Monday, March 27, 2017

How to Read with Your Ears

Generally, when we think of reading, we think of words on pages or screens. But reading can be overwhelming, frustrating, and fatiguing. If your child’s eyes get tired, here are some ways to help them read with their ears. 

Read Books Aloud

Reading aloud is common practice with younger children who can’t read on their own, but it can be a useful learning tool for older kids as well.

In her article, “7 Reasons Why Reading Aloud to Older Kids is Still Very Important,” Shannon Younger quotes Jim Trelease, author of the “Read-Aloud-Handbook.”Trelease said a child’s reading level does not match their listening skills until they reach 8th grade. For example, if you read a 7th grade level book to a 5th grade child, they have the ability to hear the words, understand the story, and comprehend the language. This will open them up to more intricate plots, and put them on track to develop a love for reading, literature, and knowledge in general.

Trelease said reading aloud also benefits the child by giving them an opportunity to learn the benefits of analysis and critical thinking. Teachers can interrupt the story intermittently to prompt students with thought provoking questions. 

Listen to Audiobooks

As another alternative, Melissa Taylor said in her blog, “6 Tips to Make Reading Fun, Not Frustrating,” that audiobooks are a legitimate way to pique children’s interest in reading. Taylor said audiobooks build vocabulary and provide exposure to narrative techniques. More importantly, it allows children to muse on the story itself, without being bogged down by the task of reading.

Here are some ideas on how you can incorporate audiobooks into daily life.

· If you have a long commute to school, listen to an audiobook during your drive. This will help stimulate the mind and could make children more excited to get in the car and go to school.

· Audiobooks are an excellent way for a whole family to enjoy a story on road trips. As a family, you will share in the thrills, mystery, suspense, fear, and humor.

· Audiobooks allow for creative multitasking. Occasionally, try taking an audio book out on family walks through the park. Or even listen to one while you do chores.

As discussed in our colorful book diet blog, balance is key. Don’t forget about traditional reading methods, but have fun trying out these options with the children in your lives. You might be surprised by how much you enjoy reading with your ears.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

How Far is too Far? — Appropriate Running Distances for Children

We could spend hours talking about the benefits of running. Running has been linked to academic, social, and physiological improvements. But running can also lead to injury and unhealthy competition. Finding balance is key. So how far is too far?


Motivation is foundational to this discussion on distance. Before we can consider how much children should run, we must address why they are running in the first place.

“It is important to let the children choose to run, and leave it up to them how competitive they want to make it,” said Debbie Drake, who has been working with the Mileage Club® for 25 years.

As well-intentioned as encouraging parents and teachers may be, children must have a personal desire to take part in the activity. Forced participation and parental pressure are unhealthy and unsustainable motivations.

But if the desire is there, parents and teachers certainly can foster and help build that interest. Schools can facilitate opportunities by providing a program like Mileage Club®, and sustained motivation through incentives like Toe Tokens®.

Running Frequency and Competition

Drake said there are a lot of program variations, but she recommends three times a week, at least 15 minutes, and a season of at least six weeks.

Drake said some kids run for the social aspects, but others are eager to compete. Ultimately, it is important to leave it up to student to decide if they want to pursue competition.

Some schools track individually, some by class, and others form teams that compete against each other for the most yearly mileage.

Drake said an important balancing factor is to encourage students to define and pursue individual goals. Common race distances such as 5k, 10k, and marathon are great totals for students to strive for over the course of a Mileage Club® season.

Road Race Distances

School programs like Mileage Club® are often a gateway that peak children’s interest in running. Should they want to pursue competition beyond school programs, they may enter the world of road races. Races can range from a quarter mile to 100+ miles, so it can be difficult to determine what is appropriate for beginners.

Peter Finley, Douglas Finley, and Jeffrey Fountain provide insight into this matter in their study “Road Racing and Youth Running: Cross Country Coaches’ Perspectives
.” Their study focused on appropriate ages for children to start road racing, as determined by 132 cross country coaches from around the country.

· For lower elementary (K to 2nd grade), over 77% of the coaches said that one mile or shorter is appropriate.

· For upper elementary (3rd to 5th Grade), over 95% of the coaches said 1 mile to 5k was appropriate.

Drake emphasized it is important to make running enjoyable, especially for younger children. “I also encourage one fun race per season,” said Drake. “It is good to do something outside of schools/programs, but certainly not every weekend.”

By keeping the above suggestions in mind, we can feel good about supporting and encouraging the athletic endeavors of the children in our lives. Thank you for helping us Shape America’s Future®.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Why Should I Care About St. Patrick’s Day?

In 385 A.D., Maewyn Succat was born a Roman citizen. His life took an abrupt turn when he was enslaved and forced to Ireland. Eventually, he returned to Rome either by means of escape or freedom. He did not live safely for long, choosing instead to become a priest and returning to Ireland to win Christian converts.

Upon becoming a priest, legend has it that Maewyn Succat changed his name to Patrick, and eventually became the cause of the March 17th celebration.

The Holiday’s Beginnings

The account above comes from Marion Casey, a clinical assistant professor of Irish Studies at New York University, who TIME writer Ashley Ross quoted in her 2016 article, “The True History Behind St. Patrick’s Day.”

Ross said, on March 17, 1631, the Church decided to recognize St. Patrick with a feast. This was the earliest record of the holiday that would become St. Patrick’s Day.

Since the holiday falls during the season of lent, Christians began to use the holiday as an excuse to abstain from their disciplines. According to Casey, the celebration continued to develop into the 1700’s, and became something deemed as wild. To remind everyone of the origins of the holiday, the church began to popularize the association of the lucky shamrock with St. Patrick.

Green is the New Blue

Ross said blue was the initial color chosen to celebrate St. Patricks Day because of its presence in the royal court and on the Irish flag. Blue lasted until the Irish Rebellion of 1898, when the Irish selected green uniforms to counter the British red. The song “The Wearing of the Green” became the anthem of the rebellion, solidifying the color into the Irish historical prominence.

The Significance of the Name

If the legend Ross writes about is true, then Maewyn Succat’s name change to Patrick is worth consideration.

Ross said the name Patrick derives from the Latin phase for “father figure.” This is fitting for St. Patrick, because upon changing his name, he sacrificed his life to priesthood and lived for the betterment and goodwill of others.

You should care about St. Patrick’s Day because like St. Patrick, you can choose to be a caregiver and role model. Whether you are a father, mother, teacher, or mentor; you can remember St. Patrick’s daily choice to sacrifice his well-being for the benefit of those he loved.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Importance of a Colorful Book Diet

Every student has a favorite genre. Some love adventure stories, others can’t put down mysteries, and some just want to read about their favorite baseball player. During March, National Reading Month, students are quick to grab their go-to genres to log minutes for class reading competitions and other motivational programs. Is this single genre tendency okay, or are students missing out on a more colorful reading experience?

Insight from a Nutritionist

“Whenever my family and I go to the nutritionist, the doctor always reminds us of the importance of a colorful food diet,” said Lissa Strodtbeck, Fitness Finders Customer Service Representative and Marketing Associate. “It is the idea of getting reds (like tomatoes and red peppers), greens (like beans and broccoli), oranges (like carrots and sweet potatoes), and so on.”

With the nutritionist’s message in mind and a little inspiration from Pinterest, Lissa began to transfer the concept of colorful eating to colorful reading.

Why Genre Variety?

Just like it is important to eat all different types of food, it is important to read a variety of genres.

“A variety of genres helps make kids critical thinkers,” said Lissa. “It is important to engage imagination in multiple ways, experience being in someone else’s shoes, and recognize the validity of someone else’s interest.”

According to “How Kids Benefit From Reading A Variety Of Books,” a Huffington Post article, genre variety benefits a child in several other important ways.
  •  “More book variety grows their entire world” — This is the powerful work of stories in effect. Good storytellers can create worlds, and genre specific writers create specific kinds of worlds. When children experience a variety of specific book worlds, their real world grows. 
  • “Your child’s vocabulary will improve” — Each genre features language consistencies. The more children read, the greater breadth of style they are exposed to.
  • “Their must-read list is never ending” — With a variety of genres and ever expanding interests, children will never be able to complain about having nothing to read. When they finish a mystery book, they are eager and ready to embark on a waiting adventure series. 

Reinforcing the Colorful Diet

Book tokens are a great way to encourage children to read a colorful variety of genres. Lissa said she assigned 11 book genres to specific token colors. Teachers can choose to award tokens at any interval appropriate for their class (ex. number of pages, number of minutes, or book completion).

No matter how much children like their favorite genre, give the extra effort to encourage them to discover different worlds and expand their growth potential. Encourage them to read the rainbow.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Extinction of the Bookworms

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.” ― Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!

My Gift from Roald Dahl and Mrs. Jones

One of my most cherished memories from elementary school is sitting around Mrs. Jones and hearing her read The Big Friendly Giant by Roald Dahl. I remember sitting on the edge of my seat, imagination soaring, and creeping closer while the pages turned. As the story went on, the plot thickened, and I started to notice that I was more excited for her to read the next chapter than I was for recess. Looking back now, it was her funny character voices and dedication to story-telling that sparked my love for words and books. Who would have thought that some unconventional teaching paired with the amazing story of an orphan who joins the fight against evil giants would influence me enough to keep studying literature in college?

Today, however, I’m nervous that this same love of reading and books is disappearing. Average reading levels continue going down and attention is constantly focused in so many different places. Here are just a few of the problem this is causing:

  •  “Many states use third-grade reading scores to predict the number of jail cells they might need in the future (about three out of five prisoners in America are illiterate).”
  •  Most people say libraries and bookstores are becoming extinct. It is even projected that they’ll be functionless by 2019.
  • “It is estimated that the cost of illiteracy to businesses and the taxpayers is $20 billion per year.”
  • “Children who have not developed some basic literacy skills by the time they enter school are 3 - 4 times more likely to drop out in later years.”
  • “American high school students are reading books at 5th-grade-appropriate levels.”

Don’t Take it for Granted

Reading has always been and continues to be the backbone of support in our ability to learn. We can never learn enough and it feels good to pick up some new vocabulary words along the way. Additionally, a good read can take us to new realms that we would have never thought of exploring. It’s easy to overlook, but we should appreciate the power and unity that books provide, as well as these other interesting ways that reading is beneficial:

  • “Research conducted in 2009 at Mindlab International at the University of Sussex showed that reading was the most effective way to overcome stress, beating out old favorites”
  •  Some studies show that reading will help keep the mind and memory sharper as we age and can even stop the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
  • There are links to an increase in empathy and understanding others when we read fiction.
  • Reading will boost creativity and imagination as a good read will often take you to new places. 
  • It makes more intelligent overall by increasing IQ scores as well as standard test scores. 
  • “A study by the National Endowment for the Arts found that people who regularly read are much more likely to be engaged civically and culturally. Which means reading actually makes you win at life.”
  • “If a child reads for 20 minutes every day, they are exposed to about 1.8 million words of text every year. That is 137 new words per minute!”

Reading that changed history

On top of the benefits that I just listed, there are times that literacy has changed the course of history. For example, when Johannes Guttenberg invented his printing press, he substantially increased people’s ability to learn. Much like the internet now, his revolutionary idea brought more information to more people and changed the course of history. Here are some history-changing books as well:

1. The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx: In a time of deadly working conditions this book, “detailed a process for the working class to rise up and eliminate class struggles.”

2. The Rights of Man by Thomas Paine: “Paine’s book states that the government’s role is to protect the rights of its citizens, and when the government cannot do so, it should be overthrown. This book was written to defend the French Revolution and was an inspiration for democracy around the world.”

3. Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriett Beecher Stowe: “Written by a middle aged, white woman in 1851, Uncle Tom’s Cabin has been credited for changing the views of slavery in the north and continues to serve as a reminder of the effects of slavery and other inhumane acts.”

Every Child Needs a Mrs. Jones

While there are many benefits to reading, there are also several that kids will get just from you reading to them. So, get the youngsters gathered around and they will start soaking up the awesome perks below. You might even inspire a few future English majors to carry on the new passion you’ve given them!

  • “For every year you read with your child, average lifetime earnings increase by $50,000. You make a $250,000 gift to your child from birth to age 5 by reading aloud, just 20 minutes a day!”
  • “If families read together for 20 minutes a day, 7 days a week, they get more than 121 hours of bonding time every year!” (Remember, classrooms are like families!)
  •  You show them that you like reading and your positive example will lead them to enjoying it as well.
  • It prepares kids for academic success by, “building their vocabulary, language and literacy skills, while improving concentration, curiosity and memory”
  • You teach them life lessons because as stories go on and conflicts come about, you can talk through them and show them how to understand problems. 

Wow! Our teacher is so cool!

This is what you’ll be hearing a lot of when you try out these new reading techniques to make story time the best time of the day:

1. Take character roles- Bring those characters and the lessons they teach us into the room by giving them each specific voices that you use throughout the story.

2. Break out of your shell- Sometimes it takes really getting into character and removing the fear of judgement to get a kid’s attention. We all know those kids who aren’t shy of anything and you shouldn’t be either!

3. Use illustrations- Providing illustrations can bring a story to the real world. For example, use maps, the book cover, and pictures of real places to do this.

4. Create a cozy reading area- When you’re uncomfortable, it can be nearly impossible to concentrate. Make sure the kids are comfy and can settle into your reading circle.

5. Let the kids help choose the books- Giving kids a few choices really makes them feel important and will increase their overall engagement. 

It’s Our Responsibility

By this point, you’re probably wondering why in the world a company called Fitness Finders is creating awareness, programs, and incentives to encourage reading. However, we see the value of supporting children and youth workers in all aspects of life. This is especially true with reading and the lack of it lately. So, keep taking advantage of your position as a role model and never underestimate your influence on the growing minds around you. People like you truly inspire us to keep doing what we do. I may have never really received a physical gift from Roald Dahl or Mrs. Jones, but they gave me something that money could never buy. You have this same unique opportunity to change a life.


If you’re interested in Roald Dahl like I am, you’ve probably heard about the new BFG movie. But if you haven’t, check out the trailer here and maybe even pick up a copy of the book to share with your kids.


Sunday, February 26, 2017

Oscars Acceptance Speech: Fitness Finders Wants to Thank You!

If Fitness Finders, Inc. were to win an Oscar tonight, this is how our "Thank the Academy...” speech would go…

“Wow! What an incredible honor. Teachers, parents, school administration—Thank you all, we could not have done it without you. As you know, it takes a village to raise a child. 


Thank you for sharing in our enthusiasm for helping kids develop positive habits. Our commitment to provide program incentives and curriculums falls short without your hard work and creativity. We applaud your efforts to create a cycle of excitement, motivation, and achievement for children by utilizing programs such as Mileage Club®, Pack-a-Snack®, and I Love to Read®. We love hearing about how you use tokens to teach and motivate your students. Every time that we work together, we are partnering for a better future.


You are a wonderful encouragement to your children! Thank you for affirming their efforts by asking to see their hard-earned tokens. A big thank you for setting a good example by eating healthy, exercising regularly, and reading with your kids. We could not do what we do without your impact in the home. 

School Administration

Thank you for investing in our mission to Shape America’s Future. Thank you for supporting your faculty’s passion, creativity, and dedication to children. You work for grants, take the time for purchase orders, do research, and endlessly hunt for funding. We recognize the challenges you face. 

Closing Remarks

It has been an incredible journey since our business started in 1969. One of our foundational beliefs is that early developed habits significantly influence lifelong potential. Thank you all for believing in our mission, and sharing in the joy of investing in our future leaders.”

Sunday, February 19, 2017

How To Protect A Student’s Heart

By profession, teachers cultivate minds; but by imitation, they also cultivate overall health and 
fitness. Quintilian, a Roman rhetorician, once said, “It is the nurse that the child first hears, and her words that he will first attempt to imitate.” Nurses may be the first, but teachers are among the most consistent voices children will hear.  Betty Lindquist, a 27 year experienced educator, said, “Students look up to us as role models, and we want to say the right things and help set them on a good path.”

The Cardiovascular State of Our Youth

Julia Steinberger, Director of Pediatric Cardiology at the University of Minneapolis in Minnesota recently authored a journal statement for the American Heart Association. Steinberger said that poor diet and physical inactivity are the top two reasons for the weakening cardiovascular heath of today’s youth.

“About 91% of U.S. children have poor diets,” said Steinberger, “because they are consuming sugary foods and drinks.”

10 Ways to Influence Student’s Heart Health

In a previous blog post, we talked how to Protect A Teacher’s Heart. But part of an educator’s responsibility as a role model, beyond the curriculum, is to pass that heart healthiness on to their students. Here are some ideas:

1. Plan a faculty student lunch day, ensuring all faculty are on their best nutritional behavior.

2. Provide a heart supporting fitness curriculum such as Mileage Club®.

3. Utilize a heart healthy eating curriculum like Pack-A-Snack®.

4. Establish a faculty program, like the Mega Mileage Club®, to practice along with the students. Celebrate milestones together and share enthusiasm for physical activity.

5. Plant a school garden that students can volunteer to tend during break.

6. Award a “lunch of the week” to a student who brings the most vegetables in their lunch.

7. “Take brain breaks,” said Lindquist. “My students loved to move to educational songs like Dr. Jean.”

8. Enthusiastically share personal fitness accomplishments, like completing a 5k, walking around the block with your spouse, or lifting your heaviest weight.

9. Use number oriented exercises like weight lifting and jogging as an alternative way to teach math concepts (for example: If I lifted ____ lbs and added ____lbs to each side, how much am I lifting now?)

Set a good example – One adage says, “Actions speak louder than words.” You can explain an idea in words, but often it takes showing a concept for the habit to establish meaning. So don’t just tell students to eat healthy and exercise, show them.