Rehab Med 'Healthy Bodies' elective brings Halloween-inspired fun to local students

Physical therapy students use pumpkins, skeleton to teach fourth graders about physical and mental health

Amanda McCarthy - 31 October 2017

Did you know that looking down is the equivalent of having 60 pounds of pressure on your neck?

Most people don't, but a group of fourth graders do!

On October 25, in the spirit of Halloween, Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine physical therapy students visited Earl Buxton School to teach students about physical and mental health.

The visit is part of the 'Healthy Bodies' elective-a one-credit course for MScPT students that focuses on teaching fourth graders about proper posture, flexibility, heart health, muscle strength, balance/agility, and the benefits of a healthy mind.

Armed with pumpkins, a skeleton and a spooky model of a head/neck, MScPT students Lewis Anderson, Sneh Monga, Safia Samji and Alysia McKillop used fun activities and presentations to teach children what being 'healthy' really means.

"There were two groups: The neck/posture health group and the heart/muscle health group," explains Anderson. "Sneh [Monga] and I were mainly involved in teaching the children about heart health and muscular strength. We first spoke to them about the recommended guidelines for physical activity and how children in Canada are generally missing the mark. We taught them how to gauge their activity level and how to use heart rate, breathing rate, fatigue, body temperature and perspiration as indicators for activity levels."

The neck/posture health group included the use of pumpkins as a measure of head weight to showcase the negative effects of 'text neck,' which happens when the head is tilted downward for significant periods of time while texting. Believe it or not, the tilting of the head can actually add an extra 60 pounds of pressure to the neck.

"At the neck/posture station we talked about how poor posture can impact the health of joints and how proper posture can protect our joints and keep our body strong," says McKillop. "We also talked about ways that they can work on their posture including stretching, breathing, and maintaining appropriate posture at their desks and when using electronics."

The elective, which is coordinated by Department of Physical Therapy's Judy Chepeha, associate professor, allows students to take charge of the content and delivery of the program.

"This elective gave us a chance to interact with a population that we aren't usually exposed to," says Samji. "It also gave us a chance to refine our "patient education" skills, which is the backbone of any good physiotherapy treatment."

While physical health was a major focus of the visit, students also touched on mental health by facilitating an exchange of kind messages between the fourth graders.

"All the children had a paper on their back and a marker and were dancing to music in their homeroom classes. When the music stopped, they had to find a partner and write something kind on their paper. The children then had an opportunity to share some of their kind words with the rest of the group," says Monga.

Overall, the students and teachers enjoyed the activities. And with the program now in its fourth year, it looks like it will continue to be a hit.

"The presentation was so well organized and informative. Our students were engaged and excited about the information," says Judy Wilkie, principal of Earl Buxton School. "Rarely do we have a group visit the school who are as well organized and engaging as the physical therapy students!"