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Westminster preschool exercise program helps kids start healthy habits at a young age

A few days before Christmas, four little boys jumped through hoops and ran around cones in the gymnasium at Robert Moton Center in Westminster. They twirled green scarves in the air and tossed up balloons, smiling and laughing as family members joined them.

From left, Evan Fitzgerald, 5, Kai Newgent, 3, James Fitzergald, 3, and Bennett Green, 5, hop though hoops during a preschool fitness class at the Robert Moton Center in Westminster Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021.
From left, Evan Fitzgerald, 5, Kai Newgent, 3, James Fitzergald, 3, and Bennett Green, 5, hop though hoops during a preschool fitness class at the Robert Moton Center in Westminster Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021. (Dylan Slagle/Carroll County Times)

Little did they know that while they were having fun, the 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds were also learning lessons on how to keep fit, that will hopefully last a lifetime.

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“It’s key to living a healthy lifestyle,” said instructor Karalee Theilman. “When you start at this age, making it a part of their daily routine is just a good idea.”

Dr. Laura Lieberman, a Westminster pediatrician, said physical activity at a young age helps physically, with balance and coordination, as well as mentally, with anxiety and depression.

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“Absolutely I think it is very important,” Lieberman said. “They are developing habits that are really important as they get older.”

For young children, exercising with others provides a chance for social interaction and independence, too, Lieberman said, whether it is in a fun class or just spending time at a playground.

“They become aware of other children around them and adults other than their parents to listen to,” Lieberman said. “It’s important for kids to get into a routine. It’s a huge benefit.”

During her lessons for preschoolers Theilman focuses on coordination, balance, endurance and agility. She also teaches shapes, colors and social graces.

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“All movements are fitness movements,” said Theilman, who starts each session with everyone on yoga mats doing warm-ups and then leads them through four stations.

“We will draw shapes with the scarves,” Theilman said. “Balloons are super exciting, trying to keep them off the ground.”

Family members are not required to stay, Theilman said, but she is happy when they do and encourages them to participate.

“It’s important for kids to see their parents doing what they are practicing,” Theilman said.

Elizabeth Fitzgerald of Hampstead enrolled her two sons, Evan, 5, and James, 3, in the class after they started doing workouts alongside in spring 2020. She was happy to find a class where they could exercise alongside other children.

“James wants to be in school. He wants to be in kindergarten already. This is practice,” said Fitzgerald while bouncing their younger sister, 7-month-old Sarah, in her arms.

“They have a lot of energy,” Fitzgerald said. “It needs to go somewhere.”

Inside the gymnasium there was plenty of room for the four students and their family members to participate in activities. While Fitzgerald was initially disappointed at the class’ small size, she is also relieved, as COVID numbers have increased.

“It is reassuring,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s a big space and they can spread out.”

After taking a little time to warm up, Kai Newgent, 3, of Westminster was soon actively participating along with his aunt, Curley Newgent, who was visiting from Baltimore.

“He’s a little shy,” Newgent said. “He loves all kinds of movement. They do yoga at home.”

The Fit Kids class, Newgent said, was a great way for Kai to socialize with others after being isolated for much of his young life due to the pandemic.

Exercise programs for children are also offered at the Y in Westminster Hill Center. The Y offers “a little bit of everything” for youth, according to fitness director Tina Antkowiak, from teaching beginner skills for team sports such as soccer and basketball to yoga for kids and kids cardio.

“We want them to have fun doing it. It’s not competitive,” Antkowiak said. Fitness routines teach kids “healthy habits they can continue through adult life. Exercise is really important,” Antkowiak said, adding that the Y is a place where everyone should feel welcome and safe for both physical and mental health.

“Exercise has been proven to help prevent COVID,” Antkowiak said. “We are keeping the center cleaner than we ever have.”

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