McQueen still spends time teaching Fit Kids classes. Pictures: Supplied

Childhood fitness expert Simon McQueen is passionate about changing the way children feel about exercise. Marchelle Abrahams chats to him.

The latest research reports that 1.6 million SA children are considered obese, and, according to the Healthy Living Alliance (HEALA), they are at risk of developing life-threatening chronic diseases like Type II diabetes.

Simon McQueen is a qualified physical education teacher and the owner of Fit Kids SA. His main goal is to change children’s attitudes towards exercise.

“It should be seen as something to add to your life and seen as something positive,” says the Cape Town-based father of two.

With a background in swimming coaching and a passion for fitness, exercise and healthy living, he knows a thing or two owing to his more than 20 years’ experience.

McQueen started Fit Kids about four years ago. “I realised how many children are relatively weak with regards to movement skills they should have, like co-ordination and bilateral integration,” he said.

He says core strength is only one aspect that they focus on - bilateral integration, co-ordination and motor planning are also key skills that work hand in hand with core strength, to enhance and improve physical and cognitive development.

Many children see exercise as a chore, a mandatory requirement as part of physical education classes, but McQueen says it doesn’t have to be that way. “It’s the way we present it and it’s in our attitudes,” he notes.

READ: Exercise could improve your child's reading

He uses school as an example that tends to focus on sports instead of seeing exercise as a life skill.

So he has developed a series of programmes aimed at toddlers to 12-year-olds that address all the fundamental movements.

“These movements use different sides of the body and different hemispheres of the brain,” said McQueen.

“We help build their core strength - a child can’t concentrate if they can’t sit properly.”

The programme has been incorporated at a number of Cape Town schools, but it still faces hurdles.

“Schools tend to be loyal to existing service providers they have. Our biggest challenge is making them realise that we are offering something that goes deeper than just physical activity or sport skills,” he said.

Karen Berry owns Little Chameleons Preschool in Fish Hoek. Since the beginning of 2018, she’s been incorporating the programme into the school day.

And Berry says she’s seen great improvement in her kids’ movement skills across the board.

“I think it’s key because of their gross motor skills development and I thought it was important to have them taking instructions from someone else, other than their teacher,” she said.

Berry also noted that the children were always looking forward to the class.

McQueen set about bringing in an expert panel to add their voice and endorse his programme. He has also taken many of their recommendations on board.

One of the members is occupational therapist Roxanne Atkinson.

With a special interest in paediatrics and neuro-developmental therapy, she works mostly with children aged 0-5 years who have developmental delays or trouble learning age-appropriate skills.

“Firstly, it’s accessible because parents aren’t taking their children anywhere - it’s done at the school,” she said.

“It improves physical fitness where children are pushed to do things they won’t usually be exposed to. Then there’s mental fitness - they pay attention and follow instructions.”

She also makes note of social fitness.

“Children get a chance to practise instructions outside the classroom and there’s a big reward with lots of fun afterwards,” she said.

There’s also the feel-good factor: exercise is known to help concentrate and regulates mood.

“It releases endorphins and oxytocin,” said McQueen.

* Visit Fit Kids website for a coach in your area: fitkids-sa.co.za/