Aroostook County –  A new, exciting, and informative, hands-on program designed to help County kids make better and healthier choices early on that will serve them through their lifetime was announced today by a coalition of area non-profit organizations.  Discovery Days is a seven-week series of hour-long sessions that will run on consecutive Saturday mornings this fall beginning Saturday, September 27.

TAMC

Open to all children ages four through eight at no cost, the program will include interactive learning opportunities that cover various topics such as incorporating physical activity in play, the importance of exercise, proper nutrition, good sleep habits, and good oral hygiene and bone health.  The Saturday sessions are coordinated and will be led by volunteers and staff representing the lead partner organizations that have come together to bring the program to central Aroostook – the Aroostook County Action Program, Healthy Aroostook, the Presque Isle Historical Society and TAMC.

The concept for Discovery Days was first conceived by Kim Smith, treasurer/secretary of the Presque Isle Historical Society, who was researching how museums across the country have engaged communities in unique ways.  One of the concepts she came across involved youth and healthy communities.

“While reading a report on the role of museums and wellness, it occurred to me that there could be a relationship between the Historical Society’s Vera Estey House Museum and community organizations that focus on community health and well-being.  As I researched this further, I found similar programs that could easily be replicated here in Presque Isle that involved fun activities for children paired with life lessons on physical activity, proper nutrition, sufficient hours of sleep, and more,” said Smith.  “That led to the Discovery Days program involving the Historical Society, ACAP, Healthy Aroostook, and TAMC, as well as the Mark and Emily Turner Memorial Library, Northern Maine Community College, the Maine Potato Board, PenAir and other partners.”

The Presque Isle Historical Society will kick off the series on Saturday, September 27 – International Day of Play, an annual event designed to encourage children and parents to turn off the television and play, especially outdoors.  To accomplish that, the organization will host traditional 19th Century children’s games on the front lawn of the Vera Estey House Museum at 16 Third Street in Presque Isle.  Kids will learn that, although there was no television, internet or video games, children had the same basic interests and played the same type of games still played today.

Sessions to follow will be prepared and led by TAMC professionals in various departments, ACAP, and Healthy Aroostook, a community coalition that is part of the Healthy Maine Partnership and dedicated to improving the health and well-being of Aroostook County citizens through collaborative community action, education, and prevention.

Among the departments at TAMC involved in the coordination and planning of Discovery Days is Aroostook Pediatrics.  Lori Eckerstorfer, physician’s assistant and the newest provider to join the team at TAMC’s pediatric practice, spoke at the announcement about the hospital’s role in introducing the program and why activities such as this are important.

“One out of three children in the United States is overweight or obese. The risk for obesity can be higher in a rural community. In fact, the most recent state-wide community health needs assessment showed Aroostook County with the highest percentage of high school students overweight of any county.  There are more and more children being diagnosed with typically adult onset illnesses such as high blood pressure and diabetes secondary to obesity. It is important to be aware of these risks and make healthier choices to prevent such diseases. Among the things that can help prevent childhood obesity are engaging the entire family, schools, and communities in healthy eating habits and increasing exercise.” said Eckerstorfer.  “Programs, such as Discovery Days, supported by community organizations help encourage youth and show them that their choices to make healthy decisions are important.”

In addition to the pediatric team at TAMC, other departments involved in planning and delivering programs include orthopedics, sleep medicine, TAMC dietitians, Aroostook Cancer Care, and the medical library.  ACAP’s dental health program and Healthy Aroostook staff who specialize in nutrition and physical activity will also lead sessions and engage students in hand-on activities.

“ACAP works with organizations and families around Aroostook County promoting healthy environments and healthy lifestyles.  ACAP Staff are excited to be partners in this unique program. Youth participants and their families will not only have a greater understanding of the many different aspects of healthy living, they will experience how fun it is to be healthy,” said Jamie Chandler, Community Transformation Grant coordinator for ACAP and member of the Healthy Aroostook team.

Chandler will lead the second session of the series, entitled REDY, Set, Go Get Active on Saturday, October 4.  The “classroom” for the youth on that day will be the passenger terminal at the Northern Maine Regional Airport.  The children will learn about the importance of physical activity before experiencing it firsthand when they take a “run on the runway”, sponsored by PenAir.  The lesson and run will be part of the larger TAKE FLIGHT event coordinated by the airport, Central Aroostook Chamber of Commerce and TAMC.

The International Day of Play and REDY, Set, Go Get Active events and the sessions that follow will all take place beginning at 10:00 a.m. each Saturday at different locations in Presque Isle.  Carol Bell, TAMC trustee, Presque Isle Historical Society past president, and ACAP/Healthy Aroostook director provided an overview of the programming and introduced Discovery Days logo creator Craig Cormier and children representing the four partner organizations who unveiled the new design.

All seven Discovery Days programs are free to participating children.  Although geared for children ages four through eight, siblings are welcome to join in.  Parents are also invited to sit in the sessions.

Pre-registration is highly encouraged to ensure adequate supplies and snacks for all participants at each session, however organizers will do their best to accommodate all children who show up each Saturday to attend a session.  To learn more about the sessions and pre-register a child, go on-line to www.tamc.org.  For more information, call 207-768-4044.

Information on each of the Discovery Days sessions is as follows:

International Day of Play, September 27 - 1875 Vera Estey House Museum, 16 Third Street (rain location: TAMC Conference Center) - Children’s games in the late 1800s included activities that, while fun and engaging for children, typically had a purpose – to prepare the child for a lifetime skill or job around the farm, to build strength and agility.  Games will include Hopscotch, 3-legged race, sack race, human wheelbarrow race, the game of Graces, egg race and more, as well as some other activities that were designed to improve hand-eye coordination.

Redy, Set, Go Get Active, October 4 - Northern Maine Regional Airport - Children will learn about the importance of physical activity and ways to be Coach Potato and not a Couch Potato.  Physical activity is an essential component in the development of motor skills and if continued can lead to active healthy lifestyle practices into adulthood.  After some fun games to help stretch and warm up, they will take part in a one mile run on the runway as part of TAMC’s TAKE FLIGHT event.

Color Me Pink Run/Walk, October 11 - Begins & Ends at TAMC - Children will have the chance to expand on their physical activity lesson from week two by taking part in a free 1 mile run beginning at 10:00 a.m., or those who want a greater challenge can join the 5K run/walk that begins and ends at TAMC starting at 11:00 a.m.  All funds raised from the 5K event will support cancer care in Aroostook County.  Race registration for the 5K is $10 for children and $20 for adults, with a maximum of $80/family.

Bedtime Stories with Sleepy Bear, October 18 - Mark & Emily Turner Memorial Library - The TAMC Teddy will be on hand at the library to help with a story time for the kids.  Staff from TAMC’s Sleep Medicine department will also be on hand to teach about the importance of good sleep habits for childhood physical, mental and emotional development.

Teeth Rex Dental Program, October 25 - ACAP Conference Room - Children will be learning the importance of developing good oral hygiene habits and how it impacts their overall health through fun dinosaur-themed activities and interactive play.  The activity will be led by Crystal Cummings from ACAP’s Healthy Aroostook Program.

Bone Connection & Flu Shot Clinic, November 1 -TAMC’s North Street Healthcare - Members of TAMC’s Orthopedic & Sports Medicine team will teach children about the importance of our bones and what we need to do to keep them healthy.   Kids will play a game with two life size foam skeleton puzzles.  In addition to the “Bone Connection” activity, there will be a hand hygiene station, so kids can see how “clean” (or not) their hands are and learn why clean hands are so important.  Free flu shots will also be offered through TAMC’s Aroostook Pediatrics office for children ages 6 months to 19 years from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Color My Plate, November 8 - TAMC Conference Center - Dietitians from TAMC and staff from ACAP’s Healthy Aroostook Program will lead a program about good nutritional habits and why they are so important.  Children will learn to eat a healthy diet by choosing colorful food that will make a healthy plate. They will also make their own fruit kabobs for a healthy snack and do a coloring activity.