There are many reasons parents and public officials are calling for stronger wellness programs within schools. Childhood obesity is quickly becoming an epidemic, more and more students are being diagnosed with diabetes, and still more children are developing unhealthy habits from early on that will carry them into an even more unhealthy adulthood.
Since children spend most of their day in school, schools are being called upon to implement the programs and instill the habits that will encourage a healthier lifestyle. But, where to begin? Where can schools start when it comes to beginning the programs and practices that will lead to healthier students?
Here are 4 simple places to start.
Shockingly, the programs most at risk of being cut to make room for testing preparation are the classes that children need the most, classes like recess and physical education (PE). By High School, PE is optional and only a small percentage report participating through their senior year. This means students run the risk of sitting still for almost their entire eight hour day.
But, studies show that physical movement can increase focus and attention and decrease discipline problems. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that children and adolescents ages 6-17 should engage in 60 minutes of activity every day. Students that do, show improved cognitive skills and academic achievement. Schools can encourage students to get up and move by implementing yoga breaks and programs either throughout the day or after school. Whatever schools do to encourage movement, the fact is that kids need to get up and move.
This may seem obvious, but still many schools are opting for grab and go options rather than balanced meals. These meals are often packed with calories and preservatives and may even come straight out of a vending machine. (Then, after these meals, students are returning to their seats and see very little movement the rest of day!)
But, times are changing and so are regulations. SChools are now being required to set mandates for nutrition which means out with the vending machines. But, before these can into effect, schools can simply start offering more options including fruits and vegetables.
Meditation and Mindfulness
The same positive benefits of introducing students to more movement can be also be seen from introducing them to meditation and mindfulness. When students take time be quiet, focus on what they are feeling and strengthen their mind-body health, you will often see improvements in behaviors and educational performance. Quick to anger students can learn to calm down quickly and learn techniques to control their emotions.
Some schools have already introduced these techniques, often in place of punishments such as detention, and are seeing positive results. As stress (whether from school or home situations) is often the number one barrier to learning, introducing the techniques to help students deal with stress is the best way to make sure they are ready to learn and prepared to face challenges.
Exposure to Nature
While kids are up and moving, try taking them outside. Adults know how good it feels to step out of the office after a long day and breathe in fresh air and feel the sunshine. Well, students also crave this exposure. Exposure to nature stimulates a child’s growth and contributes to healthy development. Being outside can raise Vitamin D levels and protect students from future bone and heart issues.
And, with kids permanently glued to their electronic devices, they are often missing opportunities to develop an appreciation for nature and therefore develop a responsibility toward their environment. If children are our future, they should be children that see the beauty of the world around them and the value in protecting it.
While these are just small places to start, introducing these simple techniques into a child’s everyday routine can make a huge difference in their overall health.