Healthy futures in store for children

Children play under and around a parachute during Fit for the Future, Meet Me in the Park activities June 3. The program runs from 9 to 11 a.m. Tuesdays in Pine Valley and Thursdays in Douglass Valley through the end of July. (U.S. Air Force photo/Ann Patton)

Children play under and around a parachute during Fit for the Future, Meet Me in the Park activities June 3. The program runs from 9 to 11 a.m. Tuesdays in Pine Valley and Thursdays in Douglass Valley through the end of July. (U.S. Air Force photo/Ann Patton)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Academy youngsters are getting a jump start on a life-long healthy lifestyle -- and having fun doing it -- through the Fit for the Future, Meet Me in the Park program. 

Twice a week children and parents gather at housing area parks for two hours of outdoor games, play and socialization. The program, from 9 to 11 a.m. and targeting children ages 2-5, meets Tuesdays in Pine Valley and Thursdays in Douglass Valley, weather permitting, through the end of July. 

"We want to teach children to eat properly and exercise," said Linda Smith, family childcare coordinator. "All kids should be outdoors at least an hour every day." 

Fit for the Future is now in its sixth year on the Academy and was initiated by the late Donna Head, who was family member flight chief. 

Children can enjoy the park equipment as well as other play tools trucked to the site, including big-wheeled riding toys, a mini train and pint-sized exercise equipment such as elliptical trainers, stationary tricycles, treadmills and a weight bench. 

Mid-playtime, youngsters help themselves to healthy snacks like fresh vegetables, fruit, cheese and roll-ups. Only plain, chilled water accompanies the snack. 

A play parachute signals to the children that the day's activities are coming to an end. 

Ms. Smith said about 40-plus youngsters come out for the program. Off-base military family members are always welcome. 

All children must be accompanied by a parent. 

"Our main concern is safety," she said and emphasized safety is foremost in selecting equipment, such as Nerf golf and horseshoes. 

Parents appreciate the opportunity for children to enjoy the outdoors. 

"You really can't beat this program," said Lindsey Stoney, whose husband Brandon is with the 10th Security Forces Squadron. "They get to play with things they don't ordinarily get to play with, and they make new friends. It builds confidence and relationships." 

A family care provider, Mrs. Stoney said she also emphasizes exercise every day, including dancing in the house during inclement weather. 

Linsey Mach, whose husband is with the 10th Medical Group, said her son, Nathan, 5, asked her all winter when Meet Me in the Park would begin again. 

"He loved it and had so much fun," she said. "It's a wonderful program." 

Mrs. Mack said moms as well enjoy the time to socialize among themselves and get to know each other. 

Skyler Stoney, 5, enjoys playing with his friends, riding on motorcycles and sliding down the slide. 

"I want to come back," he said. 

Nathan Mack also enjoys seeing friends and playing on the exercise equipment, as well as on the Douglass Valley park equipment, but with some reservation after rain soaked the Academy the day before. 

"I got my pants wet on the slide," he said.