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Top healthy activities for kids

Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan
April11/ 2013

Top healthy activities for kids

Pittsburgh has a reputation for being a great city to raise a family — maybe because fitness and health are a family affair here. Parents looking for ways to keep their young ones fit mentally and physically have a hearty and unique range of choices.


Get out on one of the city’s majestic rivers with the Three Rivers Rowing Association (TRRA). This summer, Three Rivers Rowing introduces its first ever camp for fourth through seventh grade.

“Being on the water is an experience like no other,” says Rick Brown, executive director of TRRA and head coach of the Juniors Team. “It’s beautiful, fun and challenging. Anyone can learn how to row and it’s a lifetime skill.”

Brown said parents have been asking for a camp for younger kids for years.

“It’s a bonding experience, that can be really important for that age group, before high school and through high school,” explains Brown. “You really have pretty extreme bonds with the people you row with. It’s very team oriented. There aren’t a lot of stars. It’s very equal.”

“It’s not your typical sport,” says Denise Tobee, mom of a former TRRA member and now a rower herself. “But it’s an incredible sport.”

Tobee’s son Dario started rowing after eighth grade when his interest in soccer waned and he’s continued rowing through high school and college. He now coaches a club team at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington.

It became a family activity when Denise started rowing three years after Dario and they’ve had a chance to row together with Dario as coxswain.

“He had a love of boats and water so I signed him up,” remembers Tobee. “It was hard but he loved it right away. When you row, it’s more like a family unit, a way of belonging.”

There are four different two-week camps running 10 a.m.-12 p.m. Monday-Friday based at the TRRA’s Washington’s Landing facility. Campers will be asked to complete a swim test.

Shaler North Hills Library programs

Adopting healthy habits as a family is more fun, and the Shaler North Hills Library offers great programs based on that winning formula. Both Kids Aerobics and It’s a (W)Rap offer families fitness and healthy food-centered fun.

“Libraries today have become more community centers empowering people in all parts of their lives,” explains Ingrid Kalchthaler, head of youth services. “This is a meeting place where parents can be given the tools to help their children grow up. We have been doing the aerobics a long time, giving parents and grandparents a chance to work together with their children.”

Kid Aerobics

Kids Aerobics, a favorite at the library, can draw anywhere from 20-60 participants to one of its two sessions on Thursdays; the new It’s a (W)Rap program is also building a loyal following.

Created by Youth Service Program Specialist Karen Hathaway, It’s a (W)Rap introduces kids to good food and exercise and pairing the lesson with books that parents can take home.

“We use books to foster the environment of healthy lifestyle choices,” says Hathaway. “In one class we used a non-fiction book about farmers and wool. We threw balls of wool around, made a healthy snack, and talked about food groups, based on MyPlate.gov.”

Nick, age 5, and his grandmother Gretchen Rickloff of Hampton, are long-time attendees of programs at Shaler but It’s a (W)Rap might be Nick’s new favorite.

“I wonder what we’re going to eat today!” Nick wonders before It’s a (W)Rap, offered Tuesdays at 12:30 p.m.

“Karen talks about nutrition in general and how the body uses the food you’ve eaten,” says Gretchen Rickloff. “She gives them an activity to do, keeps them active. If she’s talking about protein, she’ll have a wrap with deli ham and cheese. The kids wrap it up and make their own lunch. The next week she provides vegetables and kids wrap that up.”

A website unique to Pittsburgh, hb4life.com by UPMC’s Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh offers parents and kids more information on staying healthy together.

Two free interactive tools, The Healthy Plate and the Big Five Tracker, grade kids’ behaviors and eating habits.

“Children’s decided to do this site as a way to make it easier for patients receiving care here to have access to educational tools and track and monitor behaviors that are related to healthy weight and healthy lifestyles,” explains Jodi Krall, project director for diabetes prevention and treatment programs for UPMC. “But it applies to kids of all ages and sizes.”

The Healthy Plate

The Healthy Plate offers an interactive dinner plate for kids.

“They can choose the design, click and drag food items over to the plate, get a score about nutrient and caloric intake, and they can get an idea of the recommendations for their particular needs,” says Krall.

The Big Five Tracker presents kids with questions about their behaviors relating to healthy weight status, including screen time, fast food consumption, sweetened beverages consumption, physical activity, and meal time with families. Kids can visit the site daily and get a score from 0-100.

If the entire family needs to improve their physical activity score, then Pittsburgh offers a selection of family fun runs and kids’ races this spring and summer. Jeremiah’s Place, Pittsburgh’s first crisis nursery, is hosting a Children’s Dash on April 27 in North Park.

“Every year since they were two, we have done the Junior Great Race — the dash and then the one-mile as they have gotten older — as a way to experience the joy of competing and accomplishing something,” explains Lynne Williams, co-founder of Jeremiah’s Place and mom of Matt, age 6, Nate, age 4 and Sam, age 2. “Our program will serve children, mostly under the age of 6, and families and so it was important for us to have children involved in this event. Just like I want to model for my sons the importance of health and activity, I want to provide that experience for other children and their families.”

Photographs copyright Brian Cohen

Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan is a writing mom on the run from Pittsburgh. She is a freelance writer for children and adults and has written for Highlights for Children, Odyssey, Family Fun and more. She hosts workshops for kids and adults and is the author of several self-published books including My Food Notebook.