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Preschool teachers can help children acquire physical skills

Janet Kiplinger Ciccone
December 04, 2013

Doctoral student empowers children to skip and jump for health

Ali Brian knows that skipping, jumping or catching a ball are not skills that emerge naturally in young children. They must be learned and practiced for mastery.

“Fundamental motor skills (FMS) are the building blocks for more advanced movement patterns and physical activity,” said Brian, who is a doctoral student in the kinesiology program. “If children don’t acquire them by around age eight, research shows they most likely will not be physically active across the lifespan.”

Lack of physical activity can have many implications for health, including the possibility of being overweight or obese.

So for her dissertation research, Brian is conducting a study with her advisors, Jackie Goodway and Sue Sutherland, both associate professors of human sciences, to determine if preschool teachers can effectively teach important FMS to preschool students.

“More than 900,000 children are enrolled in U.S. Head Start preschools and do not receive structured physical education,” Brian said. “They could benefit, especially since disadvantaged preschoolers tend to be delayed in fundamental motor skills.”

Evolution of a softball coach

Brian’s father and siblings loved sports, which reinforced her own interest. “They were always very active and enjoyed playing and watching games,” she said. When she expressed an interest, her parents provided her with opportunities to join teams, so she gained skills early.

By age 16, she knew she wanted to coach. “My younger sister started to play sports, so I volunteered as an assistant coach on her teams,” she said. “Eventually, I became the head coach of those teams.”

But Brian never realized coaching could be a career until she was a junior at Notre Dame College, Cleveland. As an honors-winning  starting catcher and captain of the softball team, she met her new coach and athletic director. “They were excellent role models who inspired me to follow my dreams.”

So straight out of college, Brian became head softball coach at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. She led her team to the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship, and being ranked number 22 in the NCAA Division III.

She continued her success as head softball coach and assistant athletic director back at Notre Dame College, where she was named the American Mideast Conference Coach of the Year. Her team made the AMC playoffs for the first time in school history.

At the University of Dayton, she earned her master’s in education while serving as the first full-time assistant softball coach and working in the student-athlete academic center. She moved on to the role of head softball coach at Binghamton University at SUNY.

Imagine the sticker shock when this high achiever resigned her position and began accruing loans as a full-time doctoral student at Ohio State.

Scholarships memorialize donors and support students’ work to improve lives

Donors who write their wills to pay it forward after their death make a difference in lives like Brian’s.

One scholarship that she received this year is named for Lucile Wildermuth Kennedy, who earned a bachelor’s degree in human ecology in 1921. In her will, Kennedy provided for a scholarship named for herself and her husband. After her death in 1988, the Lucile and Roland Kennedy Scholarship began helping EHE students attend Ohio State.

Brian appreciates this scholarship and the two others that help her make ends meet this academic year.

One was created by Anita Rose McCormick, who died in 2010. As both an alumna and a faculty member of the college, McCormick funded a scholarship during her lifetime and directed her estate to add to it after her death.

Friends and colleagues of faculty also pay it forward on behalf of those they love. Dorothy Sumption Wirthwein, whose fund is now helping Brian, was a professor of physical education and Ohio State alumna who died in the 1950s due to a car accident. Her fellow alumni, students and colleagues endowed a scholarship fund in her memory.

Financial aid helps keep Brian in school. The scholarship donors would be pleased at the ultimate result: her research will aid future teachers in directing many small children in discovering the joy of movement and lifelong health.


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