by Delaware Public Media’s Tom Byrne and contributor Larry Nagengast

The pandemic has upended how kids are learning as schools work in either hybrid or remote formats.  And that has raised questions about the impact on their mental health.

But the pandemic can also affect children’s physical health – especially this time of year when going outside to play may be less of an option.

Unless there’s snow on the ground, it can be tough in winter to get kids outside for exercise – or just to burn off some excess energy. The challenge is even greater during the Covid-19 pandemic, with many schools operating in hybrid or remote-only mode.

“It’s a double whammy,” says Dr. Kate Cronan, pediatric emergency medicine physician and medical editor for at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children. “It’s chilly and you don’t have school gym class.”

That got Chika Chukwuocha thinking. Chukwuocha, who created the popular I Can Do 26.2 running program in Wilmington in 2015, was frustrated last summer, when the five-year celebration she had hoped to hold fell victim to the pandemic.

“2020 was a hell year,” she says. “We put the kids’ safety above everything else and started thinking about how to get children active with winter activities.”

Chukwuocha, who received a Governor’s Award for Volunteer Service in 2018 for the running initiative, which trains youngsters to run a marathon distance – 26.2 miles – over six weeks in the summer, came up with something new: a four-week online fitness series targeted at children ages 4-12, the same age group served by the running program.

The virtual workout series, called Winter ACTIVation, starts Monday (Jan. 18) at 6 p.m. with a 45-minute online session that starts with stretching and a warmup, followed by a variety of exercises and ending with a cooldown. Participants in the series, which costs $10, will have access to the session throughout the week, so they can do the exercises over and over, until the next session.

Rebeca Reyes, a certified personal trainer with CoreTen Fitness, part of the Titus Sports Academy at the 76ers Fieldhouse in Wilmington, will lead the workouts. Although she is used to working with adults, Reyes says she grew up in a family with 13 children so “I’m pretty good at knowing what works with kids.” Being part of a large family also means that Reyes has had to exercise with only limited space available – an important consideration for indoor workouts.

Winter ACTIVation registration: Families can use this link to register for the Winter ACTIVation program. There is no deadline; registration will remain open even after the first session.

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