Dakota County has been using state grant money to help daycare providers teach kids healthy habits and fight obesity.
When Karen Bradley turns on the music, the toddlers get moving.
Feet march. Arms flail. Smiles abound.
Bradley, who cares for six youngsters at her Eagan home, is among dozens of local child care providers who are adding more activity to their charges' days with a fitness program and encouragement from Dakota County.
"I'm teaching as many children as I can to have good habits," Bradley said. "I'm throwing my little pebble. There are some ripples out there."
The "I am Moving, I am Learning" fitness program is the second phase of Dakota County's efforts to fight obesity by reaching out to child care centers with money provided by the State Health Improvement Program grants that target chronic disease.
"This national [obesity] epidemic has affected preschoolers, too," said Laurie Haenke, a community health specialist with Dakota County.
Thirteen percent of the children ages 2 to 5 enrolled in the Dakota County's Women and Infant Children (WIC) program were overweight or obese in 2007. Public health officials have said that number is climbing, similar to trends in adult obesity.
In 2009, the county introduced Learning About Nutrition through Activities (LANA) to dozens of local daycare providers, hoping that early introduction to fruits and vegetables would help kids develop good eating habits.
"With LANA, we know that if kids develop healthy eating habits early on, they can keep those for a lifetime," Haenke said. "It's the same thing with 'I am Moving, I am Learning.' We want the kids to develop these active lifestyles early on."
Haenke sent a note about the "I am Moving, I am Learning" training to the child care providers who participated in the nutrition program. Within hours, the number of people who responded exceeded the available slots in the training session.
"We had so many people," Haenke said. "The interest is so strong."
The classes, also open to teachers from local Head Start programs, drew 130 participants from Dakota County. About 80 of them were daycare providers.
Elaine Greer, who runs Little Britches Child Care out of her Eagan home, was one of them.
She attended a day-long training session last month and immediately started using some of the activities and materials to spur the kids she cares for to action.
"The kids absolutely love it," Greer said, explaining that the children often request to play the games or sing the action-filled songs. "When they are asking for it, that's really neat."
Kelly Dale, who trained the daycare providers last month, said the "I am Moving, I am Learning" program is attractive to kids and providers because it adds "moderate to vigorous" movement into everyday activities. It's not a specific set of exercises or training.
"Instead of walking, we'll march," Dale said.
Many of the songs and activities include literacy lessons or chances to practice shapes and colors.
For child care providers, the program makes it easier to identify and stick to physical activity goals.
The county asked all the participants to write down their action plans. Providers who attended the training were able to apply for grants of up to $150 to purchase props and toys that promote fitness.
"Something like this is just fun and exciting and renews the enthusiasm for the children and the providers," Greer said.
Bradley said the kids' enthusiasm for the "I am Moving, I am Learning" activities is obvious. And, she said, watching them catch on as she leads the games never gets old.
"They're learning with their whole body, including their brain, when they're physically moving," Bradley said.
Katie Humphrey • 952-882-9056