Schools play an integral role in improving the health and wellness of youth populations. Healthy behaviors are learned in school and research has proven that healthy students are better learners. Are you are teacher, school administrator, or director of a youth program who wants to advance the academic performance of your students? If so, it is time to serve as a health and wellness ambassador. Here are five simple and fun ways to promote health and wellness in your classroom.
Keep students active throughout the day. Studies show that physical activity improves children’s achievement and cognitive ability. Incorporate movement games into daily lesson plans. For example, have a spelling bee where students do a jumping jack after each letter or play catch during a review game. Tell students to stand in a circle and give one student a small ball. Ask a review question to the student holding the ball. The student must answer correctly before tossing the ball to another student.
Other ideas include taking walk or stretch breaks every couple of hours. Take students outside or to the drinking fountain. Create a weekly calendar or afternoon exercises to do in the classroom. Even just five-minute bursts of physical activity can get students’ blood flowing and help them refocus!
Integrate nutrition education into lesson plans
Play games that explore healthy eating. Create flashcards or posters with healthy food items versus unhealthy foods. For example, french fries or baked potato; soda or water; fried chicken or grilled chicken. Provide coloring sheets or word searches related to nutrition. For a long-term project have students create a healthy cookbook. A cookbook can be adapted to many different subjects: practice addition and subtraction, fractions, chemistry, or spelling and grammar. Encourage students to ask family members for recipe ideas or help them research fun recipes to try.
Practice guided breathing exercises
Benefits of guided breathing (or meditation) for kids include increased focus, improved coping mechanisms, increased self-esteem, and better overall mental health. Try a short-guided breathing exercise before a test or after recess. Meditation helps students feel more empowered and calm. Check out this resource for meditation exercises for children.
Rethink student rewards and parties
Instead of rewarding students with candy or sweets, give nonfood rewards such as stickers, pencils, or extra recess time. If you allow students to bring in food for snacks and/or parties suggest healthy options such as carrot sticks, portable yogurt, fruit, or whole wheat crackers. Instead of a donut party have a fruit pizza party. During a movie make air-popped popcorn and bring in seasonings for the kids to try. Encourage students to drink more water by allowing them to carry a water bottle and schedule trips to the drinking fountain.
Implement a weekly wellness challenge
Make eating healthy and exercising fun! Each week come up with a new challenge for students to try. Examples include “eat 3 servings of fruits and vegetables a day” or “get 30 minutes of physical activity after school.” Have students track and record their progress throughout the week. Coordinate with physical education teachers and after-school educators to create programs for students to engage in physical activity and nutrition education outside of the classroom. Reward successful participants with extra recess time or other nonfood rewards.
Are you ready to transform your classroom? Be a health role model for your students. Spread positive health messages and approach health and wellness topics with enthusiasm. If you stick to it, your students will be more relaxed and perform better in their studies. Remember, healthy classrooms are happy classrooms!