DECATUR – The martial arts demonstration at the Decatur Family YMCA left a big impression on 11-year-old Brandon McLemore.
His 6-year-old sister, Breanna, took longer to warm up.
“She didn't want to punch (the instructor), then finally I talked her into it,” said Breanna’s grandmother, Joyce Cravens. “Then she didn't want to stop.”
Cravens brought Brandon, Breanna and their 9-year-old sister Kaitlyn to the Y’s annual Healthy Kids Day on Saturday to let them learn about new activities and run off some energy despite the rainy weather. As she spoke, the three were careening happily around on scooters, one of more than a dozen activities offered at the free event.
Healthy Kids Day is celebrated at YMCA facilities across the country, said Sara Hoban, membership and marketing director. The idea is to show families how to stay active, specifically moving into the summer months when kids are not in school.
Activities included volleyball, free-throw contests, a bounce house, coloring table and swimming. There was also information about gardening and healthy snacks, courtesy of the University of Illinois Extension.
The first 100 children received drawstring bags, and those who took part in a certain number of offerings could enter a drawing to win a bicycle.
Pat Horve sat with his 6-year-old daughter, Gabby, as she used a purple crayon to complete a word search, one of her first stops for the day.
Horve and his wife, Jamie, typically bring Gabby to the Y on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, when she can take part in children’s activities while they work out. He has fond memories of visiting the YMCA himself as a child, though he said there is even more for children to do there these days.
“It’s very nice; I really love this place,” he said. “There’s so many activities you can do.”
That’s exactly what CEO Matt Whitehead hopes to hear. He wants the YMCA to become the No. 1 family destination in Decatur, and that means appealing to adults and kids alike.
If children want to come to the YMCA, then it's easier for parents to bring them and to get in some exercise themselves. Encouraging kids to adopt a healthy lifestyle also could help with the growing problem of childhood obesity.
“Kids don't want to come and do 50 jumping jacks,” Whitehead said. “We try to create opportunities for them to have physical activity and make it fun for them, and then we also try to educate them on healthy eating.”
A parent himself, Whitehead said a challenging aspect of keeping kids healthy can be making sure they eat right.
One simple change his family made last year is keeping a bowl filled with fruit on the dining room table, where the kids see it often and can grab snacks at will.
“I see my kids eating a lot of fruit, and I didn't used to see that before,” he said.