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Mica Lamb, a Lidgerwood Elementary health and fitness teacher, works on the crab cross with kindergarten students in the Smart Kids program. (Colin Mulvany)
Mica Lamb, a Lidgerwood Elementary health and fitness teacher, works on the crab cross with kindergarten students in the Smart Kids program. (Colin Mulvany)

Learning on the move

Workout incorporating letters, counting, shapes and more aims to turn out Smart Kids

Lidgerwood Elementary School kindergartners are moving to learn and learning to move through a program developed by two Spokane Public Schools teachers.

Smart Kids, which is taught in a handful of the district’s elementary schools, teaches 5- and 6-year-olds the fundamentals of math and reading while they hop, balance, skip and roll.

“Movement helps transfer lessons to long-term memory,” said Kari Cunningham, a Lidgerwood literacy coach. “This uses their whole body.”

The concept has been around for about a decade. Two Holmes Elementary School teachers brought the program to Spokane schools.

“Our learners are primarily kinesthetic learners as children,” said Emily Sobczuk, a Holmes kindergarten teacher, meaning young children learn through touching and movement. “If we can impact and close developmental gaps kids have early on, we can change lives.”

Each school using the program adapts it to their students, Cunningham said. Many of Lidgerwood’s students, for example, enter kindergarten without the benefit of having attended preschool, so they need to learn basic concepts.

Using Smart Kids, instructors teach spatial concepts such as in front of, behind, around, right and left, as well as letters, counting, words, sounds, shapes and colors.

The students are usually led by a physical education teacher through a circuit of activities, accompanied by classroom teachers.

On Thursday, Lidgerwood students hopped over words after reading them aloud, balanced their feet on the edge of a flat ladder as they identified shapes, rolled a ball around pylon cones to understand the concept “around,” stepped on colored buckets as they pronounced letter sounds, and named the colors they walked on in a circle.

“We really want kids to be able to read by the end of kindergarten,” Cunningham said. “Knowing their letters and other sounds are those foundational pieces. We want them to be prepared for the first grade.”

After five weeks, teachers have already seen a great improvement in the kindergartners’ learning abilities, they said.

Volunteers from the Spokane chapter of Altrusa International Inc., an organization that focuses on literacy and anti-poverty projects for women, children and families, were at the school Thursday to help with Smart Kids.

The organization awarded Lidgerwood a grant to buy the equipment for the program, which cost about $1,900.

“When we saw the application, we thought this was fascinating,” said Anne Whitley, an Altrusa volunteer. “It provides additional ways for the kids to learn.”

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