something fun. And how hard is that to do with adults today?"

When Michele Silence first looked into starting a kids' fitness program, there was little to guide her. She read up on fitness and psychology, took courses, called exercise specialists, and tried things out on the kids. (She found out, for example, that she needed to use Hula-Hoops that were all the same color, to avoid fighting.)

"It's scary to work with kids that small because they aren't going to do what you tell them to do like adults do," she says. "They want something fun to do."

She says the program has to be done in intervals because kids that young aren't focused enough to do it any other way. "Kids either go all out or they don't do anything," she said. "They're like animals--they play really, really hard and then they sleep. So you have to work them hard and then give them that [a little break] or they won't make it through that half-hour."

Ida Tillman, director of the School of Little Scholar, has used the Silences' program for six months and likes the changes.

"I am so happy and the parents are so happy," she said. "And when the kids go home, they tell their parents. They are always aware of good food now. . . . "And there's no problem with napping on Wednesdays."

"Every time the kids hear the word 'exercise,' they think of fun," Jim Silence said. "We just hope they can hold on to that."

And that just proves that the Silences are golden.

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For information on Kid-Fit, call Jim Silence at (626) 359-8535 or check out their Web site: http://www.kid-fit.com.

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