MODESTO -- At the Petersen Event Center in downtown Modesto on Saturday morning, about 270 grown-ups were behaving like children.
More often than not, the conference attendees weren't sitting quietly in their seats, listening to the keynote speaker. They were waving their arms about. Tapping their feet. Tossing scarves into the air. Even getting up and doing silly dances.
If a bunch of kids had walked in, they might have wondered what on earth was going on. And they certainly couldn't have resisted joining in.
That was the whole point.
What was going on was the 10th annual Off to a Healthy Start conference for early- childhood educators and home- and center-based care providers for infants through 5-year-olds. Its focus was physical activity and nutrition to combat childhood obesity hence all the dancing and body movement.
At one point, keynote speaker Patty Kimbrell had the almost entirely female audience engaged in a simple song, miming the actions of pouring, whipping, chopping and tossing. The aim is to get children up and moving and hopefully excited about making a salad.
"The song will go faster and faster until the end, when our arms will fall off," Kimbrell, an early-childhood physical activity trainer from San Diego, jokingly warned participants before turning on the music.
As the tempo picked up, Sylvia Duburg and a couple of fellow teachers from the Stanislaus County Office of Education's Cornerstone Early Head Start program certainly were getting into it. The women did a bit of cardio in their exaggerated whip, chop, toss motions.
Asked what her class ranging from 6-week-old infants to 18-month-old toddlers would get from the song, Duburg said, "I'd sing it to them, show them the motions, and hopefully they'd imitate me."
"They will even bounce up and down they love music," added master teacher Sharlet Adamzadeh.
Insight on development
Combatting childhood obesity is just one of the goals of the activities Kimbrell taught her audience. Watching young children as they learn activities also gives insight on how they are developing.
With a heavy dose of humor, Kimbrell talked about how important repetition is to learning. For instance, little kids are great at nose picking because they do it so much, she said, but learning to throw or catch a Frisbee is going to take a lot of practice.
She said teaching children to skip is a way to gauge brain development. "How complex is a skip? Very complex," Kimbrell said. "It's much harder to do than the little gallop that kids do," she added, noting that skipping makes children alternate left-brain, right-brain control. "If you can't skip by the end of second grade, you need to be evaluated, because something's not right."
Along the same lines, Kimbrell had participants make a thumbs-up with one hand and point their index finger with the other, then quickly try to alternate the gestures from hand to hand. Pretty tough to do, which the audience learned, to much laughter.
All the fun action came attached to practical lessons. Various activities using scarves enhance brain development when combined with school-readiness skills. Participants had to think outside the box when asked to make a circle from a square scarf. One answer: Roll it up and make a loop. Another: Bring two parallel edges together so the scarf becomes a cylinder.
Participant Rachelle Avila is a long-term substitute teacher with the Turlock Unified Head Start program, working with 4- and 5-year-olds. She said she took away a lot of good information from the conference. "The nutrition, definitely," she said. "In Head Start, kids get breakfast and lunch, and this will help in teaching them about nutrition."
Avila, a California State University, Stanislaus, graduate who worked in the university's child-development center, said she'll be able to employ some of the musical activities she was shown Saturday, too. "During circle time, we do at least one or two songs."
Health and fitness
While the conference on early-childhood education was getting under way at the Petersen Event Center, a number of children across town were starting their day with healthy eating and physical fitness on their minds. The Sylvan Educational Foundation held its annual fund-raising breakfast, and omelets with fillings that included tomatoes, onions, peppers, cheese and ham were a popular choice.
The breakfast also included a fun run, at which a few children shared their thoughts on favorite fruits and veggies and recreational activities.
Yum, carrots and Cuties
Seven-year-old Ulisses Casillas, a second-grader at Freedom Elementary, said he's always active, playing soccer and basketball with friends, or just running. His favorite fruit is pears, and his favorite vegetable, carrots.
Sherwood Elementary first-grader Henry Robison, 6, likes baseball and every day at recess plays soccer. His healthy foods of choice? Carrots, apples and Cuties (Clementine oranges). "I eat them to make me strong," he said.
And there are plenty of healthy foods that help power Standiford Elementary first-grader Natalia Becerra, 7. Her favorite fruits and vegetables are strawberries, kiwis, avocados and squash. Loves that squash, her mom said.
Natalia gets her exercise playing soccer and T-ball and, when not on one of those teams, loves to jump rope.
Saturday's free event was sponsored by the Stanislaus County Office of Education, the county Children & Families Commission and the Stanislaus Child Development Local Planning Council. It was filmed to be shown on the county's MYTV (www.stancounty.com/mytv), and Kimbrell's PowerPoint presentation will be available at www.stanprop10.org.
Bee City Editor Deke Farrow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2327.