Gray Institute offering 30-day exercise program

ADRIAN TWP. — Stay-at-home orders and social distancing have kept a great deal of people at home for more than a month, including kids.

Kids have had more than one reason to stay inside since schools closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Michigan weather has brought spring-like days followed by blankets of snow. Parks are closed. Athletic leagues are postponed.

There's also video games, though under the circumstances no one can blame kids or adults for spending a little more time in front of a screen. But it means kids aren't moving as much.

Those at the Gray Institute want to change that five to 10 minutes at a time.

Beginning today, the Gray Institute is offering a free 30-day challenge to children through the institute's Free2Play Academy. The Gray Institute was founded by local physical therapist Gary Gray.

Free2Play Academy is a movement education program that teaches what executive director John Maguire calls movement literacy. When children learn to read they learn a letter at a time, then words before graduating to sentences and so on and so forth.

"Movement is really the same way, but we don't learn it that way," Maguire said.

The program is composed of individual exercises meant to be accessible to all, regardless of age or ability level. Examples include lunges and squats.

"You could set a kindergartner in front of the video and they could do it, just like a high school sophomore," Maguire said.

Years of research are behind the movements that are applicable to every day life. Lunges correlate to walking, for example. Each one is also based on the three planes of motion — front to back, side to side and twisting motions.

The Gray Institute has 250 exercises in total but Free2Play's at-home version Maguire came up with has 30 — one for each day of the month.

Each movement is broken down in a five to 10 minute video that is available at www.free2playathome.com.

Maguire said they came up with the 30-day program with teachers in mind. Teachers working from home can take a break from their lesson and their students can too.

"This is a really easy way to keep kids engaged," Maguire said.

Maguire said their long term goal is to offer Free2Play to schools across the nation for free as a way to get kids moving in an age where static activities like video games are increasingly popular and athletic leagues are becoming more specialized and expensive.

The movement lessons can serve as a mental break and be done right next to a student's desk. Multiple studies indicate better learning results when students are active.

Free2Play was founded one day after Gray worked with a geriatric patient then flew to Chicago to work with Michael Jordan, the legendary basketball player. The next day Gray was a guest at physical education class at a school.

Gray noticed that he put the kids through the same exercises he put his elderly patient and Jordan through, according to Maguire.

Gray thought if they could teach kids these exercises it could reduce injuries.

"If kids can learn to develop all of their muscles … then injuries in the future are definitely lower," Maguire said.

Free2Play Academy isn't just about moving, though. There's also a social emotional learning aspect.

Every third day includes a Play-It-Forward challenge. This is part of the program's generosity literacy. Maguire said kids tend to to want to serve others but don't know how. The goal in the generosity act videos is to show what that looks like.

The first two videos cover seeing — acknowledging one's presence — and greeting — acknowledging someone with an active gesture.

"What if you tried today to recognize everybody with a smile, with eye contact, by saying 'hello' or by calling them by their name?" Maguire asks in the video on greeting.

Each exercise video also includes a sign language lesson as another way for kids to learn to express themselves, especially if they have trouble finding the right words.

The Gray Institute has partnered with Domino's in Adrian to offer a free pizza to any Lenawee County student who completes the challenge. The challenge must be done through the student's teacher, Maguire said.

The two have also partnered to give free pizzas to first responders.

Maguire mentioned another story that spoke to what Free2Play can do. He said one of the institute's GIFT (Gray Institute for Functional Transformation) fellows took the program back home with them to a school in Chicago.

Soon after implementing some of the exercises a parent called the school with one of those dreaded "What are you teaching my child?" calls. Except this one was a positive call.

The parent said their child had been so excited about what they learned the parent tried it too. They had been a factory worker for two decades. After doing the simple exercises the parent reported no more pain.

"We do think this can change the trajectory of people who aren't moving," Maguire said. "We feel that we are on the verge of something really cool."