Join us as we spread awareness of National Childhood Obesity Month which takes place this September. The CDC cites that about one in five children is dealing with obesity in the United States. Obesity can put children at risk for sleep apnea, diabetes, asthma, and more. Below, we’re sharing an excerpt from David Campos’ Jump Start Health! Practical Ideas to Promote Wellness in Kids of All Ages, to help educators and students fight this crisis together.
IDEAS FOR SCHOOL AND COMMUNITY COLLABORATION
Now that an alliance between the school and community is established and the assembled team of professionals and parents has attended to important matters, the time has come to start thinking about the activities to put into action. At this time, the team and fellow advocates can visit the decided goals and objectives and plan for activities that will fulﬁll the corresponding mission. The tasks at hand are to deliberate over the activities to offer and how often they are executed, given the community’s resources and restraints. On that occasion, consider some of these ideas:
Plant and Maintain a Garden
Invite children from all the grade levels to plan for, grow, and maintain a garden to be cultivated on school or community grounds. The children could arrange to plant speciﬁc vegetables and fruit that when harvested could be ingredients of a healthy dish that they (and others) could consume; sold in a venue such as a farmer’s market; or exhibited at a fair like event where others can see the results of their labor and toil. The instructional beneﬁt of planning for and managing a garden is that teachers can teach lessons about this topic across varied disciplines. For instance, in science, children could learn about organic matter; in social studies, they could learn about the economics associated with selling organic products; in reading, they could read about plants that are climate appropriate; and in writing, they could journal their experiences. And, more important, the garden could be used as the centerpiece for teaching about matters associated with the two food groups found on MyPyramid, vegetables and fruit. A garden also lends itself to teaching children about the responsibilities of caring for living organisms. Each classroom could be assigned to research what it takes to effectively grow plants in the respective climates, and teams of volunteers could keep a schedule to ensure that the crops will be bountiful.
Have a Healthy Eating and Physical Activity Day
Many schools already have an annual ﬁeld day, which is generally offered near the end of the school year, where students spend an entire day engaged in sorts of physical activity outside and in the gym. The spirit of that day is a fun one with the ambiance of a well-organized festival as the students rotate between planned outdoor and sports games, physical contests, play with recreation equipment, or free play where they decide what to play (hide-and-go-seek, tag). Consider having such an event more than once a year or offering supplementary condensed versions on a half day or Saturday morning. Use World Health Day, which is generally held in April, to motivate youngsters to think about health far beyond their communities. World Health Day themes in the past have included urbanization and health (2010), protecting health from climate change (2008), and working together for health (2006). Teachers could use such an event to instruct children to research an aspect of health (including dietary practices) and teach others about it. Such a health and wellness fair would give community members, especially medical practitioners, the opportunity to conduct health screenings and inform others how to effectively maintain their health. An international food fair could also be held that afforded the children the opportunity to prepare and sample a variety of healthy meals and dishes that effectively integrated the food groups represented on MyPyramid (see Figure 2.2).
Sponsor an Adapted Version of a Marathon
An adapted marathon can motivate children to become physically active as well as raise awareness about a particular cause. Of course, children are not developmentally able to run in a bonaﬁde marathon, but they can take part in a friendly race of sorts modiﬁed for their age-appropriate abilities. The school and community could sponsor their own version of a walk-, jog-, dance-, or bike-a-thon for children and their families. A variant of Hoop It Up (www.hoopitup.com) could also be organized where the children could use their basketball skills to make as many baskets as possible. Another idea worth considering is Jump Rope for Heart (www.americanheart.org) where children jump rope to raise money for the American Heart Association. (Each year schools nationwide raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to support children with heart disorders that require costly treatments. One school alone raised nearly $67,000). Alternatively, a mini marathon could be offered where the children could walk, jog, dance, jump rope and so forth during a 20-minute time period other than recess (children should have recess for play that they initiate and direct) (Alliance for Childhood, 2009). To arouse their interest, the principal or local celebrity (e.g., a news anchor) could be asked to lead the way, or their caregivers, friends, or neighbors could be invited to join. Last, if weather is a persistent issue and it is too cold or hot outside for these sorts of activities, a local indoor mall could be used.
Encourage Healthy Parties
Major holidays are regularly celebrated in this country with a party. Schools enlighten children about national holidays, with many teachers electing to close out their lessons with a ceremonial classroom party replete with sweet treats. Traditionally, the party feasts included markedly sugary sorts of pastries and candies. In light of the childhood obesity crisis, however, school districts more recently have imposed policies that curb the amount of confections in the classrooms, which is a noteworthy practice. Be that as it may, teachers should be encouraged to plan for classroom parties that are healthier for children but still convey that spirit of festivity. For instance, the children could be invited to bring fruit, vegetables, or healthy dishes, or the party itself could be about taste tests (the teacher could even teach a lesson on graphs, supply and demand, or comparisons) or learning how to prepare a meal. Physical activity could serve as a corresponding theme that challenges the students to move for the duration of the party. Or they could learn and play a series of fun games.
Revise School Routines
It may seem easier to get Congress to pass an act than it is to get district personnel to change a school routine. Administrators, faculty, staff, and parents are often resistant to change because there is comfort in familiar procedures and it can take lead time to work though the complications associated with a new routine. However, school routines should be examined to determine if changes could occur before, during, and after school to enhance children’s health. For that reason, consider the feasibility of making changes such as having parents drop off and pick up their children farther away from the building (so they walk more) on nice days; having an extra 10- or 15-minute period of physical activity (including stretching) before class starts; offering PE on a daily basis; increasing the amount of time children have at recess or adding an extra short period of time where they play freely; organizing a walk- or bike-to-school event (see KidsWalk-to-School at www.cdc.gov for additional information on this community-based program and Figure 7.3 for goals associated with International Walk-to-School Month, October); providing healthy snacks, fruit, and vegetables throughout the day at no to low cost for children; and inviting children to bring water bottles from which they can drink throughout the day. These kinds of changes may seem lofty, but they are achievable with an army of volunteers who could lift some of the burden that teachers would assume to monitor and safeguard the children.
Offer Attractive Before- and After-School Programs
Another approach to encourage children to pursue health is to offer them before- and after-school programs focused entirely on healthy eating or physical activity. Many schools already offer care for children apart from school hours where they are tutored, helped with homework, or provided fun sorts of activities. Consider, however, creating a series of classes, a club, or a team where groups of students gather to learn a skill that leads to a practice that contributes positively toward health. Think about creating a jogging, walking, biking, or stretching club; offering classes on yoga, dance, or the martial arts; opening the playground, gym, and ﬁelds to allow children to play freely (with supervision); and teaching children how to play a speciﬁc sport, giving them the opportunity to practice and try out for a team and then compete with others. To attract as many participants as possible, offer a variety of programs that accommodate a wide range of interests and developmental abilities. Also consider sponsoring a cooking class where the children learn to prepare healthy meals and snacks for themselves and their family members. Schools often fund after-school tutoring to help children pass their state’s standardized test. Why not offer tutoring on how to become a healthier person?
Read Jump Start Health! Practical Ideas to Promote Wellness in Kids of All Age for an in depth analysis of wellness initiatives and solutions.
Featured Image: “Swing playground” public domain via Pixabay