KOKOMO, Ind. – Screams, shouts and the sounds of playtime were heard across Indiana University Kokomo’s campus last week as counselors and young campers mixed playtime with lessons about health and fitness.
Teaching those lessons is one of the goals of the annual Indiana University Kokomo School of Nursing and Allied Health Professionals (SNAHP) FIT Camp, taking place for one week in June on the school campus.
Founded in 1997 as an educational program for children with asthma and/or diabetes, FIT Camp has taught more than 6,700 area children the importance of healthy living, eating well, and staying active. This year’s camp focuses on health and wellness, with daily lessons curated by SNAHP students that focus on healthy ways to manage stress, as well as the different facets of the food groups, based on the My Plate program.
Campers also partook in daily lessons from IU Kokomo student athletes in basketball, volleyball, soccer and other sports.
Samantha Fouts, clinical assistant professor of nursing, and co-lead of this summer’s camp, said that the shift in focus to health and fitness was intended to address childhood obesity.
“Obesity is running so rampant in our pediatric population,” Fouts said, “Our hope is that if we focus on that aspect of it, even with this small community of kids that we have here, over time it will make a greater impact in our community in general.”
Counselors Karly McKay, a junior nursing major, and Mindi Ulz, a senior in the RN to BSN program, created the lesson for the students focusing on dealing with stress, an issue that has received increased national attention during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s a really great opportunity for kids at this age to learn great things to do for their health,” Ulz said. “We’re focusing on the kids recognizing good versus bad stress, and different ways to handle it, including exercise, diet and proper sleep.”
An RN at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health, Indianapolis, Ulz was drawn back to the camp several years after her own children participated as campers.
“They loved it when they went, they had a really good experience, so I was excited for the opportunity,” Ulz said.
As the week progressed, campers truly absorbed the lessons, McKay and Ulz said. During lunchtime, campers often showcased the different items in their packs, like cheese sticks or wheat bread, and could tell counselors what benefit those foods have for their bodies.
“They’re recognizing and remembering some of the lessons they’ve had this week,” Ulz said.
Campers Ryleigh Pratt, 10, and Emmarie Johnson, 8, highlighted their lessons about dairy and fruits as two of their favorites of the week. Pratt liked the fruits that were passed out as examples, while Johnson liked playing a game where campers had to elevate their “broken” leg to emphasize the importance of dairy to our bones.
“If I didn’t come here, I wouldn’t know what dairy does to my body or stuff like that,” Pratt said. “You can learn stuff about your body that you don’t know, and learn what’s healthy and what’s not.”
“You can get smarter and learn things that make you healthier and stronger,” Johnson added.
Socializing, learning and playing doesn’t just benefit the campers, Fouts pointed out. Counselors are preparing for their futures as well.
“As students finish their program and go on to become nurses, every day in our nursing practice, we do some form of education with our patients,” Fouts explained. “This camp teaches our students how to develop those lesson plans; it gives them the skills and abilities to prepare lessons and deliver them to their patients, and follow up on whether that lesson was learned or not.”
“I like working with kids, I think it’s fun and it makes me feel like a kid again,” McKay said.
“This is something I wish I would have gone to as a kid, I would have loved doing this.”