UFV leads the way with play-based research

Chilliwack central elementary school students have been taking part in a project that could lead to better in-school programs

Sam gets pulled around the gym by his UFV buddy from UFV while taking part in Fast Club at Central elementary.

Emily Smith* holds a handmade passport, and she’s flipping from page to page.

Some pages bear one or two small stickers as encouragement to keep trying her best. Others are adorned with bigger, glossy stickers and plenty of handwritten praise. She flips lightning quick past the empty pages but lingers over the most colourful one, thinking intently.

A moment later, she’s figured it out.

“Oh!” she yells, beaming. “That’s the day I forgot to take my medication!”

She begins to shake her whole body, laughing with her arms out like a mummy.

“I was vibrating like this!”

Smith, a Grade 5 student at Chilliwack Central elementary school, has fetal alcohol syndrome and attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder. Each causes symptoms that are problematic in the classroom setting, her mom says, like slow output, troubles focusing and blurting out. Medication helps even Emily out enough to focus on her school work so she can succeed.

“I can’t send her to school without her medication,” her mom says. “She couldn’t survive a day here.”

But there was that one day she forgot. Thankfully that was a FAST Club day, just like today.

Twice a week for one hour, Emily and 11 other kids at Chilliwack Central elementary get a break from their desks, from note taking, and from their teachers. They get to play, being as loud and moving as fast as they like, under the guidance of dozens of University of Fraser Valley kinesiology students.

Or, they can have quiet time, which is what Emily is doing after a good half hour of hula hooping and basketball shooting. She’s sitting on gymnasium stage taking a break, and giggles as she shows the colourful page to the UFV students running the program.

Everyone remembers the day she forgot her medication, and they all laugh.

The passports are a way for the kids to track their own progress. But they aren’t the only thing recording the kids’ movements. Research is at the heart of the FAST Club, and the study’s findings could help design ways to help children with myriad developmental delays navigate their way through the school day.

Each student participant wears a specially-designed research quality heart rate monitor that feed info wirelessly into a computer program that charts his or her activity. The kids know their heart rate goals, and can earn medals for staying in that range. The info is displayed on an interactive iPad, and the kids can check in throughout the hour with their own progress.

The more they move, the more medals they earn.

Each Central student is paired with a UFV kinesiology student as their own buddy, and some kids may require two buddies. Every time the group meets, the students and their buddies move through stations set up in the gymnasium that are designed to exercise different muscle groups and promote development. Two more UFV students man each station, where kids can play bean bag games, walk on balance beams, jump on pogo sticks, swoosh hula hoops, throw basketballs and whip around on scooter boards. There is encouragement to participate, but no pressure, and the stage is a quiet area to check in with the iPad, get away from the action, or play a board game.

It’s a groundbreaking “exercise intervention program” research project that has involved about 50 UFV students to date. They are collecting data to be processed and learned from, including the heart rate charts, salivary cortisol levels, physical and emotional changes, learning ability, and more.

The research is being overseen by Kathy Kliever and Alison Pritchard Orr, who are both associate professors at UFV in the department of kinesiology and physical education.

They said Chilliwack Central was a good fit for the project, where they could embed the program into the school day.

“Embedding it into the school curriculum has been fabulous,” Pritchard Orr said, as it doesn’t require any extra time spent at the school for the families.

“The intent is to have a research program that will help the kids,” Kliever said.

These 12 participants were chosen because they all have varying learning barriers or development disorders. Some have a specific diagnosis, others may not, and parents are not required to disclose this information to the school. Many choose to, because it helps the school access more resources.

Emily’s mom said she enrolled her daughter at Chilliwack Central because of the programs they are able to offer, due to the higher numbers of children needing extra care. The FAST Club research is driven by the team at UFV, and supported by the Chilliwack School District and NeuroDevNet, a federally-funded centre dedicated to understanding brain development and to helping children and their families overcome the challenges of neurodevelopmental disorders.

The volunteer UFV students involved have undergone special training and orientation, far above anything required for their coursework

There are still tweaks to be made to the FAST Club project, as it moves along as part of a larger research program.

When the 12-week program wraps up at the end of May, the kids who have been involved will likely miss coming to the gym for that extra two hours a week, including Nikko, an eight-year-old who has difficulty moving from one situation to the next.

Robert Williams, known to Nikko simply as ‘papa.’ watches the action from the sidelines. Once in a while he steps in to help with Nikko’s behavior. The program has given the kids who often have a hard time socializing a chance to be together and be accepted, he said.

“And it gives them (the researchers) a chance to watch the children and see what makes them tick,” he says. While it does mean the kids are missing out on a bit of classwork, “this is probably more important,” he adds.



*Some of the children’s names in this story have been changed to protect their privacy.



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