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Ilisagvik initiates 'Start Moving Early' fitness program

March 14th, 2014 | Diana Solenberger Print this article   Email this article  

If you happen upon the City of Barrow's legendary Roller Rink on a Monday night, you'll find a crowd of laughing families playing together. They are participating in Start Moving Early, a free program open to anyone with children between 0-8 years old. The program is sponsored by Iḷisaġvik College's Cooperative Extension and Arctic Slope Native Association's Diabetes Prevention Program, with the support of the City of Barrow.

Movement is always important at all stages of your life, but it helps to get an early start. The greatest period of brain development is in the first three years of life, and the stimulation of new physical activities and the social interactions of group play are significant to that development. It's key to get children moving at a young age so that they get a head start developing their fine and gross motor skills.

Early movement also combats obesity and diabetes. The past three decades have been characterized by a dramatic increase in childhood obesity rates; nearly one in three children today are overweight or obese. Angela Valdez, a registered dietitian and coordinator of the Diabetes Prevention Program commented, "Studies show that children who are obese were overweight at age 2. Consequently, anything we can do to reduce the number of incidences of overweight in young children is a good thing." Start Moving Early helps give parents and caregivers the tools they need to make healthy choices during the first few years of their child's life. Playing and being active together with your child while they are young will help set lifelong healthy patterns.

"It's really important to us that the parents are involved" said Maria DeMaio, one of the Start Moving Early coaches, "This isn't a program where the kids play, and the parents watch. Instead we really want families playing together, building those relationships and being active together."

Coaches Maria DeMaio and Yvonne Biswokarma work to vary the activities each session to keep the program fresh. Each week's activities have a core focus, such as 'balance', 'teamwork' or 'listening'. Using plenty of fun props, every class is different and yet they are always characterized by joy and laughter.

The story behind how Start Moving Early came together in its present form spans several years. The initial idea developed when Laura Thomas, a Cooperative Extension facilitator, identified a need in our community to have some type of activity for preschoolers. "There weren't very many programs for small children in Barrow, and they really needed an opportunity to run around and socialize with kids their own age," stated Thomas. Start Moving Early was her solution to the problem. It utilizes a Special Olympics curriculum to focus on physical fitness and coordination in children under age 5.

In conjunction with the North Slope Borough's Health and Social Services division, Start Moving Early was introduced as a pilot program in the summer of 2012. There was significant community interest behind the program, and the plan was to start it up again in the fall. The program's development came to a halt with the unfortunate passing of Michael Gallagher (Manager of the NSB Matsutani Community Resource Center), one of its key players, in January of 2013. However, Laura never let the idea completely dissolve, and finally found sponsors in Iḷisaġvik's Cooperative Extension and ASNA's Diabetes Prevention Program. "This is a program that is near and dear to my heart, because of my three children under age 5 and so I'm delighted to see it back up and running."

"We really needed local community members who would take the program and run with it," says Thomas. "We finally found those people in Yvonne and Maria." DeMaio was a semi-professional soccer player in a previous life, and has been able to draw on her sports background to get the most out of the Special Olympus curriculum. She focuses on skills progression, while managing to maintain the environment of structured chaos that is so crucial to those under age 6.

Biswokarma, a practicing physical therapist in Barrow, has just returned from a research trip to Nepal, and so she missed the first few weeks of the program. However, everyone is excited to have her back, and eager to see what she adds to the mix.

All families with children ages 0-8 are welcome to participate, Monday nights from 6-7pm at the Barrow Roller Rink. For more information about Iḷisaġvik College Cooperative Extension and other program offerings, please call 907-852-3333 or 1-800-478-7337 or visit us online at


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