Monday, May 15, 2017

Guest Post: Local Teacher's Tips For Cultivating Healthy Classrooms

One of this blog's long time readers is a local teacher, Heather Crysdale. On Facebook she regularly adds thoughtful comments to my posts around kids and school - so much so that I asked her if she'd be interested in writing a guest post with some of her ideas on how to make a classroom a healthy place. Happily she agreed! Here are her thoughts - proving that yes, you can cultivate healthy classrooms, it just takes some thought and creativity:

Modelling Healthy Living in a Primary Classroom:

It can be a challenge to create a classroom where healthy activity levels and food choices are promoted. Here are some of the ways I try to promote healthy lifestyles in my classroom.

Modelling Health Activity Levels:

Being an active Role Model:
The students know that I am an older teacher (e.g., 55 plus) and that I make a conscious effort to stay active. They see me walk to school daily with my husband and little dog, rain or shine, in all seasons. I share with them when I plan to go skate skiing, kayaking, cycling or to go to the yoga studio. I think it is important for them to see people of all ages, and genders, being active.

On May 7th (2017) the families in my class raised $500, to support my CN Cycle for CHEO (Ericsson 70 km) ride.

Physical Fitness Embedded in Daily Physical Activities (DPA), Gym and Special Event Days:

During the autumn and the spring, students do a morning run three times a week, and a group dance (Dancemania) twice a week before heading up to class. In the winter, students do body break dances on Go Noodle (https://www.gonoodle.com) or stair climbing in school for their DPA. We also have special fitness based days (e.g., a Winter Walk to School Day, a Bike Day, five days of Skating at Dulude Arena, etc.) With staff and students taking part in these activities, fitness and fun is the goal for everyone!

Modelling Healthy Eating Habits:

Setting an Example with Nutritious Lunches:

When the students see me eating a healthy lunch (e.g., a sandwich, soup, salad and/or leftovers from home), I am modelling good choices for them. When I see students enjoying a healthy food item during a Nutrition Break, I might comment on how tasty the food looks. If a child has a less healthy food item in their lunch bag, it is not up to me to critique the food choice. Food shaming is disrespectful, unhealthy and poor behaviour modelling for a teacher. Packed lunches from home reflect a family’s food culture, food prep skills and/or budget.

Mindful Eating:

At our school, we make a real effort to encourage the students to eat mindfully. At the beginning of the year, I bring in a basket of apples from the Parkdale Market. Each child gets to hold an apple, while listening to the story No Ordinary Apple. A Story About Eating Mindfully. Students are reminded to eat their food slowly and quietly, using all five senses to truly enjoy their food. Students show more gratitude for their food, when they learn how it got to their plate (from seed to platter)!

Food-Free Birthdays Celebrations:

If every birthday in class was celebrated with Pinterest worthy treats, the students would have cupcakes and candies at least 20 times in the school year. In my classroom, I encourage parents to provide food- free birthday treats to celebrate student birthdays. I heard about this idea at an OPHEA (Ontario Physical Health and Education Association) conference. Parents have followed through by sending in dollar store bouncy balls that each child used in the gym, by sending in Perler beads for the students to make Melty bead creations and by donating games and puzzles for the students to enjoy on the birthday, and afterwards too. The students enjoy these birthday games, crafts and puzzles!

Activity Based Holiday Treats:

Special holidays, like Halloween and Valentine’s Day, can mean overindulging in candy corn, caramels, cinnamon hearts and chocolate kisses. Instead, the students might have roasted Pumpkin seeds or fruit skewers as a treat. On these special days, the students in my class usually get a little gift bag from me. Instead of giving them food items, I always make them a handmade, handwritten card. Gift ideas might include themed pencils, erasers, notebooks, books and passes to skate or swim at City of Ottawa pools and arenas. The students enjoy the writing, reading and sporting activities!

Sugar and Salt Free Math Activities:

Instead of using food items for graphing and sorting, the students in my class use Legos, plastic counters and other reusable manipulatives. Or, they use seasonal materials found in nature (e.g., leaves, pine cones and oak keys). They still enjoy sorting and graphing, without having to eat unhealthy foods in the process.

A Focus on Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Rewards:


One of the tenets of our Alternative school is that we do not give out rewards for good behaviour, effort or work. The goal is to have students behave well, make an effort and work hard, and then experience the intrinsic satisfaction of a job well done. That means no stickers or other extrinsic rewards…and therefore no candies or other sugary treats!

Tower Gardening:

One of my teaching colleagues, Tiiu Tsao, is growing greens in her classroom (e.g., Leaf lettuce, Yau Choy and Basil). She has borrowed the Tower Garden from the Parkdale Food market. The students had an opportunity to taste the produce that they grew. Pure Kitchen is purchasing the produce for its restaurant. Profits from the sale of these greens to Pure Kitchen are then returned to the Parkdale Food Market. What a great way to learn about fresh food growing, harvesting and eating!

On these special days, the students in my class usually get a little gift bag from me. Instead of giving them food items, I always make them a handmade, handwritten card. Gift ideas might include themed pencils, erasers, notebooks, books and passes to skate or swim at City of Ottawa pools and arenas. The students enjoy the writing, reading and sporting activities!

Growing Up Organic:

Several other colleagues are working toward creating an on-site school garden. Growing Up Organic (a garden and farm based educational program for children) is providing startup workshops for students. The workshops include the following topics: soil exploration, seed saving, planning a garden, planting a salad garden, seed starting and transplanting. The goal is to teach students greater food literacy and food skills. Ideally, they hope to create a sustainable garden that produces produce that can be shared amongst community members, including the Parkdale Food Centre.

Conclusion:

It takes a community to create an environment where children can learn, by example and through practice, to develop life-long fitness and nutritional habits. Together, we can make a difference!

Heather Crysdale is a teacher at Churchill Alternative Public School. She has been teaching in the Public School system for over 30 years. In 2014, Heather was awarded the Ottawa Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) Staff Health and Safety Award, for making an outstanding and significant contribution, over an extended period of time, to Health and Safety. Heather has been married to Douglas Abraham for 25 years. She is the mother of two twenty-something young men. Heather enjoys paddling her sprint kayak on the Rideau River. She likes to swim, cycle and skate ski in the Gatineau Park, and practice yoga at Pure Yoga. She is constantly seeking ways to move and eat well as well as to promote healthy lifestyles. In her spare time she likes to make cards and to knit!

The opinions expressed in this post are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the ideas of the Ottawa Carleton District School Board.


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