Archive for July, 2012


School Lunch Learning Lab Ideas

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

School nutrition staff across the country are preparing to implement the new school meal guidelines this upcoming year. You may or may not work in school nutrition, but all the ideas below are adaptable to any classroom. Turn your school’s cafeteria, and your classrooms, into a true “learning lab” during this transition with these suggestions to build awareness, excitement and fun for kids!

Provide a “blast” of MyPlate information in the cafeteria. Devote a month to promote MyPlate along with the new meal guideline changes.

  • Hang MyPlate posters, create MyPlate table tops and develop educational bulletin boards.
  • Highlight a healthy menu change from the new meal guidelines that kids will be seeing in the cafeteria; such as Fruits & Veggies Every Day the Tasty Way or Breakfast GO Power from Whole Grains.
  • Offer a “learning center” in the cafeteria. Set up a table displaying MyPlate trivia facts or healthy crossword puzzle handouts, which can be found in the Explore MyPlate with School Nutrition booklet.
  • Provide a healthy competition! Scramble the words for the MyPlate food groups and print as handouts. Let the kids unscramble the words and those that turn in their corrected sheets, get a healthy prize.

Finding grant funding for Physical Education in tough economic times

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

Paul Rosengard

Across the country, we have seen decreases in funding for Physical Education (PE), yet more and more reporting of issues related to children’s health and obesity.  Research shows schools can play important roles by teaching children how to live healthy lifestyles.  Therefore, it is imperative schools and districts find alternate means to pay for essential programs like PE.  Grants are one viable way schools can supplement funding for their PE programs.  Below, find helpful tips on where to find grants and how to effectively submit one on behalf of your school or district. Finding grant funding for Physical Education in tough economic times

Finding the Best Grant for YOU:

There are typically three types of grants schools apply for– federal, state, and local.  The Internet is a great tool to find grants either in your geographical area or available nationally to support the PE project you/your district have in mind.  Once you begin this process, check the grant websites for due dates and deadlines; then sign-up for any newsletters or social marketing networks the website offers.  This will ensure you receive all information concerning new grants.

Good places to find PE grants online:

  • SPARK Grant-Finder for PE (sparkpe.org/grants/grantfunding-resources)
  • The Foundation Center (fdncenter.org)
  • Fundsnet (fundsnetservices.com)
  • Government (grants.gov, afterschool.gov, ed.gov)
  • NASPE (aahperd.org/naspe)
  • SchoolGrants (schoolgrants.org)

Once you have identified which grant is the best fit for your district, review the proper wording and the key elements that need to be addressed.  Create a checklist for yourself and make sure you fulfill each requirement before submission.  The entire process may seem overwhelming, but there are concrete things you can do to avoid panicking.

First, ensure everyone in your organization is supportive of the grant you are applying for and what you are trying to accomplish.  It is essential your board agrees with what you are trying to do. Another key is to ensure the grant you selected aligns with the needs of your organization.  The goal of a grant is to implement positive change and you need both board agreement and grant alignment.  Don’t rewrite your project or idea to fit the grant you are applying for.  Rather, find a grant that aligns with your needs.

Submitting your grant:

When submitting your grant, it is always best to include data.  It can be the results of your fitness tests, or the school health index your district completed.  Research helps granting organizations know you and your PE project are serious and understand that data drives outcomes.  Also include any community partnerships you currently have.  Applications are always stronger when they show support from the community and a variety of stakeholders.

The narrative portion of your grant is likely where much of the heavy lifting will occur.  Your narrative section should be clear, concise, and to the point.  Try to identify the changes you anticipate will occur during the life of the grant and how you will recalibrate and move forward.  Be sure to address any problems within your organization that the grant will address and how you will measure the change you anticipate.  A timeline is a great way to show an organization or agency how you will assess and measure change.  When creating a timeline, be sure to spread your activities over a longer period of time than you think is necessary.  It is natural to want to accomplish everything in the first year to show what you are doing and solicit the support of others, but it is more important to execute every step thoroughly and correctly to yield results.

Overall your proposal should be specific, reasonable, realistic, accurate, and flexible.  Include any additional revenue you have and be sure your revenue is consistent with your narrative.  Your budget will show reviewers how you plan to spend the grant money.  Reviewers will focus on your budget so your numbers should show you have done your homework regarding how much everything will cost.  Ensure you do not have all even numbers in your budget, otherwise it could be a red flag to reviewers that you have not looked into the actual costs to achieve the goals of your grant.  Remember, the money you need to spend is to achieve your organization’s goal, so be as accurate and realistic as possible.

Upon completing your grant application be sure to have someone else review it.  This ensures you:  Completed the necessary forms accurately, matched the project funder’s guidelines, and read all the questions carefully.  If you are missing parts of your application, it can lead to your grant submission being glanced over or even dismissed.  Having a second pair of eyes ensures everything prior to submission is accurate and complete.

Follow up with the grant:

After submitting your grant, be sure to save all documents and information.  Applying for a grant is not always a sure thing.  It can take a few submissions before your grant is accepted.  Saving all your previously written grants will save time and effort.  Remember, grant reviewers want to see the need of your target audience and how you will fulfill that need.  By ensuring your application is clear and concise, and by remaining persistent, you can help the students in your school district receive the quality physical education they deserve.

Paul Rosengard is Executive Director of the SPARK Programs and he has worked directly and indirectly on more than 100 grants and special projects in over 30 years as a physical educator.

Promoting Healthy Bodies and Healthy Body Image for Kids

Monday, July 16th, 2012

Promoting Healthy BodiesWhen our kids look into the mirror, what do you think they see?

Many kids have physically healthy bodies; many kids have healthy body images.

Unfortunately, there might be a growing number of young people who have only one or the other—or neither. Some kids are taking drastic measures to fix their perceived faults, while others have taken to the Internet to prove that a healthy body and a healthy body image are not connected by default.

Here’s the debate: How do we teach our kids to balance the need to have a healthy body with the need to feel comfortable in their own skin?

Like a Surgeon

The aspects of an unhealthy body image can include more than being overweight.

According to research published in 2004, “Adolescent patients are seeking plastic surgery to correct deformities or perceived deformities in increasing numbers.” These are problems that include breast augmentations, rhinoplasty, and other non-life-threatening perceived deformities.

The study by the Department of Surgery at the University of California at San Francisco goes on to say that these elective surgeries “can have a positive influence on a mature, well-motivated teenager, while surgery on a psychologically unstable adolescent can be damaging to the patient.”

The website plasticsurgery.org cites some statistics from the Society of Plastic Surgeons:

  • “According to ASPS statistics, 35,000 rhinoplasty procedures were performed on patients age 13-19 in 2010.”
  • “More than 8,500 breast augmentations were performed on 18-19 year olds in 2010.”
  • “Surgical correction of protruding ears… made up 11 percent of all cosmetic surgical procedures performed on this age group in 2010, with more than 8,700 procedures.”

For a young person with a body image disorder to feel so trapped in their body that they take this permanent route to alter their looks says a lot about the culture we provide for them. Since the early 90s, we have grappled with the impact advertising and media outlets have on our kids. From billboards in New York’s Times Square to modeling competitions on cable TV that award tall, lithe, blemish-free women with lucrative contracts, young boys and girls are both learning that it’s normal to be perfect.

So how do we fight back against such a ubiquitous barrage of perfect body imagery?

Weight Just a Minute

But weight—generally seen as the main cause of a poor body image—is perhaps more problematic than premature rhinoplasty procedures. Anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders are common in the age group that includes teens and adolescents. These eating disorders are the result of poor body image, regardless of actual body health.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 17% of children and adolescents are physically obese. That’s a huge number.

With the combination of a sedentary lifestyle and the absence of healthy nutritional choices, children and adults alike become more prone to life threatening medical maladies like heart disease and diabetes.

It’s important for children to stay healthy enough to ward off these serious diseases, while at the same time understanding that a perfect body is a vacant pursuit.

Here’s how to measure a child’s body mass index (BMI). This calculator is helpful in determining if your child has a healthy weight for his or her height (obviously, this isn’t an objective tool. Other factors are at play here that can’t be accounted for, such as the ratio of muscle to fat).

It’s an easy way to find out if your child has a completely normal body type. Once you’ve established that, you can determine how their self-image correlates.

Still, how do we fight back against powerful images of perfect bodies and help our kids feel comfortable in their own skin?

A Body Image is Worth a Thousand Words

If your kid is struggling with body image problems, regardless of whether he or she has a healthy body or not, the best thing you can do is talk with them. Help them understand that the media’s portrayal of the “perfect body” only accounts for about 5 percent of the population, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.

This article on womenshealth.gov gives fantastic pointers about how to help promote healthy body images within our kids, including this key piece of advice: “Parents are role models and should try to follow the healthy eating and physical activity patterns that you would like your children to follow—for your health and theirs.”

You are the best example there is for your kids. How you promote a healthy body image and a healthy body for yourself is paramount to your children doing the same in their own lives.

What if the image your child sees when he or she looks in the mirror is yours?

Promoting Healthy Bodies

How to Create an Anything-but-Sedentary Summer Vacation

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

This summer, instead of lounging around in front of the TV bingeing on chips and soda, create an anything-but-sedentary summer vacation for your family—and yourself.

It’s easier than ever to spend hours and hours sitting in a living room not moving, much to the detriment of your kids’ health and wellness. However, there are ways to get them up and outside again.

Here are some of the best strategies you can use to create a fun, fitness-filled summer vacation for your entire family.How to Create an Anything but Sedentary Summer Vacation

Change the Environment

The biggest reason your kids watch that giant HD TV and play Call of Duty on Xbox Live is because it’s right there, and it’s easy. In fact, video games aren’t just in your home, they’re in your driveway, on your block and at your schools and summer camps.

Obviously, video games aren’t the only reason our kids sit inside all day. There are tons of factors like the weather and the examples they follow.

Examples that we set, even if we don’t realize it.

Change the Habit

Our children follow us more closely than we think. There is plenty of evidence that suggests our kids mimic bad behaviors like smoking, so why wouldn’t they mimic our good behaviors?

The simple act of taking your family on a bike ride, or a walk in the park, or down to the basketball court to shoot some hoops can have a profound impact on how they want to spend their own free time this summer and their future summers too. Especially if they see that patented hook shot you learned back in high school when you were the starting forward for your team (and just like that, you’ve made an impression).

You’ll also create memories that your kids will look back on throughout their lives. We can all surely remember a time when our parents took us camping, or swimming at the lake way up state, or down to the park to play soccer with the neighbors. Pass on those fond memories to your own kids.

Reinvent the Menu

It’s great that you’ll get out and spend some time together as a family, but what happens when you get back home? The food you eat has just as much impact on your family’s well-being as physical exercise.

It’s easy to get back home and wolf down soda and hotdogs and chips—it’s summer after all, and nothing beats grilling outdoors in the afternoon.

Try to choose healthy sides and entrees as often as you can. Obviously you won’t eat vegetarian meals every day, but a break from the pre-packaged, high-fructose, full-of-preservatives stuff is paramount. Nothing beats eating local fruits and vegetables, especially when you grow them in your own garden. The summer months are perfect for gardening, and it’s another chance to spend some time outside.

By serving healthy portions of healthy foods, you’re giving your kids’ a chance to develop into strong, athletic people. Oh, and healthy food makes us smarter too.

Preventing Recidivism

We all know what happens when we jump on the diet train; eventually, we fall off. However, when it comes to our kids, we’d do well to stay on the health and wellness train for life. So how do we keep these habits fresh and interesting for our ever-tempted youth?

Put an exclamation point on your summer vacation with an actual “vacation!” to somewhere fun that requires a bit of physical fitness. For example, if you head to the beach, rent a couple of cruisers and ride up and down the boardwalk, play some beach volleyball, and avoid eating at the breakfast buffet every morning. If you stay local and head to a state park, get out of the hammock and walk a few miles of trails.

When your kids see how much fun an active summer vacation is, unplug the TV. They won’t need it any more.

“Basketball Sky” Photo Credit: Chris Metcalf

Overcoming Challenges to Providing Physical Activity For Preschool-age Children

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

Part One: Time

One of the biggest reasons teachers are not able to provide sufficient amount of minutes of physical activity is time.  With all of the responsibilities teachers have leaves little time for activity.  Instead of giving up, look for ways to integrate activity into your day.  Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Transition time- hop to the next activity, stand like a stork, or walk like an animal, etcTips for Teaching- Overcoming Challenges to PE- Spark PE
  • Center time- create an activity center and students can use locomotor movements to go to next center
  • Literary arts- read books that include movements or have children act out the story
  • Music time- play music that prompts students to do different types of movements
  • Outdoor Time- structured and unstructured activity

For a sample SPARK physical activity lesson, Click Here.

Part Two: Equipment

It would be nice to have brand new equipment with enough for every child to have their own, budget issues don’t always allow this to happen.  Teachers oftenstruggle have little or no materials to provide for their classes. Instead of repeating the same activities or avoiding it altogether, be creative!  Here are some suggestions:

  • You don’t need the same “ball” for everyone.  Think “tossables” instead, use beanbags, fluffballs, tennis balls, etc. Students choose the tossable they want to use!
  • Use materials you have: instead of balls, use crumbled up paper or rolled up socks; instead of spot markers use carpet squares or foam sheets.
  • Do simple games such as tag, simple games, or and musical activities that don’t require equipment.  They are just as fun and improve your health!

For a sample SPARK physical activity lesson including a Family Fun activity to send home, Click Here.

Part 3: Space

So you have created time for activity found equipment for students to use, but you don’t have think you have enough space to move.  What should you do?  There are many ways to get students moving in limited space but it takes a little ingenuity to make it happen.  Some ideas to get you started are to:

  • Outside on grass area or blacktopTips for Teaching- Overcoming Challenges to Providing Physical Activity
  • Area of circle time
  • Move desks, tables, or other furniture out of the way
  • Children can thread around furniture at a slow tempo
  • Search your site for areas that can be used such as hallways or covered entry ways

The key is to give students their own personal space to move and participate.  They don’t have to be running around the room to get activity!

For a sample SPARK physical activity lesson including a Family Fun activity to send home, Click Here.

Early Childhood Teaching Tips: Structured Activity vs Unstructured Activity

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012
The National Association for Sport and Physical Education recommends that preschool-age children should get at least 2 hours of physical activity each day.  An hour of activity should be structured and the other hour unstructured. But what is the difference between these two types of activities?
Structured Activity is:
Planned and directed
Designed for child’s developmental level
Organized activity with an instructional purpose
Unstructured Activity is:
Self-directed
Occurring as children explore their environment
Opportunity to make up games, rules, and play with others
While unstructured activity allows time for creativity, self-expression, cooperation, structured activity is encourages socialization, development of gross motor skills and object control skills, and improves self confidence. The goal is to provide both types of activity each day.
Our sample lesson illustrates unstructured activity during Exploration, a time when children can just play with their fluff balls play near their spot markers. An example of structured and unstructured play in the same lesson is Challenges and Switcheoo. Click Here.

The National Association for Sport and Physical Education recommends that preschool-age children should get at least 2 hours of physical activity each day.  An hour of activity should be structured and the other hour unstructured. But what is the difference between these two types of activities?

Structured Activity is:

  • Planned and directed
  • Designed for child’s developmental level
  • Organized activity with an instructional purpose

Unstructured Activity is:

  • Self-directed
  • Occurring as children explore their environment
  • Opportunity to make up games, rules,and play with others

Tips for Teachers- Structured activity vs. UnstructuredWhile unstructured activity allows time for creativity, self-expression, cooperation, structured activity is encourages socialization, development of gross motor skills and object control skills, and improves self confidence. The goal is to provide both types of activity each day.

Our sample lesson illustrates unstructured activity during Exploration, a time when children can just play with their fluff balls play near their spot markers. An example of structured and unstructured play in the same lesson is Challenges and Switcheoo. Click Here.