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Kids learn the importance of healthy choices through a two-week long camp offered by St. Margaret’s Hospital, Spring Valley. Last week and this week from 9-11 a.m. around 90 kids could be seen running and playing in Kirby Park in Spring Valley. Though this may seem like a normal thing, the kids will spend their morning learning to make healthier choices and try to exercise daily due to the efforts of St. Margaret’s, Illinois Valley Community College and the University of Illinois extension office. Lisa Clinton, director of occupational health and wellness for the hospital, said the camp focuses on making activity and excise fun as well as teaching kids about nutrition and good food choices. Clinton said they have relay races, obstacle courses and other games to help make the activity fun. “We want them to find the activities fun,” she said. “We also encourage kids to be active in general.” She said they talk to the younger kids about doing activities over the summer, including bicycling, running swimming or playing outside. They also talk to sixth, seventh, and eighth graders about conditioning and how to keep their body healthy. She said they encourage playing team sports and if they don’t like that then do an individual sport like golf. In addition to activity, Clinton said the camp also focuses on making better health choices, including hand washing, eating more fruits and vegetables, avoid calorie dense foods and follow the food pyramid. She said this can lead to helping the kids examine the choices they should make. “We try to encourage them to choose healthy snacks,” she said. “Over a bag of chips, try some carrots or an apple with peanut butter.” Wendy Raef of Cherry has sent her daughter Ella, 7, to the camp for the past three years. She said Ella likes seeing all her friends, making crafts and just running around. “I think it’s great that they do something like that and it’s free for the kids,” Raef said. She also likes that the kids learn about healthy foods and that Ella will tell her when the family is eating something they should not. Ella will pick out flavored water over fruit juice because she knows it is healthier, she said. “She said, ‘These are better for me, Mom, and they taste the same,’” Raef said. “It’s nice that they know that stuff.” Raef said as a parent she tries to teach Ella what is good, but she knows kids always listen to someone else better than their parents. The camp started four years ago, and Clinton said it went from one week to two weeks so it could continue to try and ingrain the message of healthier choices. “With the trend towards obesity, fast foods and video games; we wanted to give them a fun option,” she said. “We thought our concern as a healthcare organization is about health. Not waiting until you become ill or overweight. We wanted to be proactive with the children and teach them good health habits.” She said she thinks parents are looking for options, especially for the younger kids, to get them interested in activity. With so much technology children want to be inside and watch movies and play video games, she added. “A lot of kids that’s all they know are electronics,” said Raef. She believes children today spend too much time indoors with electronics and video games instead of going outside to play. Raef said she loves that Ella is outside and moving around and comes home to show off the new excises she learns. She hopes to send her younger daughter Olivia to the camp when she reaches kindergarten. Clinton said another good thing about the camp is it has a large group of volunteers, including junior volunteers some who have attended the camp when they were younger. “So it shows the younger kids that older kids still have fun and they’ve done this before and had fun too,” she said. Selena Rodriguez, 15, a cheerleader at St. Bede Academy, said she participated in the camp from seventh to eighth grade and has volunteered for two years as an aide. “It really gives the kids an opportunity to get outside, get healthy and learn new things about food,” she said. Rodriguez said she likes working with the kids and finds it a fun way to stay active. She likes teaching the kids how to stay active and healthy during the summer. She added that one thing she learned that sticks with her is how much sugar is in certain foods. She said it changed the way she eats. “Wellness should be a goal for everyone in our community,” said Clinton. “Anyone who is an adult should set those examples for the kids.”
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