OGDEN — Ogden School District received a donation of 24 Pumper Cars, which debuted in classrooms at several schools in the district this past week.
Pumper Cars are propelled forward when the rider pulls on the handle bars and pushes pedals with their feet, similar to some exercise machines — though children and youth who have limited lower body strength are still able to buzz around using just the handlebars.
The cars were donated by John Watson Chevrolet. Dealership staff also put the cars together, according to Kim Olson, administrative assistant at the dealership. Depending on size, Pumper Cars cost $350-$400 apiece. The cars that were donated to Ogden schools were on the upper end of that price range, according to John Watson, owner of John Watson Chevrolet.
The cars will be used by students in functional skills classes who have significant cognitive and physical impairments, said Karen Harrop, director of special education for Ogden School District. They’ll also serve a wide range of ages, from preschool to some post-high students.
“(The Pumper Car) is great for both arm and leg strengthening, and it also requires that children use their core muscles to stay in the seat, so it’s a full-body work-out,” Melissa Schussman, physical therapist for Ogden School District, said. “... But more than that, it gives students a chance to learn a new motor pattern, and that helps with brain development.”
A motor pattern, Schussman said, is “all of the processes that our body has to put together to move.”
Doing heavy work with the muscles, even for a few minutes, can also be calming for children, she said.
“Then they can sit down (afterward) and focus better, so that’s great for the academic environment,” Schussman said.
On top of all of these physical and cognitive benefits, the cars are fun.
“I see so many smiles,” Schussman said. “I love it. They see the Pumper Cars, and they head right for them. There’s a little bit of a struggle trying to figure out how to use them. ... I’ve seen it a lot recently with our preschoolers, and they just figure it out so quickly. It’s really fun to watch.”
These smiles were just what Watson was hoping for when he made the decision to donate them after hearing about the experiences of associates who’d made similar donations. Watson learned about the Pumper Cars from a presentation at a meeting of the Utah Automobile Dealers Association.
Watson was already involved in efforts to support local high schools and Weber State University, he said, but this was an opportunity to contribute in a different area.
“This was a little something that gave me an opportunity to reach down into the elementary grades,” Watson said, “and do something for the kids that ... had some mobility issues ... to give them a brighter smile and just excitement that they can now be mobile.”
Harrop says that one big benefit of the cars is that they allow children with impairments to be fully involved with their peers.
“One of the things that I would hope is that it levels the playing field for some of our kids who don’t want to sit on the sidelines watching other kids engage in age-appropriate activities, like riding bikes,” Harrop said. “That’s what I’m extremely excited for, is that no one has to sit on the bench, so to speak, and watch others play. Everybody gets to join in and play.”