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Learning by doing: IU’s Adapted Physical Activity Program

Three gyms on the first floor are covered with children’s toys Thursday nights in the School of Public Health. Families mill in the hallways, and the sound of people laughing fills the air. 

The IU Adapted Physical Activity Program has one- hour sessions each week where IU students pair up with children with developmental disorders and do activities with them. 

These activities are designed to improve gross motor skills such as running and balance, said Daehyoung Lee, a member of the lab staff. All the lab staff in the program are former students of the class. 

The IUAPA program is a lab session for the undergraduate adapted physical education class. It is an opportunity for students and kids to learn by doing, where the kids play games such as soccer, basketball and corn hole or do activities including riding scooters, ribbon twirling and bouncing on balls. 

“For my son, going out and being social and physical is really good," Rob Shrake said. "It’s always a good night for him.” 

Thursday was the last session of the semester, and the class held an awards ceremony to recognize the students and the children. Each Hoosier presented an award to the child they’d been paired with for the semester. Some of the winners included best balance, best jump shot and ring toss champion. 

Dr. Georgia Frey, who started the program, has done it at other universities. The program is great for the children, and they make large strides while they are in the program, Frey said. Families often return to the program every semester for several years. Children are able to be in the program from age 3 to 22.

“We really want students and the kids to be challenged and gain new skills while learning to manage their behaviors,” Frey said. 

Every semester, roughly 30 children participate in the program and are each individually paired with an IU student to work with for the semester based on their experience with children. Brook Ward is one student in the program, and this semester she was paired with Mason, who has autism. Ward said she formed a bond with Mason and watched as he connected with the other children and students.

“This program is a fun way to work with kids with disabilities in a fun and encouraging environment,” said Erin Jipping, one of the IU students. 

The activities the children do are often as individualized as possible and try to focus on areas that would help the child the most. The class is located across three rooms: the main gym, a smaller gym with padded floors, the third are smaller, quieter rooms with less light and noise for students who have sensory issues. 

“Our student always asks what skills we are trying to work on and they try and work that into the lesson,” Tanya Axsom said, whose son is in the program.

Frey said not only does the program create a group for the kids, it creates a network for parents as well. Thursday night, parents mingled in the hallways, and one group sat on benches and the floor, talking and laughing. 

“Not only has it been good for the kids, it’s good to be in the company of other parents going through the same things as you,” Axsom said. “It’s the best money we spend.” 

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