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Pounding fitness into area youth: CHECK OUT OUR VIDEO!

How do you take an idea and pound it into a young person's brain?

According to mental health experts, you give them some drumsticks and let them do it themselves.

Educators, health experts and child advocates are teaming up for the 11th annual Communities Collaborative Brain Development Conference in Mahnomen -- the largest conference of its kind in the Midwest.

Their goal is to provide cutting edge ideas designed to help bring out the very best in a child -- starting with their brains.

This year, the White Earth Child Care Program, along with several other regional agencies that make up the collaboration, are highlighting a new technique called Drums Alive - Kids Beat.

Drums Alive is a new fitness program, where participants get an exercise ball and drum sticks to beat it with.

Drummers pound along to music, incorporating movement as they count out the number of beats, rests and anticipate what's next in the song.

The movement has been gaining popularity since its creator, Carrie Ekins, debuted Drums Alive in Germany six years ago.

And while more adults have been using it for stress reduction and exercise, many say Drums Alive - Kids Beat has positive effects on children's brain development as well.

That's why 16 students from the Boys and Girls Clubs of Mahnomen and Naytahwaush have been pounding out some rehearsals for their upcoming performance at the opening ceremony of the Brain Development Conference on Aug. 9.

Ranging in age from 6 to 15, the students are some of the first in the region to learn Drums Alive - Kids Beat.

"I like it," said 13-year old Destiny Zornes of Mahnomen, as fellow drummer, Shenia Vasswood adds, "Yeah, it's a lot of fun."

But while Destiny, Shenia and the other kids in the group know they are "having fun," what they don't know is that their brains are changing one beat at a time.

"Drumming has been shown to produce changes in the central nervous system," said White Earth Community Health Educator LaRaye Anderson, who also works with diabetes programs on the reservation. "It influences electric activity in the sensory motor regions of the brain and physiological changes in the whole body."

And while German creator Carrie Ekins (who will be the keynote speaker at the conference) originally created the Kids Beat with special needs children in mind, the program has caught on for all children, as the benefits are widespread.

"It incorporates the whole mind and the whole body," said Peggie Chisholm, resource development coordinator for the White Earth Reservation Boys and Girls Clubs. "The movement, the motion ... they're having to think about the number of beats -- it enhances memory..."

Chisholm says they hope to incorporate Drums Alive - Kids Beat into the regular curriculum at the seven different Boys and Girls Clubs on the White Earth Reservation.

She says not only will it help children reduce stress and help stimulate brain development, but it is also one more tool in the fight against childhood obesity.

"Kids don't see it as exercise as much as just having fun," said Eric Reitan, who is the exercise trainer for the White Earth Diabetes Project.

"When they're concentrating on the beat, pretty soon it synchs the left and the right sides of the brain together and helps them become more focused."

Diane McCormack is a pediatric occupational therapist with Essentia Health St. Mary's and a certified Drums Alive - Kids Beat instructor.

She's already begun using the drums while working with autistic children, and says she notices kids' attention spans (for all students -- autistic or not) improve greatly.

"Their concentration is getting really good, and we've seen a lot of improvement in them being able to follow directions ... being able to have fun with it and getting the sense of that rhythm and beat."

McCormack says when picking out the colors of the balls, buckets and scarves used, they chose blues and greens -- cool, relaxing colors that she says stimulate serotonin- release in the brain.

She says her group performing for the Brain Development Conference is only the first of what she expects to be several opportunities for area kids and their families to learn Drums Alive - Kids Beat.

"Essential Health is teaming up with the DLCCC to offer a one-time event in October where kids can come in and learn to drum in the ballroom, as well as once a month drums events for family fitness."

As for the first Boys and Girls Club "test group," they kick off their performance on Wednesday, Aug. 10, at 10:30 a.m. at the Shooting Star Casino stage.

The Brain Development Conference begins the day before with a "Pre-Conference," which includes a 5-K walk for autism.

So far, there are roughly 850 teachers, daycare providers, health care workers and other "child advocates" signed up.

For more information on the conference or to register, go to For a sneak peak at the Boys and Girls Club Drums Alive - Kids Beat performance, log on to and click on the Drums Alive video.