Working it Out
Kids’ movement can be a challenge
by Kelly Knufken

Linda McMorran is dressed for maximum movement. That’s a good thing, since her job is to coax a dozen or so kids into breaking a sweat.

Let’s start with stretching. Criss-cross-applesauce.

McMorran has her work cut out for her. For many of these students, walking is a challenge. Others struggle with sitting upright. Some of the children have aides who help them cross their legs and begin their stretches.

McMorran teaches adapted physical education in the Poway Unified School District to preschool- through high school-aged kids who need extra help due to autism, physical disability or other conditions.

“It’s fulfilling. I see progress,” she says. While improvement can be slow, the effort is worth it. “I can see some of these kids out in the community and see how it helps their self-esteem.”

McMorran’s high energy level is necessary, and not just for the exercises she does with class after class. She also drives from school to school to get to those classes. At each stop, she chooses items from the simple, colorful play equipment that fills her minivan and hauls it into the gym.

“I’m like a traveling circus.”

While she does make the exercises fun, it’s not all about the entertainment factor. Her objective is to improve skills like eye-hand coordination, balance or simply releasing a gripped ball. McMorran tailors exercises for each child.

She’s been helping such students get more activity since she earned her master’s in special education from the University of San Diego in 1976. “I got a good background at USD,” she says.

Come on, let’s do giddyap.

She’s helping a boy through a spirited sidestep. With child after child, she leads with enthusiasm — even when her charge isn’t exactly following in the sidestep, the hopping on one foot, the galloping. No matter if they’ve come anywhere close to mastering the fancy footwork, each child gets a high-five from McMorran.

Make the football fly. Get ready for the Super Bowl.

McMorran uses the reward of adapted games — like a set of ropes the child pulls apart to make a hanging football sail — to motivate children to complete individual exercises.

“I want them to get stronger. We want these kids to be functioning adults someday, right?”

Let’s get ready for aerobics.

She switches her boom-box on and puts the children through their paces, leading all the way. She claps and marches. She hops. She swims like a fish. She flies like a bird.

And when the song ends, class is over. Some children may be more exerted than others. But they’re all making progress, and — as the “hokey pokey” tells us — that’s what it’s all about.