BLOOMINGTON — Spencer Harrison, 12, and his classmates kept balloons in the air by using their hands, fingers, feet, thighs, elbows, heads and noses and then learned to pass Gator Balls to each other using volleyball-style passing and catching.
Immediately after the physical education class, Spencer checked his pedometer to find out how many steps he took and to see how much of the class time he spent in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity.
"I think it's a really neat factor," Spencer, of Shirley. "I like to check it at the end. I like to get higher numbers than the last time because it means I'm getting more active."
Some other students in the Home School Physical Education class at the Bloomington-Normal YMCA, 602 S. Main St., Bloomington, also checked their pedometers after class before handing them in to their teachers, who are Illinois State University students studying physical education teacher education.
"The students like using the pedometers," said Daniel Garibay, an ISU senior.
"Some of them, as soon as they put on their pedometers, they start running around so they can get their steps in," said Sam Akouris, an ISU junior.
"We don't have a problem with participation when they are wearing the pedometers," said Claire Suknovich, an ISU junior. "They are dialed in and wanting to be active."
Wearing pedometers is nothing new for children and adults. But these advanced pedometers (which also record time in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity) are worn by home-school students as part of an effort to improve their physical education instruction in much the same way that P.E. has been improved at many schools.
"It is important to me to raise the status of physical education," said Nathan Gaudreault, who became YMCA director of wellness and youth sports on July 24. "We need to do everything we can to change the perception of P.E. as rolling the ball out.
"A P.E. program needs to be purposeful and we need to increase the level of joy that the kids get from movement," Gaudreault said. "We do it by giving them the knowledge and skills to perform those activities."
"If we can improve their skill level and joy, that gives them a bigger range of things that they are comfortable doing and means they are likelier to continue to be physically active across their life span," Gaudreault said.
YMCA has had a P.E. program for home-school children for several years.
Per-semester registration fees for individuals are $35 for Y members and $75 for non-members. Family fees are $95 for members and $195 for non-members.
The class, which meets 2 to 4 p.m. Fridays, has 36 students ages 4 through 16.
"After I started on July 24, it became clear to me that our home-school P.E. class had movement and activity but the education of P.E. was lacking," he said. "There was no formal curriculum and no attempt to follow standards. I wanted the education to be intentional."
Working with his wife, Karen Gaudreault, ISU associate professor in physical education teacher education, and graduate student Theresa Allgaier, they developed a curriculum that calls for students to demonstrate competency in a variety of motor skills and movement patterns by the end of the class.
The skills and movements include jumping and landing, balancing, rolling, throwing, catching, kicking, dribbling, volleying and striking a moving object.
Because that includes understanding what it means to be in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, advanced pedometers became necessary.
"CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends that 50 percent of a P.E. class be in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity," Gaudreault said.
"Being in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity increases their ability to do more, is an advantage to their heart health and fitness level and prepares them to lead physically active lives," Gaudreault said. It helps with weight control and bone development, reduces anxiety and stress and helps to build muscle, self-esteem, mood and concentration.
"The pedometers also are a motivational tool because they are trying to improve their numbers," he said. "We want them to understand what it means to be in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity."
"They now know what it feels like to move 2,500 steps and what it takes to reach 10,000 steps in a day," Garibay said.
On their first day wearing pedometers, each student's amount of time in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity was measured and that became their baseline. Since then, each student has tried to improve his or her number.
At the start of each class, students put their pedometers on their waistbands. At the end of each class, they return their pedometers to the teachers, who use an adapter to upload the numbers into a laptop computer.
The numbers appear on a spreadsheet so students' progress may be tracked.
While a final analysis has not been completed, students have been increasing their number of steps and amount of time in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, Garibay said.
After the numbers are crunched, each student's data will be shared with his or her parents, Gaudreault said. Among information that he hopes to share is which activities caused the students to move more.
"I will use the information to determine how to modify the program" for next semester, he said.
"They reassess things so the class improves every year," said Spencer's mother, Rachel Harrison. This year, there has been more focus on skill development, she said.
"The pedometers give them tangible evidence of what we are trying to teach them and it helps them to care for their bodies long term," she said. "We stress regular exercise in our family but this makes it fun."
"I'm learning something each week but they're making it enjoyable," Spencer said. "They are slowly building upon what we're learning. And I feel more active during the week after each class."
"It's pretty fun and kind of challenging," said student Kate Anderson, 10, of Bloomington.
Her mother, Rebekah Anderson, said, "The pedometers are a good way for them to be self-motivated in their exercise. I think the kids get a good workout."
"I like that they are learning skills," said Jenny Herrarte of Bloomington, whose daughter, Juliet, 13, is in the class. "And that they are working to the point of being sweaty."