This week, I attended the 2013 Nutrition + Physical Activity Learning Connection Ohio Summit hosted by Ohio Action for Healthy Kids and came home inspired by and impressed with the amazing things being done in schools around Ohio and beyond. I wanted to share some of the innovative ideas I heard. Perhaps some of them will work at your child’s school. Or perhaps they’ll spark a great idea of your own. Though this school year is winding down, there’s plenty of time to think, plan, and dream for next year.
1. Create “Moving Classrooms”.
Quick activity breaks of 5-10 minutes actually help the brain process what was just learned and readies it to move on to another topic. It can be as simple as walking laps around the classroom, doing some yoga stretches alongside the desks, or having the students answer questions in an “active” way: if the answer is true, they hop 5 times; if it’s false they touch their toes. Go here for more activity break ideas and an action plan for presenting the concept at your school.
2. Replace Chairs with Exercise Balls.
One 4th grade teacher here in Ohio swapped out chairs for exercise balls in her classroom. Within just a few months, the students’ grades improved across all subjects, their waist circumference decreased, and their vertical jump increased. Go here to read about how a classroom in Michigan uses them–and check out the StayNPlace Ball that doesn’t move when kids get up.
3. Work to protect recess.
Though research shows enormous benefit of recess on a child’s physical, emotional, and cognitive well-being, it’s common for schools to withhold recess as a punishment for negative behavior. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ 2013 policy statement about recess: “On the basis of an abundance of scientific studies, withholding recess for punitive or academic reasons would seem to be counterproductive to the intended outcomes and may have unintended consequences in relation to a child’s acquisition of important life skills.”
If your school withholds recess as a punishment, consider talking with your teacher or principal about alternative consequences that could be used instead. Go here for statistics and ideas from Center for Science in the Public Interest to get you started.
4. Arm parents with the right resources.
As one presenter said at the summit, “Parents want to do the right thing. We just need to give them the tools to do the right thing.” One school in Ohio received a grant to give parents valuable resources in the form of cooking skills. They arranged for a chef to teach a class at the school for parents about using a slow cooker. Even better: There was enough money in the grant to send every family home with their own slow cooker.
5. Let older students be role models.
In one Ohio school district, high school students were trained to teach younger kids about healthy eating. They also organized a K-12 Field Day, where the younger kids rotated through stations that were manned by the older kids. When young children see the “big kids” modeling good nutrition and physical activity, it may be even more powerful than seeing teachers and parents doing the same.
Find your state’s chapter of Action for Healthy Kids.
Disclaimer: The American Dairy Association Mideast paid for my conference registration and compensated me for my time. I’m so grateful for the opportunity!