What Is BOKS? The Free Fitness Program Getting Kids Active
Exercise is crucial at any age, but the foundation of a healthy lifestyle is built as a child. Learn how BOKS is helping kids around the world get active.
The Training Ground for a Healthy Life
Can you think of a time when you spent more hours of your weekday active rather than sitting? If you can, you can probably count those times on one hand — and if it’s more than that, then consider yourself lucky. The fact is, in today’s screen-obsessed culture, we’re a lot more sedentary than our biology was designed for. This has an adverse effect on our physical and mental wellbeing, and the generation it’s affecting the most are kids. In his best-selling book “Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain”, Dr. John Ratey proved the importance of physical fitness and its connection to the brain, and why it’s imperative to make kids’ fitness a priority.
Exercise truly is medicine for everyone. The benefits encompass the whole body, with physical advantages such as cardiovascular health, strength, and balance. For our minds, exercise is known to increase focus, reduce stress and anxiety, and improve self-esteem. For a developing child, these are all crucial components in becoming a healthy adult.
With many schools across the country cutting costs, the time for play and physical activity for kids has greatly decreased. In fact, the CDC recommends that children 6 to 17 years of age participate in 60 minutes of physical activity every day — but only 24% of kids actually do. When Kathleen Tullie, the founder and executive director of BOKS had elementary school kids of her own in 2009, she was driven to do something. Upon finishing Dr. John Ratey’s book, she put what she learned into action by creating an exercise program for kids — with the help of the author himself.
The Beginning of BOKS
The BOKS fitness program began in one school in Natick, Massachusetts in 2009, headed up by Kathleen Tullie and a few other moms. With Dr. Ratey as an advisor, she simply started a before-school program to get kids moving for 45 minutes before the bell. What began as a casual time for kids to play and be active then started to spread to neighboring schools, and soon a free curriculum and formal exercise program in partnership with Reebok was born. Ten years later, BOKS has reached more than 500,000 kids and over 8,000 volunteer trainers globally.
What is a BOKS Class?
In a traditional BOKS class, trainers use rotating 12-week plans for class three times a week, which is in addition to their P.E classes and recess time. Every BOKS class includes running and then focuses on a functional fitness skill of the week (like squats, push-ups, or planks), which are incorporated into relays, obstacle courses, and group games. At the end of every class, kids stretch and cool down while listening to the BOKS Bit nutrition tip of the week.
While BOKS sessions were originally held in-person, 2020 caused the team to pivot. With schools shutting down, kids had even less of a chance to get moving, but BOKS put together free resources and modified their classes for social distancing and online use. Over the course of the year, over 85,000 resources have been downloaded by educators and parents, resulting in 320,000 active kids in 2020 alone — an incredible number for the world having shut down.
How BOKS Helps Kids Thrive
If there’s a silver lining to the pandemic, it’s that more kids have been given the opportunity to move with BOKS. With online streaming, the usual space limitation of in-person classes opens up and the impact grows. When BOKS lead trainer and mom Sarah Bowers’ school closed, she immediately began class online, and has created her own movement by teaching hundreds of kids around her city of Framingham, Massachusetts. “BOKS has played an integral part in giving my students a sense of normalcy during an incredibly difficult time. When schools were closed, BOKS was there. When life got scary, BOKS made it fun. BOKS allowed us to stay connected when a pandemic kept us apart,” said Bowers. “Students may arrive with the burdens of our current situation upon their shoulders but by the end of every session they have something to celebrate. They celebrate their commitment. They celebrate learning a new skill. They celebrate themselves.”
Not only are the classes getting the kids active, but they’re having fun doing it, and reaping the benefits of all that exercise. “Kids jump out of bed when they hear it’s a BOKS day,” said Christene Lyons, director of operations for the program. Before joining the team, Lyons was a BOKS volunteer trainer at a local school and saw first-hand what the youth fitness program could do. “We would hear from teachers that by the time the kids got to their classroom they were alert and engaged, so BOKS days really had an impact on the kids and how they were learning and interacting with each other.”
Want to Join the Fun?
The best part about BOKS is that anyone can do it — it’s free and it’s a ton of fun. Now in the remote-learning environment that so many kids are in, it’s also more important than ever to keep moving. If you’re looking to become a trainer, it’s easy, and you don’t have to have kids of your own. According to Lyons, “truly anybody can become a BOKS trainer. You don’t have to be an educator who works with kids, you don’t have to be a parent that has kids, you just have to be passionate, and see that physical activity really is a form of medicine.” BOKS has an online trainer hub designed to provide resources and training to all who sign up for the program to make providing fitness for kids easy and accessible.
If you’re a parent or educator looking for some activities to get your kids moving at home or at school, BOKS has a ton of great resources waiting for you to make your own. “We want to give people the autonomy to use our program as they need, because at the end of the day, our true goal is to get as many kids moving as possible. It’s critical to their physical and mental health,” said Lyons.
Visit the BOKS website to download a sample monthly fitness calendar and physical activity fun pack, or sign up for full access to hundreds of free activities including BOKS Bursts, and more fun content to get the whole family moving.
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