The Founder of Wellness, Inc. and inventor of Alphabet Fitness® offers insight on a creative process used to advance child literacy.
By Jason Freeman, Work of Start
Continuing my discovery of civic and community engagement in the New England region, I met Karen Voght, founder of Wellness, Inc., Boston, and inventor of Alphabet Fitness®. Having been recently recognized as a 2011 Literacy Champion by the Massachusetts Literacy Foundation , Karen’s passion is supporting children’s wellness by integrating physical activity and literacy. Over several discussions, Karen shared insight into the creative process of developing her innovative literacy tools since founding Wellness, Inc. in 1995.
Inspired initially by her own children’s inherent capacity to discover by interacting with their environment, Karen began to seek ways to unlock the creative energy of children by engaging both mind and body in the learning process. Her innovations include developing the Alphabet Fitness workout in which the letters of the alphabet are formed by imitating a playful chimpanzee character and building a letter’s shape with the body. The letter “P” can be formed, for instance, by standing straight with arms in a half-circle and imitating the ‘Chimp P’ font letter. Karen describes this activity as “getting their muscles into the alphabet” and does not believe that our understanding of the letter “A” should be strictly limited to a left pinky typing on a keyboard.
Being “boxed in by tools” that are rigid in nature can be stifling to a child’s ability to learn, warns Karen, stating that children are naturally built to develop understanding through fun and play. She believes that each child’s individual process for learning is part of what makes them wonderfully unique and by allowing a child to be creative while developing literacy skills offers the opportunity for having fun. After excitedly expressing the cutting-edge research of various groups on related topics including ‘cross lateralization in the brain’ and children’s ‘neuromuscular development,’ Karen works to distill down for me the work of Alphabet Fitness as attempting to create “flexibility of the mind and body.”
Karen also emphasizes the importance of developing partnerships in fostering the creative process. These partnerships, as expected, include collaboration with researchers, thought leaders, and organizations focused on supporting literacy, but Karen also highlights the importance of not limiting collaborative partners to one area of expertise. Karen goes on to describe her involvement in civic organizations such as Rotary International as an example of an opportunity to collaborate creatively with people maintaining a passion for service but not necessarily expertise in child literacy.
Understanding the importance of partnerships is attributed by Karen to working for thirty years in the Real Estate Industry prior to her current work in promoting children’s wellness. She also credits a deeper understanding of the negative effects that stress can have on wellness to lessons learned in the Real Estate industry—being a home developer taught Karen how important it is to “build an environment that is safe, secure, and stimulating.” In a similar fashion, Karen aspired to promote children’s wellness through creating a safe learning environment using Alphabet Fitness by actively “weaving stress prevention right into the ABCs.”
Jason Freeman is the founder of Work of Start.
** Please note that the Work of Start founder interviews will now be published quarterly instead of monthly in order to accommodate the historic start articles. **