People always ask me, “how can I teach my kids to be healthy?” The answer is simple: be the change you want to see in your kids. Kids value what their parents value. The way I see it, we must put the oxygen masks on ourselves first, if we want this generation to grow up healthier than the last.
This is why I volunteered to chair the Wellness Committee at our neighborhood elementary school this year. I think it’s a great way to rally our community around a shared goal.
In the past, we had a small committee that put in a lot of hours to execute Wellness Week. For the 2013-14 school year, however, we have a committee of 70 parents and faculty members, who have been asked to commit a total of 10 hours of volunteer time, between September and May. Most of their responsibilities can be scheduled at their convenience. I am hoping that this will be the key to our success: rallying a lot of leaders around a common cause, making it convenient to participate, and creating new opportunities to engage with students about what it means to be healthy.
The response to our new programs has been overwhelming. Of course, we had a little bit of a head start, because we live in a community that already values good health. Why not give them a chance to share their enthusiasm for all things healthy, within the school?
I spent a good part of the summer and the entire month of September thinking about how we can teach healthy habits on a $500 budget. It made me realize that we don’t need money to inspire our kids to create healthy habits. All we need is relationship capital, a platform to share what we love, and a small investment of time.
The programs we are adding to our school this year are so simple, that I think that every school in America could adopt them. It’s time to start a Wellness Revolution, and it begins by engaging our kids in more healthy activities.
Here’s whats working for us, that might also work for your school. It’s been awesome watching parents and teachers get fired up about wellness…it’s such a reminder of how connected we all are!
Most of our activities have been consolidated into a single week that we call “Wellness Week”, but you could do them at your school, any time during the year:
1. Healthy tips during morning announcements. We have parent volunteers sharing healthy tips during morning announcements each day this week. I created scripts for the parents who wanted them, and asked the parents who are subject matter experts create their own. Some of the topics are 10 Ways To Eat More Veggies, 10 Healthy Breakfast Foods, Breathing Exercises, and Stretching Exercises. This is one of our moms, leading yesterday’s healthy tip, which was a mindfulness exercise.
2. Healthy games on the playground. Parent volunteers are leading fun exercises during recess, every day this week. Our recess runs 11 AM-1:30 PM, so there are two 75 minute shifts. School is closed this Friday, and we have two campuses, so this requires a total of 16 volunteers for 75 minutes each (2 schools x 4 days x 2 shifts). Each day is a different game. Yesterday was Simon Says Exercise, today is Silly Animal Walk Races, tomorrow is Yoga, and Thursday is Freeze Dance. I don’t think it matters what games are played, as long as the parents have fun leading them!
3. Healthy snacks in the classroom. We created a healthy snack list, and asked parents to pick a day to share a healthy snack with the entire class, each day during Wellness Week. This is such a simple, but effective way for parents to role model healthy habits!
4. Teacher gifts. We printed labels that say “Happy Wellness Week!”, stuck them to a LARA BAR, and placed one in each teacher’s mailbox. This was the only thing I spent money on for Wellness Week. If you want to save money, you could skip the treats, and print a healthy recipe, or simply write each teacher a note that says Happy Wellness Week! It’s the thought that counts.
5. Walk To School Day. This does require some coordination, for safety reasons, but it does not cost money. Tomorrow is National Walk To School Day, but you could plan one of your own at any time. To encourage participation, we have a local vendor donating T-shirts, and our parent volunteers will work with our crossing guards to ensure safety for all children. It’s a great way to teach kids that walking can be fun!
6. Create a Wellness Ambassador Program. This is what we are doing outside of Wellness Week, to keep the conversations going all year long. I recruited volunteers from each of our 52 classes, who will lead a healthy activity in the classroom six times during the school year. Our volunteers will use standardized lessons that I am creating, but your school might want to just ask parents to make smoothies in the class, lead stretches, or help kids create and stick to a “Wellness Resolution” (like a New Year’s resolution!). It is the volunteer’s attitude and enthusiasm, more than the activities, that matter most.
7. Ask the faculty what they think. Invite teachers and administrators to meet with you monthly, or bi-monthly, to help shape wellness initiatives for your school. Seek to understand how wellness initiatives might help them be more effective in their jobs. Our teachers are required to teach health lessons, so our ambassadors can actually take some of the weight off their shoulders, if we plan our lessons in ways that support them. You might be surprised by how new healthy intitiatives can create win-win experiences for everyone in the school!
The more we invest in our own health, talk about our disciplines, and make our efforts visible to our community, the faster we will shift what our community values. We don’t need to spend money to create a healthier culture, we just need to take a stand for what we believe, practice what we preach, and bring everyone we know along for the ride.