Teacher hopes approach will fuel Soda Creek student’s lifelong desire for fitness | SteamboatToday.com

Teacher hopes approach will fuel Soda Creek student’s lifelong desire for fitness

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Soda Creek Elementary School physical education teacher Erin Early is reaching out to the community, and thinking out of the box with hopes of inspiring the next generation to pursue an active, healthy lifestyle.

"The goal as a teacher is to feel like I have fulfilled a lifelong desire in these students for fitness," Early said. "You want them to be healthy people throughout the rest of their life, and a great way to tap into that is  with none tag style games."

The past month Early has been working with Amanda Marie Cook of Out Here Yoga studio. Together to two are hoping to expand what is expected in elementary school physical education.

"The physical education standards have focus on flexibility, balance and muscular strength and endurance," Early said. " Amanda really does a great job of incorporating the Colorado State standards and her own uniqueness to it. She is able to bring them both together."

But it's what Early notices after class that has her really excited about bringing community members such as Cook into her classes to give students a different perspective on what happens in PE.

"Every Friday I focus on some sort of cooperation based activity in physical education. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas we have focused on some sort of yoga or mindfulness activity," Early said. "I've experienced an increase in concentration, self control and confidence in students from kindergarten to fifth-grade."

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This is the second year Cook has volunteered her Friday's to teach the classes. She normally spends the day there, and by the end of the run every student at Soda Creek has a chance experience what Cook is teaching.

"If she is there all day on Friday, four weeks allows her to see the entire Soda Creek population," Early said. This year because of illness Cook missed two weeks; however, Early said the volunteer provided resources that empowered her to pass along the lessons.

"We still focus on the skill-based exercises, but it's not dodgeball and what people stereotype as elementary school physical education," Early said. "We've gone beyond dodgeball, we've gone beyond the parachute and all the nostalgia you might have when we think back to our elementary physical education days. We are trying to figure out ways to make fitness more fun. It's not all about the super athletic students. It's about everyone finding a way to make fitness a part of their lives, however it fits."

She said working with community members such as Cook has allowed her to start thinking outside the box, and she said it fits in with the new physical education approach where kids learn that fitness is much bigger than just competition.

"They are so intuitive and receptive to what yoga and mindfulness has to offer," Cook said of her young students. "I really value yoga that gets down the to core principals and what it can offer us in our life, and that’s what we try to harness with the kids."

Cooks lessons include some of the things children might expect to find in their physical education class such as stretching, balance and other physical exercises. But there is also an element that takes the children outside of the physical to a more mindful place where the power of words, the value of focus and the importance of proper breathing techniques take center stage. Cook, who is also a coach with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Clubs, feels that these attributes are key to finding success on the field, court and skiing courses.

Her lessons are designed to teach students the impacts of positive thoughts and words.

"I will actively have them speak affirmations and learn what affirmations are. We move our bodies and talk about linking our breaths with our movement as a means of being in the body and being present," Cook said. "I will walk them around the lines on the gym floor as if it is a balance beam one foot in front of the other. We use meditation to just focus on that and I will lead the line while playing a singing bowl. Just the feeling of present that comes to these kids is so beautiful, so much so that one teacher came to pick them up and her jaw hit the floor she said, ‘Who are these kids.'”

For Cook the time with the students is a chance to add to the community.

"It is great to volunteer, and I really love this community and love being able to have the opportunity to impact the kids in this way," Cook said. "I have a strong passion for it. I worked in the school system North Carolina doing this same work. It started as a volunteer program at one school in North Carolina, and then the following year I turned it into a profitable program and an after school leisure activity where kids could come. When I moved to Steamboat, it was my passion to work with the kids, but what I have learned, that the kids in this town are so busy that to get them to come to me is pretty challenging."

So she started coming into the schools, and she has hopes that the children who are exposed to yoga and this type of thinks my seek her out. She teaches a children's yoga class at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesdays at Out Here Yoga.

"I learn from it," she said. "It's a great experience for me  to get better with the next round of kids, and then get better and better. I have hopes of bring this to the middle school and even the high school.

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.