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Exergames Olympics breathes new life into family program

By Michelle Garza


Connecticut Exergames Olympics School Practice Night

Parents are involved as never before in one 4-H afterschool program in New Haven, Connecticut, after leaders incorporated exergaming into their family nights.

For several years, the program, directed by Wanda Hamilton, 4-H urban program coordinator in the Department of Extension at the University of Connecticut, has used exergames regularly in 4-H fitness and nutrition clubs to encourage physical activity and model healthy lifestyle choices. Last year, Hamilton and her team began hosting once-a-month, family game nights, inviting parents to come in with their children to play exergames.

In 2010 the program hosted a family “Exergame Olympics” in honor of the Winter Olympics, with participation from four of their sites.

Playing on the Nintendo Wii, families practiced Olympic sports such as skiing, speed skating, bobsledding, swimming, sprinting, and ski jumping, and other games including hula hooping, an island run, and dancing. Families played as a team and charted their progress from month to month.

After eight months of preparation, the families gathered for an Exergames Olympics at one of the school sites. Organizers provided entertainment and a healthy snack buffet, and families prepared team banners to hang on the wall. The two-hour event included three athletic exergames stations: a Summer Olympics games station, a Winter Olympics games station and a Just Dance station. The evening concluded with a ceremony awarding gold, silver, and bronze medals to the top youth scorers in each event.

Hamilton and the other leaders say the program was a big success, with parents and children enjoying both the preparation and the final event. “Parents were a little reluctant at first, but they came because it was a parent and child team,” said Hamilton. “Once they saw the kids doing the games and had the kids coaxing them on… the next month when they came the parents would jump right in.”

In some instances, participation in family night doubled from one month to the next and continued to increase.

“I think having these games after school is a really great program, and it gives us a chance to enjoy some family fun together,” said Conrad Covington, a father, who participated with his nine-year-old daughter Ceeona.

Leonard Webb, who joined his eight-year-old daughter Aleena, agreed that “oftentimes kids learn from their parents, and children tend to get a little bit more involved if the parents are involved; they set the example in a lot of different ways.”

Prior to the game nights, program leaders had been struggling to get fathers to participate in program activities with their children. “The game nights that we have hosted with the Wii and exergames have been very beneficial to us getting parents in and upping the involvement because the fathers – they like it,” said Miriam Johnson, Family Learning Center site coordinator.

“There was definitely a consistency with the parents coming because they are there to support their kids… and it shows them that their parents care and have time to do things with them in a positive way,” said Destiny Wade, a student at the local career high school who helps out with the FANS clubs.

Hamilton has been so pleased with the turnout and participation that she plans to expand the exergaming program in coming years. Along with the Exergame Olympics (which culminates in the spring), she is also planning mileage clubs, dancing clubs and sports clubs to begin in early October. Playing on the Nintendo Wii, walking clubs will use the game Walk It Out and dance clubs such games as Just Dance, Just Dance 2, and the upcoming Zumba title. Sports clubs will include Nintendo Wii Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games, Wii Sports Resort, and Wii Fit Plus.


Making It Work:

–       Find volunteers to help set up and offer assistance during these times.

–       Use active games that are fairly easy to use and don’t have much set-up time. Just Dance for the Wii is a great option that can also engage several people at one time.

–       Use games that appeal to different audiences and age and ability ranges.

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Funding Information

© 2013. NMSU Board of Regents. All rights reserved. This project was supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture through the National Research Initiative (Grant #2008-55215-18837).

About Us

The Exergames Unlocked project includes a multi-state team of accomplished media education researchers, exercise physiologists, medical professionals and doctoral students. Contributing members are researchers in their fields and have helped launch the use of exergames as tools to combat obesity in their communities and beyond. New Mexico State University researchers and their partners have been funded to research the impact of exergames, develop specific recommendations for exergame use, and implement exergaming programs. As part of that project, this website provides access to resources based on research, sample projects, and input from the exergaming community. For more information, contact the project director: Dr. Barbara Chamberlin, Professor, New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service
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Why Exergames Unlocked?

Why Exergames Unlocked? Exergames are videogames that encourage physical activity. Here, you’ll find the best and most effective exergames, as well as strategies and recommendations on using them with different audiences and in different locations.