It’s almost spring! Time to get outside and get moving, and the kids at Little Star Fitness have gotten a jump start on exercising in the great outdoors all through the winter and are ready for the warmer days ahead. Mary Petiet has the scoop on the offerings and philosophy of this popular children’s program.
Heating Up and Smoothing Off
On the coldest morning of Amsterdam’s 2018 winter, a group of young children wait with barely contained excitement for a smoothie treat. They’ve been exercising hard here in the basement of St. Ignatius’ Gymnasium in Oud Zuid and have built up some body heat. For this is Little Star Fitness, and these children have been spending their half-term holiday enjoying sport, fitness, and dance. Today’s focus is cardiovascular health and nutrition.
Michelle Murphy founded Little Star Fitness in 2014; before moving to Amsterdam she was a Physical Education teacher in Australia. “The idea [of Little Star Fitness] came from being a Physical Education teacher and started with sports classes. In 2014 there was nothing for kids to do outdoors in Amsterdam.” Although today’s class is inside because of the extreme cold, Michelle prefers the outdoors, especially for the summer camp. “I’m a firm believer kids should be outside in the fresh air, so I started my sport business in Vondelpark and the Amsterdamse Bos to answer that need. It also allows my daughter to participate, and I can spend time with her,” Michelle says.
I’m a firm believer kids should be outside in the fresh air!
While this particular morning may be bitterly cold, the morning’s activities offer a warm preview of the fun planned for Little Star Fitness’ summer holiday camps.
Summer Fun in the Heart of Amsterdam
Little Star Fitness’ summer holiday camps are based at St. Ignatius Gymnasium, with outdoor activities in Vondelpark. “When it’s warm outside we take the kids over to Vondelpark two days a week. We spend a day there, and swim in the paddle pool,” Michelle explains. Classes are conducted in English, and the qualified coaches speak a variety of languages, but the preferred mode of transportation to the Vondelpark is Dutch, i.e. bakfiets! The smallest children are taken to the park by bakfiets while the older children walk and skip alongside.
Little Star emphasizes developing gross and fine motor skills, coordination, and rhythm, all while building self-confidence in a fun and non-competitive environment. Children can attend the summer camp for the entire holiday, or they can sign up for shorter classes in the Sports Star and Dance Groover groups. Summer holiday camps are split into two age groups, 4-6 year olds, and 7-12 year olds; participants are about 80% international and 20% Dutch. The children bring their own lunches, and everyone looks forward to the disco at the end of the week.
FitNut: Fitness and Nutrition
In the St. Ignatius Gymnasium this morning, the children rotate in an organized circle, stopping at different fitness stations to try a variety of intense exercises aimed at cardiovascular fitness. This is part of the FitNut workout program Michelle employs to teach children the basic components of fitness and nutrition.
In a seven to eight week summer block, the kids experience dance and alternating sports, allowing two weeks for each sport so they can discover their talent.
Michelle teaches FitNut classes at both the British School of Amsterdam and the International School of Amsterdam, and it is also a large part of the summer holiday camp. “In a seven to eight week summer block, the kids experience dance and alternating sports, allowing two weeks for each sport so they can discover their talent,” Michelle explains. A typical day at summer camp includes dance (street dance, hip-hop and freestyle) and sports (football, hockey, rugby, athletics, tennis, golf, and team building games). Children enjoy a morning tea and fruit break with apples, oranges, grapes, and bananas supplied by Little Star Fitness, and there is warm up time, free play, and an hour devoted to seasonal arts and crafts.
Michelle organizes Little Star Fitness’ activities on the Australian preschool model which emphasizes structure. Upon arrival in the morning, the children sign in before proceeding to the cloakroom where they shed their jackets. Then they are provided with a visual timeline of the day’s activities, which rely on structure to ensure safety, good behavior and learning. “They are being taught with direct interaction and a plan,” Michelle emphasizes. She keeps the student to teacher ratio at six to eight children per coach and gears the sessions to develop children’s love for physical activity, dance and sport, all while encouraging a healthy lifestyle and increased confidence in all aspects of life.
We make kids aware of what nutrition is. We answer the question ‘Why should I eat this?’
Meanwhile, at St. Ignatius, the children have cooled down and are finally tasting the fruit smoothies they made before beginning their exercise. Nutrition is another important component of the FitNut program, and the children have learned all about their smoothies’ ingredients: the colors of the fruits and vegetables, their nutritional benefits, and where they grow. They have blended it and now they are tasting it. “We make kids aware of what nutrition is. We answer the question ‘Why should I eat this?’ and get kids to try new things. A lot of the kids go home and ask their parents for juicers to make smoothies at home!” Michelle says with a smile.
The smoothies must be delicious as well as nutritious, for as soon as the children take their first sip, a sudden quiet falls over the entire room.
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Mary Petiet is an author, poet, and freelance writer. Her work is inspired by her native Cape Cod and her experiences in the Netherlands. The author of the recently released Moon Tide: Cape Cod Poems, and Owl Magic: Your Guide Through Difficult Times, Mary is also the founder of Sea Crow Press, a small independent imprint curating creative nonfiction and poetry to give her titles a home.