School Wellness In Action: Programs That Rock (Part 1)

by Sally on September 17, 2012

Parents passed out handfuls of raw sunflower sprouts during recess--and the kids ate them. Really!

As parents, it’s easy to feel powerless when it comes to school food (readers of the great blog The Lunch Tray know that it takes a lot more than spunk and determination to change policies).

But in the meantime, there are many ways–big and small–that we can help make our children’s schools healthier places. Right now.

I’m lucky enough to send my child to a public school where the principal, teachers, and PTA value and support wellness. I’m on our PTA’s Wellness Committee–and we do some pretty cool stuff for our kids.

This is the first of three posts highlighting the wellness activities at my child’s school. I hope you’ll get ideas and inspiration from these programs. I’m also hoping you’ll share info about your school’s programs in the comments section, so we can all be inspired!

The Health Challenge

Every spring, our students get excited about the Health Challenge, a fantastic program created five years ago by school parent and dietitian Emia Oppenheim (who founded our school’s Wellness Committee and blogs at Healthy Kids Healthy Families). Kids log their healthy food choices and physical activity for a week. They earn points for things like eating dark green veggies, drinking milk and water instead of soft drinks, helping to cook a healthy meal, and having foods such as beans or fish. The more physical activity they get—whether it’s walking to school, playing outside, or doing sports—the more points they earn as well.

We also give every class a nutrition lesson, focusing around the theme of the Health Challenge. Last year’s theme was “Eat Real Food, Play Real Hard”, so we talked to the kids about the importance of eating whole foods,  the drawbacks of heavy food processing, and the value of play and exercise instead of  TV and video games.

We taught the kids how to count teaspoons of added sugar in processed foods.

Each day during the week-long Health Challenge,  the Wellness Committee arranges to have healthy food samples on the playground during recess. We’ve had local farmers bring sunflower sprouts (which the kids devoured!), a restaurant serve guacamole, and a neighborhood market make smoothies on site.

Fresh fruit smoothies are a big hit on the playground.

We also have different activities for the kids to try during recess that week, like martial arts, yoga, and even breakdancing.

Students learn Down Dog on the playground.

We make the Health Challenge prizes active, fun, and motivating: A free night of swimming at a local indoor pool or a bounce party at a trampoline park for the top point earners.

Last year, more than 75 percent of our students participated in the Health Challenge, and we consistently get terrific response from kids, parents, and teachers. Parents tell me that they cooked meals together, took family walks after dinner, that their child was downright excited about picking out new vegetables at the grocery store, and how much they loved having the TV off all week (kids who skip screen time get 20 extra points a day!).

So what did this cost us? Not much. Here’s how we did it:

  • All of the food samples and fitness demos on the playground were free. Farmers, restaurants, and markets donated food. Fitness instructors donated their time.
  • The local indoor pool and trampoline park gave us discounts.
  • Two kind-hearted dietetics students from the local university helped me with the classroom education. Another college student did our graphics–including our t-shirt logo–for free.
  • Our Wellness Committee worked long and hard. Ditto for the parent volunteers who showed up each day during our Health Challenge recess activities to help pass out food, swing jump ropes, or play pick-up basketball.
  • We sold shirts to raise money for more wellness programming.

Our shirts raise money for even more wellness programming (and send a great message).

I’d love to hear about wellness-related activities at your child’s school, so I hope you’ll share the details in the comments section!

Read: Programs That Rock (Part 2) and Field Trips, Field Day & What You Can Do

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