AAAS Shares the Science of Fitness at White House Easter Egg Roll

AAAS volunteers at the 2016 White House Easter Egg Roll helped children get moving and learn about how fitness benefits their brains. | Juan David Romero/AAAS

More than 60 AAAS volunteers taught children and their families attending the 2016 White House Easter Egg Roll about the science of fitness.

The event, held 28 March on the South Lawn of the White House, marked the seventh time that AAAS has joined with the National Parks Foundation, the official charity of America’s national parks, to support the Easter Egg Roll.

“Each volunteer group faced challenges (rain, wind, heat, a lockdown) but everyone worked together and got a lot of kids moving and learning,” said Suzanne Thurston, project director for AAAS’ Education and Human Resources programs and one of the organizers of AAAS’ volunteer efforts at the Easter Egg Roll.

More than 35,000 guests attended the 138th annual Easter Egg Roll, the White House’s largest public event. This year’s theme, in honor of President Obama’s final Easter Egg Roll, was “Let’s Celebrate.”

In addition to the egg roll, a host of activities for children included an egg hunt, egg dyeing and decorating, a story time stage where celebrities read favorite picture books, and the Rock ‘n’ Egg Roll Stage featuring live musical performances headlined by Broadway star Idina Menzel. First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative influenced a number of activities that encouraged physical fitness, including the event’s first-ever White House Fun Run, cooking demonstrations, yoga, and hands-on training from professional athletes on the White House basketball and tennis courts.

AAAS’ activities in the “Eggsperiment Zone”—where children could have fun while learning about science—reflected the event’s focus on movement. Children could stop by four stations to learn surprising facts about how animals move and then try their hands—and feet—at a fitness challenge.

Children could try to balance on one leg like flamingos, which stand on one leg as they scoop up food and eat the pink water bugs that give them their bright feathers.

“I don’t know why, but this is so easy!” said 7-year-old Noah Redden, who had been standing on one foot for almost five minutes.

Visitors could also see how far they could leap like a frog, an animal that can jump a distance of more than 10 times its own body length.

Children also tested “how long they can prong” — how many times could they jump up and down like an antelope in 30 seconds. Even though people are not as fast as antelopes, which can complete a 26-mile marathon in just 40 minutes, children learned that imitating antelopes helps improve cardiovascular fitness. Inspired by flexible penguins, children also tested their own flexibility, bending over to see if they could touch their knees, shins, ankles, or toes.

From left, 12-year-old Kimaya Tillerson, 4-year-old Aaron-Michael Caffery, and 8-year-old Charlotte Allison test their jumping abillities at the 2016 White House Easter Egg Roll. | Andrea Korte/AAAS

Sisters Liza Sullivan, 10, and Anna Cash Sullivan, 6, tried all of the fitness challenges. Pronging like an antelope was Anna Cash’s favorite activity, while Liza said she liked all of them equally. Liza Sullivan also shared her favorite new thing she learned.

“Penguins can scratch their ear with their foot,” she said.

Participants were given a fitness challenge score sheet to record the fitness feats achieved at the Easter Egg Roll and again in two weeks after practicing their balance, strength, flexibility, and cardio skills each day. To encourage even more long-term fitness, AAAS volunteers also handed out Fitness Factor Journals, where children could record their efforts to get stronger and fitter by adding exercise to their daily routine.

Bob Hirshon, a program director for AAAS’ Education and Human Resources programs, developed this year’s activities. “In addition to being fun and closely tied to the First Lady’s ‘Let’s Move’ initiative,” Hirshon explained, “the activities and fitness journal encourage children to run trials, chart data, and interpret results, all skills critical to success in science.”

Visitors also learned regular exercise is not just good for the body, it’s good for the brain, too. Neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki, along with scientists from her lab at New York University, helped children learn which areas of the brain are improved by exercise, identify them on a diagram of the brain, and color the different parts to make them easier to see.