Archive for February, 2014


Heart-Healthy Ingredients to Pack in Your Children’s Lunchboxes

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014
In honor of American Heart Month, we’ve been covering some matters of the heart, including how to promote heart health in our children. Today, we’re talking about packing heart-healthy lunches to fuel their minds, bodies, and spirits all throughout the school day.
Check out these 10 ingredients to rotate through your child’s lunchbox to keep their tickers in tip-top shape.
Fruits and Veggies
An absolute must for a heart-healthy meal, fruits and veggies should take up the most tummy space.
Apples
There really is truth to the old adage, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Apples are high in fiber and vitamin C and contain lots of potassium, too. And they taste great and fulfill that need for something crunchy and sweet.
Bonus tips: Pre-sliced apples are perfect for little hands. To make lunch prep a breeze, invest in an apple slicer ($5-10 online and in various stores). Put apple slices in a baggie or reusable container with some lemon or lime juice to keep them tasting fresh and from turning brown.
Bananas
Another good one for the lunchbox is the banana. Like apples, they have lots of fiber, vitamin C, and potassium. Unlike the apple, you can have a good bit of fun pretending to be a monkey while you munch your lunch.
Oranges
Lower in calories than apples and bananas, oranges are loaded with vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. They’re also a good alternative for kids who prefer their fruit sliced and peeled for them. Unlike apples and bananas, they don’t turn that “icky” brown color when sliced before serving.
Pears
Higher in vitamin C than a banana and more fiber and potassium than an apple, pears are another crunchy, sweet alternative for the healthy lunchbox crowd. Pears are also slightly softer and easier to chew than apples, which can be a mouth-pleaser for younger children.
Baby Carrots
These little orange beauties are chockablock full of vitamin A and are fun to eat both plain and with a healthy dip (see recipe below!). Skip the chips and dip these babies! Crunchy, sweet, and oh-so-good for you, too.
Broccoli
Raw, one cup of broccoli florets contains almost as much vitamin C as an orange. If your kids prefer cooked broccoli, lightly steam the florets and then chill them in the fridge. Steaming takes away some of the bite of raw broccoli and makes it easier for picky eaters to get their much-needed greens.
Cherry or Grape Tomatoes
Full of vitamin C and really fun to pop in your mouth, tiny tomatoes make another excellent lunchbox add. Pair them up with a tasty yogurt dip and you double the fun and the taste.
Protein and Fat
Two very important nutrients to pack in the lunchbox are protein and fat. While fat in general doesn’t have the best reputation, healthy amounts of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat are integral to a heart-healthy diet. Try these ingredients:
Low-fat cheese
No need to go overboard, but a serving-sized wedge of a tasty low-fat cheese gives your child protein, calcium, and a yummy lunch all in one.
Tuna
Skip the overly processed lunchmeats and go for heart-healthy tuna instead, which offers protein and the healthy fats mentioned above. If your child isn’t a fan of fish, choose the least-processed lunch meats possible or bake and slice free-range chicken and turkey breasts for delicious homemade sandwiches.
Tip: Choose only 100% whole grain bread made with the least ingredients possible. Skip brands that include extra sugar in their recipe, or go all-in and make your own bread.
Unsalted and/or Raw Nuts and Seeds
Whether it’s a serving of sunflower seeds, almonds, walnuts, or other wonderful crunchies, nuts and seeds add protein, healthy fats and variety to any school lunch box. Remember those apples, bananas, and pears from above? Wholesome peanut butter (the only ingredient you need is peanuts!) with a sprinkle of cinnamon makes for a tasty treat.
Whole Grains
We can’t forget the benefits of wholesome whole grains! Avoid processed flour products and go for 100% whole grain items that maintain the healthy components of the grain.
Crunchy breadsticks
Forget the high-fat, high-sodium chips, pretzels, and crackers. Pack yummy, crunchy homemade breadsticks instead. (If following this recipe, skip the all-purpose flour and use 100% whole wheat only. Choose a whole wheat baking flour, which will maintain a lighter, more pleasing texture.) Thick and chewy or thin and crispy, the choice is yours. Flavor them with herbs, garlic and onion, cinnamon, fruit—anything your kids like. Some homemade tomato sauce provides a yummy and heart-healthy dip on the side.
Brown Rice, Quinoa, or Oatmeal
These wholesome whole grains can be flavored any way you like them and fill up little tummies with fiber that keeps them energized all day long.
Healthy Yogurt Dip Recipe
Ingredients:
1 cup plain Greek yogurt like Fage (wholesome Greek yogurt has no extra sugar and lots of healthy protein)
1 tablespoon finely chopped green onion
3 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
1 tablespoon minced fresh dill (or use dried dill, but less)
1 tablespoon minced fresh chives
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
It’s so easy—just mix everything in a small bowl and chill overnight. Store the dip in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days.
Giving your kids healthy, appetizing choices for their lunchboxes ensures that they’re receiving support for healthy eating habits even when they are away from home. Some other good-for-you lunch choices are hard-boiled eggs, unsalted popcorn, and raisins/other no-sugar-added dried fruits.
And don’t forget to help quench little thirsts. Good choices for a reusable water bottle are unsweetened juice, water, and milk (add a little wholesome cocoa powder and vanilla extract for a chocolaty treat).
Lunch time doesn’t have to be boring, unhealthy, or stick to the same old routine. Give your kids a heart-healthy treasure chest of goodies they’ll be excited to munch on every day. While you’re at it, pack these wholesome ingredients in your own lunch, too!

In honor of American Heart Month, we’ve been covering some matters of the heart, including how to promote heart health in our children. Today, we’re talking about packing heart-healthy lunches to fuel their minds, bodies, and spirits all throughout the school day.

Check out these 10 ingredients to rotate through your child’s lunchbox to keep their tickers in tip-top shape.

Fruits and Veggies

An absolute must for a heart-healthy meal, fruits and veggies should take up the most tummy space.

Apples

There really is truth to the old adage, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Apples are high in fiber and vitamin C and contain lots of potassium, too. And they taste great and fulfill that need for something crunchy and sweet.

Bonus tips: Pre-sliced apples are perfect for little hands. To make lunch prep a breeze, invest in an apple slicer ($5-10 online and in various stores). Put apple slices in a baggie or reusable container with some lemon or lime juice to keep them tasting fresh and from turning brown.

Bananas

Another good one for the lunchbox is the banana. Like apples, they have lots of fiber, vitamin C, and potassium. Unlike the apple, you can have a good bit of fun pretending to be a monkey while you munch your lunch.

Oranges

Lower in calories than apples and bananas, oranges are loaded with vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. They’re also a good alternative for kids who prefer their fruit sliced and peeled for them. Unlike apples and bananas, they don’t turn that “icky” brown color when sliced before serving.

Pears

Higher in vitamin C than a banana and more fiber and potassium than an apple, pears are another crunchy, sweet alternative for the healthy lunchbox crowd. Pears are also slightly softer and easier to chew than apples, which can be a mouth-pleaser for younger children.

Baby Carrots

These little orange beauties are chockablock full of vitamin A and are fun to eat both plain and with a healthy dip (see recipe below!). Skip the chips and dip these babies! Crunchy, sweet, and oh-so-good for you, too.

Broccoli

Raw, one cup of broccoli florets contains almost as much vitamin C as an orange. If your kids prefer cooked broccoli, lightly steam the florets and then chill them in the fridge. Steaming takes away some of the bite of raw broccoli and makes it easier for picky eaters to get their much-needed greens.

Cherry or Grape Tomatoes

Full of vitamin C and really fun to pop in your mouth, tiny tomatoes make another excellent lunchbox add. Pair them up with a tasty yogurt dip and you double the fun and the taste.

Protein and Fat

Two very important nutrients to pack in the lunchbox are protein and fat. While fat in general doesn’t have the best reputation, healthy amounts of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat are integral to a heart-healthy diet. Try these ingredients:

Low-fat cheese

No need to go overboard, but a serving-sized wedge of a tasty low-fat cheese gives your child protein, calcium, and a yummy lunch all in one.

Tuna

Skip the overly processed lunchmeats and go for heart-healthy tuna instead, which offers protein and the healthy fats mentioned above. If your child isn’t a fan of fish, choose the least-processed lunch meats possible or bake and slice free-range chicken and turkey breasts for delicious homemade sandwiches.

Tip: Choose only 100% whole grain bread made with the least ingredients possible. Skip brands that include extra sugar in their recipe, or go all-in and make your own bread.

Unsalted and/or Raw Nuts and Seeds

Whether it’s a serving of sunflower seeds, almonds, walnuts, or other wonderful crunchies, nuts and seeds add protein, healthy fats and variety to any school lunch box. Remember those apples, bananas, and pears from above? Wholesome peanut butter (the only ingredient you need is peanuts!) with a sprinkle of cinnamon makes for a tasty treat.

Whole Grains

We can’t forget the benefits of wholesome whole grains! Avoid processed flour products and go for 100% whole grain items that maintain the healthy components of the grain.

Crunchy breadsticks

Forget the high-fat, high-sodium chips, pretzels, and crackers. Pack yummy, crunchy homemade breadsticks instead. (If following this recipe, skip the all-purpose flour and use 100% whole wheat only. Choose a whole wheat baking flour, which will maintain a lighter, more pleasing texture.) Thick and chewy or thin and crispy, the choice is yours. Flavor them with herbs, garlic and onion, cinnamon, fruit—anything your kids like. Some homemade tomato sauce provides a yummy and heart-healthy dip on the side.

Brown Rice, Quinoa, or Oatmeal

These wholesome whole grains can be flavored any way you like them and fill up little tummies with fiber that keeps them energized all day long.

Healthy Yogurt Dip Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt like Fage (wholesome Greek yogurt has no extra sugar and lots of healthy protein)
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped green onion
  • 3 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh dill (or use dried dill, but less)
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh chives
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste

It’s so easy—just mix everything in a small bowl and chill overnight. Store the dip in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days.

Giving your kids healthy, appetizing choices for their lunchboxes ensures that they’re receiving support for healthy eating habits even when they are away from home. Some other good-for-you lunch choices are hard-boiled eggs, unsalted popcorn, and raisins/other no-sugar-added dried fruits.

And don’t forget to help quench little thirsts. Good choices for a reusable water bottle are unsweetened juice, water, and milk (add a little wholesome cocoa powder and vanilla extract for a chocolaty treat).

Lunch time doesn’t have to be boring, unhealthy, or stick to the same old routine. Give your kids a heart-healthy treasure chest of goodies they’ll be excited to munch on every day. While you’re at it, pack these wholesome ingredients in your own lunch, too!

Tips for Heart-Healthy Children and Families

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014
February is American Heart Month, and we want to take some time to focus on how parents can promote their children’s heart health.
When it comes to raising healthy children, efforts should start at home, with parents and other immediate family members that have so much impact on kids during their formative years. The efforts extend into the community, where school officials, coaches, and so on help mold the youth into healthy, responsible adults. As they say, it takes a village to raise a child, and when we work together everybody wins.
Keep reading for some tips you can implement at home to help your children create heart-healthy habits.
Making Time for Healthy Habits
The first step is to make time to incorporate healthy habits. And while it seems like there already aren’t enough hours in the day, the secret is that you don’t have to find more time—you replace time spent on not-so-healthy habits with time spent on better-for-you ones. Try these ideas:
Schedule TV and Other Types of Screen Time
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children younger than two years old have no screen time and older kids have one to two hours of screen time per day with high-quality content. But children now spend an average of 7 hours per day in front of the TV, iPad, laptop, and/or gaming system.
One way to cut back is to schedule screen time. Try these:
Make a list of the family’s must-see programs—these are the ones you can watch together or separately, but do keep the list to a minimum.
Turn the TV only on a few minutes prior to the start of the shows, and turn it off immediately after. No channel surfing, no mindless watching.
Schedule a game night or award “time tickets” to allow your kids to get their video game fix without spending endless hours glued to the screen and controllers.
Track Your Meals
How often do you stop at the drive-through on your way to or from activities? You may not realize just how often you grab dinner to go or reach for processed convenience items unless you keep track for a couple of weeks.
The problem is that most of these items contain overly processed simple carbohydrates (such as sugar and flour) and oils high in omega-6 fatty acids (like sunflower, soybean, and corn oil)—huge culprits of inflammation. While the debate of whether inflammation or cholesterol is the direct cause of heart disease is still in progress, it is certainly a big cardiovascular health risk factor.
Curb fast food eating, and learn how to make better choices when hitting the drive thru window.
Making healthy meals at home is easier than you think. For example, heart-healthy meals can be slow-cooked in a crockpot so they are ready when you are, you can make homemade freezer meals that just need to be popped in the oven.
Replace certain ingredients in your pantry. Rather than all-purpose white flour, go with 100% whole wheat baking flour and flour products. Instead of butter, shortening, and margarine, try extra-virgin olive oil, which features heart-healthy fatty acids. Instead of canned or jarred fruits, choose fresh or frozen. Instead of sugary sodas and juices, try mixing 100% juice with water—even a splash makes for a refreshing treat.
Track Your Time
Being constantly on the go is stressful for you and your children. Extra-curricular activities are a good thing for children, but as they say, you can have too much of a good thing. A recent NPR story highlighted the new levels of stress children and teens are experiencing today have a negative impact on health. As too much continual stress has been identified as one of the causes of heart disease, it’s imperative that families come together and decide where to cut back on obligations and commitments.
While stress management techniques, such as yoga, deep breathing, and meditation, are great, healthy activities for everyone to practice, learning where to cut back and focus energy where it really counts is the first step.
Getting More Active at Home
After creating room in your lifestyle for healthy habits, fill it with fun activities at home! Why zone out or complain about boredom when there are so many valuable and fun activities you can do at home?
Become a Clean Machine
Getting everyone involved in household tasks and chores makes the work easier, faster, and healthier. And you can even make housework more fun!
Put sticky notes on everything that needs attention: Dust me, pick me up, sweep me, clean me, etc. Then race around the house to see which family member can acquire the most sticky notes and get the job done properly.
Put some tunes on the stereo and limit each household task to a certain number of tracks—3 for washing the dishes, 2 for scrubbing the bathtub, 4 for dusting the living room, etc. Get your toes tapping and the house clean all at the same time.
Go Green in the Garden
Backyard agriculture is all the rage these days, as we have rediscovered the joys and benefits of growing our own food. Gardening is also a great way to get, and stay, active. Those seeds and plants need planting, watering, weeding, and tending to. The fruits of your labor need to be harvested and prepared for storage and meals. Branching out to incorporate backyard chickens, rabbits, or other small livestock creates another dimension to your activity (and learning) time.
Besides the boost in physical activity, growing your own food is often healthier, cheaper, and more fulfilling than relying on the grocery store.
Take a hike
Or walk the dog, visit the neighborhood park or playground, play some hoops, go for a swim, set up the net and have a rousing game of volleyball in the backyard, and so on. Just get outside and get moving! Turning a lazy Saturday, Sunday, or weekday evening into a fun activity builds heart health, good habits, and memories, all of which can last a lifetime.
Doing What You Can
The easiest and most effective way to develop healthier habits as a family is by taking it one step at a time. No one said you had to do it all at once or all by the end of the month. Just start. Do what you can, when you can. Grow from there. When built upon and sustained over time, these habits will evolve into a full-blown heart-healthy lifestyle that will last you and your children a lifetime.

February is American Heart Month, and we want to take some time to focus on how parents can promote their children’s heart health.

When it comes to raising healthy children, efforts should start at home, with parents and other immediate family members that have so much impact on kids during their formative years. The efforts extend into the community, where school officials, coaches, and so on help mold the youth into healthy, responsible adults. As they say, it takes a village to raise a child, and when we work together everybody wins.

Keep reading for some tips you can implement at home to help your children create heart-healthy habits.=

Making Time for Healthy Habits

The first step is to make time to incorporate healthy habits. And while it seems like there already aren’t enough hours in the day, the secret is that you don’t have to find more time—you replace time spent on not-so-healthy habits with time spent on better-for-you ones. Try these ideas:

Schedule TV and Other Types of Screen Time

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children younger than two years old have no screen time and older kids have one to two hours of screen time per day with high-quality content. But children now spend an average of 7 hours per day in front of the TV, iPad, laptop, and/or gaming system.

One way to cut back is to schedule screen time. Try these:

  • Make a list of the family’s must-see programs—these are the ones you can watch together or separately, but do keep the list to a minimum.
  • Turn the TV only on a few minutes prior to the start of the shows, and turn it off immediately after. No channel surfing, no mindless watching.
  • Schedule a game night or award “time tickets” to allow your kids to get their video game fix without spending endless hours glued to the screen and controllers.

Track Your Meals

How often do you stop at the drive-through on your way to or from activities? You may not realize just how often you grab dinner to go or reach for processed convenience items unless you keep track for a couple of weeks.

The problem is that most of these items contain overly processed simple carbohydrates (such as sugar and flour) and oils high in omega-6 fatty acids (like sunflower, soybean, and corn oil)—huge culprits of inflammation. While the debate of whether inflammation or cholesterol is the direct cause of heart disease is still in progress, it is certainly a big cardiovascular health risk factor.

  • Curb fast food eating, and learn how to make better choices when hitting the drive thru window.
  • Making healthy meals at home is easier than you think. For example, heart-healthy meals can be slow-cooked in a crockpot so they are ready when you are, you can make homemade freezer meals that just need to be popped in the oven.
  • Replace certain ingredients in your pantry. Rather than all-purpose white flour, go with 100% whole wheat baking flour and flour products. Instead of butter, shortening, and margarine, try extra-virgin olive oil, which features heart-healthy fatty acids. Instead of canned or jarred fruits, choose fresh or frozen. Instead of sugary sodas and juices, try mixing 100% juice with water—even a splash makes for a refreshing treat.

Track Your Time

Being constantly on the go is stressful for you and your children. Extra-curricular activities are a good thing for children, but as they say, you can have too much of a good thing. A recent NPR story highlighted the new levels of stress children and teens are experiencing today have a negative impact on health. As too much continual stress has been identified as one of the causes of heart disease, it’s imperative that families come together and decide where to cut back on obligations and commitments.

While stress management techniques, such as yoga, deep breathing, and meditation, are great, healthy activities for everyone to practice, learning where to cut back and focus energy where it really counts is the first step.

Getting More Active at Home

After creating room in your lifestyle for healthy habits, fill it with fun activities at home! Why zone out or complain about boredom when there are so many valuable and fun activities you can do at home?

Become a Clean Machine

Getting everyone involved in household tasks and chores makes the work easier, faster, and healthier. And you can even make housework more fun!

  • Put sticky notes on everything that needs attention: Dust me, pick me up, sweep me, clean me, etc. Then race around the house to see which family member can acquire the most sticky notes and get the job done properly.
  • Put some tunes on the stereo and limit each household task to a certain number of tracks—3 for washing the dishes, 2 for scrubbing the bathtub, 4 for dusting the living room, etc. Get your toes tapping and the house clean all at the same time.

Go Green in the Garden

Backyard agriculture is all the rage these days, as we have rediscovered the joys and benefits of growing our own food. Gardening is also a great way to get, and stay, active. Those seeds and plants need planting, watering, weeding, and tending to. The fruits of your labor need to be harvested and prepared for storage and meals. Branching out to incorporate backyard chickens, rabbits, or other small livestock creates another dimension to your activity (and learning) time.

Besides the boost in physical activity, growing your own food is often healthier, cheaper, and more fulfilling than relying on the grocery store.

Take a hike

Or walk the dog, visit the neighborhood park or playground, play some hoops, go for a swim, set up the net and have a rousing game of volleyball in the backyard, and so on. Just get outside and get moving! Turning a lazy Saturday, Sunday, or weekday evening into a fun activity builds heart health, good habits, and memories, all of which can last a lifetime.

Doing What You Can

The easiest and most effective way to develop healthier habits as a family is by taking it one step at a time. No one said you had to do it all at once or all by the end of the month. Just start. Do what you can, when you can. Grow from there. When built upon and sustained over time, these habits will evolve into a full-blown heart-healthy lifestyle that will last you and your children a lifetime.

Healthy Body, Healthy Mind – The Benefits of Physical Activity in School (INFOGRAPHIC)

Friday, February 21st, 2014
Cutting PE out of schools is backfiring in a big way, contributing to our rampant childhood obesity epidemic and actually hindering students from top success in academic classes like science, math, and English.
Children should get about an hour of physical activity per day, something that’s vital to their growing bones, joints, fascia, and muscles. But more and more children are spending less time in PE class and outside playing and more time planted in their seats. This doesn’t just present immediate problems to the kids suffering from being overweight or obese; it poses dangerous long-term problems to their health and the progress of our nation too.
SPARK has been dedicated to being an advocate for PE and the fight against childhood obesity since 1989 by providing PE lesson plans, PE resources for teachers, and even a PE grant finder tool. Our infographic below examines why PE is so important, outlining current stats on PE and childhood obesity and the benefits of keeping PE in school.
Will you be an advocate for the health of your children, community, and nation? Join SPARK in the fight against childhood obesity by enjoying and sharing the infographic below.

Cutting PE out of schools is backfiring in a big way, contributing to our rampant childhood obesity epidemic and actually hindering students from top success in academic classes like science, math, and English.

Children should get about an hour of physical activity per day, something that’s vital to their growing bones, joints, fascia, and muscles. But more and more children are spending less time in PE class and outside playing and more time planted in their seats. This doesn’t just present immediate problems to the kids suffering from being overweight or obese; it poses dangerous long-term problems to their health and the progress of our nation too.

SPARK has been dedicated to being an advocate for PE and the fight against childhood obesity since 1989 by providing PE lesson plans, PE resources for teachers, and even a PE grant finder tool. Our infographic below examines why PE is so important, outlining current stats on PE and childhood obesity and the benefits of keeping PE in school.

Will you be an advocate for the health of your children, community, and nation? Join SPARK in the fight against childhood obesity by enjoying and sharing the infographic below.

Healthy Body Healthy Mind

Share This Infographic On Your Site

Teaching Children Good Sporting Behavior

Friday, February 21st, 2014
Sports teach kids many important lessons. One of those lessons is how to play hard and fair, while also being a good sport. Good sporting behavior not only teaches children how to compete without losing their composure, but it also helps them understand the importance of positive social skills. By teaching and reinforcing these values at a young age, children are prepared for the greater competitive opportunities they’ll face during their teenage years.
Defining Good Sporting Behavior
By definition, good sporting behavior means playing a game by the rules, respecting those rules, and being courteous to teammates, the referee, and the other team. A good sport may be unhappy about losing a game or match, but they won’t take out their unhappiness on the other team. Good sports remain calm and respectful, and think about how they can improve their performance the next time. On the other hand, the good sport who is ahead on points when the game ends also remains respectful and does not gloat or brag. Keeping score does infuse some level of competition, yet respecting others and the game itself should be the highest priority.
The Importance of Being a Good Sport
There are three major lifelong lessons children can learn from being a good sport:
1.  The score is less important than playing the game the right way, being respectful of yourself and others, and enjoying the process. During and after a game, being humble and thankful for the experience is a goal to strive for. Assessing one’s performance and trying to improve it next time—regardless of the outcome of any sporting event—is the ultimate objective.
2. Good sporting behavior teaches kids to accept losing gracefully and respectfully. Losing isn’t very fun, but it’s a necessary part of life. Good sporting behavior teaches children that there are times we all need to swallow our pride, respect those who won, accept our losses, then move on.
3. Finally, good sporting behavior teaches children to be humble and respectful after winning or succeeding. Respect goes both ways. Winning is certainly something to celebrate, but that doesn’t mean we forget about the kids or adults on the other side of the field who are disappointed. Next week, it could be our team on the losing side. That should be respected, along with the fact that that all players and people are equal—winning doesn’t make you better, losing doesn’t make you worse.
Tips for Encouraging Good Sporting Behavior
Encouraging children to be good sports is often more difficult than it seems. Each child is different, after all, and just as it’s important to teach kids that winning and losing are both natural parts of life, it’s also important to remember that emotional tensions often run high during periods of high energy—such as while playing sports. Remember to always approach any arguments or fights calmly and objectively.
Here are three more tips to keep in mind when encouraging kids to play hard, play fair, and be a good sport:
Strive to Be a Role Model
Always remember you’re going to be the one the children look up to when coaching, supervising, or pairing up with kids for sports and competitive activities. You never want to start an argument or lose your cool in front of them. Cheer your children on from the sidelines and never talk meanly about the other team. This should even be remembered while watching other sporting events.
Establish Rules Early
Make it a point to explain the rules of the game early on and follow those rules at all times. If you ever see anyone breaking the rules, call the child out and remedy the rule breaking as quickly as you can. Point out the rules and examples of the rules in action while watching other teams play. Explain the rules so they make sense. Stress the importance of listening to and respecting the decisions of referees and coaches.
Also, make sure your kids know how to behave while on the field and off. Set ground rules for what to do when winning or losing a match and hold the children to those rules. Try to end each match or game—no matter who won or lost—with a series of handshakes between both teams and heads held high.
Emphasize Performance and Progress
Instead of emphasizing winning and losing, emphasize goals like having fun, learning how to work together as a team, or accomplishing personal performance goals. Keep tabs on the progress of the team and compliment each member when significant progress is made. Whenever possible, concentrate on positive aspects instead of negative ones.
This goes for the opposing team as well. When you compare the opposing team to the players of your own team, make sure to positively point out things the other team may be doing differently and explain how your team can do the same. Use these moments to teach instead of criticize.
If your children lose a game or match, instead of criticizing each member, talk about how they performed positively. Stress the importance of improvement while providing examples of how they can work on improving. Set new goals if need be. Criticism can be hard to take, especially at a young age, but mixing it with new goals to work on and praise for other things helps children reflect on the conversation and all of the points that were made.
Teaching children to be good sports begins at home, during practice, and in those crucial moments during the big game. By encouraging kids to play fair and take wins and losses with a head held high and a humble heart, you help them ease into a world where they can confidently tackle challenges head-on and succeed with flying colors.

Sports teach kids many important lessons. One of those lessons is how to play hard and fair, while also being a good sport. Good sporting behavior not only teaches children how to compete without losing their composure, but it also helps them understand the importance of positive social skills. By teaching and reinforcing these values at a young age, children are prepared for the greater competitive opportunities they’ll face during their teenage years.

Defining Good Sporting Behavior

By definition, good sporting behavior means playing a game by the rules, respecting those rules, and being courteous to teammates, the referee, and the other team. A good sport may be unhappy about losing a game or match, but they won’t take out their unhappiness on the other team. Good sports remain calm and respectful, and think about how they can improve their performance the next time. On the other hand, the good sport who is ahead on points when the game ends also remains respectful and does not gloat or brag. Keeping score does infuse some level of competition, yet respecting others and the game itself should be the highest priority.

The Importance of Being a Good Sport

There are three major lifelong lessons children can learn from being a good sport:

1. The score is less important than playing the game the right way, being respectful of yourself and others, and enjoying the process. During and after a game, being humble and thankful for the experience is a goal to strive for. Assessing one’s performance and trying to improve it next time—regardless of the outcome of any sporting event—is the ultimate objective.

2. Good sporting behavior teaches kids to accept losing gracefully and respectfully. Losing isn’t very fun, but it’s a necessary part of life. Good sporting behavior teaches children that there are times we all need to swallow our pride, respect those who won, accept our losses, then move on.

3. Finally, good sporting behavior teaches children to be humble and respectful after winning or succeeding. Respect goes both ways. Winning is certainly something to celebrate, but that doesn’t mean we forget about the kids or adults on the other side of the field who are disappointed. Next week, it could be our team on the losing side. That should be respected, along with the fact that that all players and people are equal—winning doesn’t make you better, losing doesn’t make you worse.

Tips for Encouraging Good Sporting Behavior

Encouraging children to be good sports is often more difficult than it seems. Each child is different, after all, and just as it’s important to teach kids that winning and losing are both natural parts of life, it’s also important to remember that emotional tensions often run high during periods of high energy—such as while playing sports. Remember to always approach any arguments or fights calmly and objectively.

Here are three more tips to keep in mind when encouraging kids to play hard, play fair, and be a good sport:

Strive to Be a Role Model

Always remember you’re going to be the one the children look up to when coaching, supervising, or pairing up with kids for sports and competitive activities. You never want to start an argument or lose your cool in front of them. Cheer your children on from the sidelines and never talk meanly about the other team. This should even be remembered while watching other sporting events.

Establish Rules Early

Make it a point to explain the rules of the game early on and follow those rules at all times. If you ever see anyone breaking the rules, call the child out and remedy the rule breaking as quickly as you can. Point out the rules and examples of the rules in action while watching other teams play. Explain the rules so they make sense. Stress the importance of listening to and respecting the decisions of referees and coaches.

Also, make sure your kids know how to behave while on the field and off. Set ground rules for what to do when winning or losing a match and hold the children to those rules. Try to end each match or game—no matter who won or lost—with a series of handshakes between both teams and heads held high.

Emphasize Performance and Progress

Instead of emphasizing winning and losing, emphasize goals like having fun, learning how to work together as a team, or accomplishing personal performance goals. Keep tabs on the progress of the team and compliment each member when significant progress is made. Whenever possible, concentrate on positive aspects instead of negative ones.

This goes for the opposing team as well. When you compare the opposing team to the players of your own team, make sure to positively point out things the other team may be doing differently and explain how your team can do the same. Use these moments to teach instead of criticize.

If your children lose a game or match, instead of criticizing each member, talk about how they performed positively. Stress the importance of improvement while providing examples of how they can work on improving. Set new goals if need be. Criticism can be hard to take, especially at a young age, but mixing it with new goals to work on and praise for other things helps children reflect on the conversation and all of the points that were made.

Teaching children to be good sports begins at home, during practice, and in those crucial moments during the big game. By encouraging kids to play fair and take wins and losses with a head held high and a humble heart, you help them ease into a world where they can confidently tackle challenges head-on and succeed with flying colors.

How to Use SPARK Integrations

Friday, February 7th, 2014

If you are a SPARK physical activity or physical education program user, you’ve most likely heard about our fabulous, but not-yet-famous SPARK Integrations on the back side of each activity plan. Found next to the Extensions and just above the Tips and Pointers, these little nuggets are a not-so-hidden gem that can be used to help integrate other subject areas into your PA/PE program, or to infuse some wellness messages or physical activity elsewhere throughout the day. Each program has their own unique topics appropriate for the participants of that program.

  • Early Childhood integrations are all of the Academic persuasion and include Art, Literacy, Mathematics, Music, Nutrition, and Science.
  • After School integrations reinforce learning from the activity, increase MVPA (Moderate to Vigorous Physical Activity) at home, and coincide with the Think Abouts used at the end of the activity. They are all Home Plays, meaning they give information to kids to use in their home life and include Move More, Character Matters, Fitness Focus, and Food Facts integrations.
  • K-2 Physical Education features Academic, Home, and Wellness integrations.
  • 3-6 Physical Education includes Academic, Home, Wellness, and Fun Fact integrations.
  • Middle School Physical Education has Home, Wellness, Global, and Multicultural integrations.
  • High Schools Physical Education includes Home, Wellness, Global/Multicultural, and Sport Literacy integrations.

Please explain these!

Academic integrations link PE to the classroom and back. These range in subject matter from literacy to math to science. These are one of the many ways SPARK helps to address the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics (Examples: 3-6 Flying Disc: Corner to Corner Give and Go and EC Super Stunts: Animal Movements 1)

Home and Move More integrations promote physical activity at home with friends or family members. (Example: AS Cool Cooperatives: Kin-Ball Cooperative Golf)

Wellness integrations provide tips on nutrition, safety, health, etc. (Example: K-2 Catching and Throwing: Switcheroo)

Fun Facts are only found in the 3-6, but these are some doozies! They include an interesting short story or tall tale that you and your students will get a kick out of and share with others. They are connected to the activity by name or theme, but not necessarily by a straight line. (Example: 3-6 Soccer: Soccer Golf)

Multicultural connect activities to diverse cultures found locally and regionally. (Example: MS Dance: Create a Poco Loco)

Global connect activities and/or units to history, customs, and practices of countries around the world. (Example: MS Golf: Bocce Golf)

Sport Literacy integrations provide useful skill, strategy, or game regulation specifics that pertain to each unit. (Example: HS Badminton: Win the Point)

Character Matters help develop social skills and positive character traits like fair play, initiative, trust, etc. (Example: AS Cool Cooperatives: Hog Call)

Fitness Focus and Food Facts: I don’t think I need to describe these other than to let you know they are great! (Examples: link to AS Great Games: Builders/Bulldozers and AS Super Sports: Mini-Basketball

 

Sounds cool, but how am I going to use them?

Teachers of physical education and physical activity (PE Specialists, Classroom Teachers, Activity Leaders, Early Childhood Leaders, etc.) use the integrations in a variety of ways. Here are a few ideas:

Read during Warm-ups: As students/participants are warming up (e.g. during Perimeter Move) read the Integration aloud to set the stage for the activity to follow. This works best with the types of integrations that give information about that activity, like the Wellness, Multicultural and Global, Fun Fact, and Character Matters integrations.

As an Extension of the Activity: Many of the integrations are actually hidden extensions in that they change the way the activity is played and the focus has now been placed on something math, literacy, or science-related. These Academic Integrations (found in EC, K-2, and 3-6) can be used during the middle of the lesson as an extension to integrate these academic subjects INTO Physical Education. These vary from a quick science fact about aerobic capacity to a math extension that changes the focus of the game to utilize mathematical skills. (E.g. 3-6 Jump Rope: Jumping Color Tag)  When using any of these, it’s wise to check with the classroom teacher to see if the level of academics is appropriate for his/her class and to prepare for teaching the extension instead of the activity as written on the front page.

Read during Cool-down:  While students are cooling down (e.g. stretching) read the integration and discuss using pair/share. For example, after playing Durango Boot (AS Flying Disc) read the Character Matters integration and ask students to discuss the how competition motivated them in the game with a partner. Call upon 3 pairs to share what was discussed. This tends to work best with Home Plays, Move Mores (in AS), Character Matters (as a reflection on behavior during class) and Sport Literacy (to review rules/concepts learned during the lesson.)

Put on Bulletin Boards: Print copies of the integrations. (For MS they can be found on SPARKfamily.org under each unit’s instructional media in the Planning section, just below Unit Plans but all other programs they are on each activity’s backside.) Post the integrations for each week’s lessons so students can read throughout the week as they pass by. This use works best with all types of integrations except those providing an extension to the activity by changing the focus to something academic. Ask students questions about them during roll-call or warm-up to assess their learning. Reinforce students who respond appropriately.

Share with Classroom Teachers: It’s all great to integrate other topics into PE to help address Common Core State Standards, but what about a little reciprocity? To help integrate PE concepts into academic classes, share integrations with your classroom teachers. If you are a classroom teacher, they could be used as short physical activity breaks and an infusion of wellness facts throughout the day. The types of integrations that work best here are those pertaining to Wellness and any Home Play activities.

Use with the Little Ones: If you are a leader of a pre-school/early childhood program, there are a variety of ways you can use the integrations. They serve as academic enrichment tools for before, during and after a SPARK lesson. Use the Music integrations during circle time and the Art integrations during center time. E.g. “We made an umbrella with our parachute today. Can you draw an umbrella?”  (Example: EC Parachute Play: Umbrella)

An example of a Science integration is a discussion about baby animals in a SPARK activity called Guppies. Math integrations may include the concepts of shapes, counting, and grouping. Many of the Literacy integrations suggested in SPARK can be easily added to circle time because they prompt children to act out a story using a skill learned during movement time. All of the books suggested in the Literacy Integrations coordinate with the lessons and relate to one or more of the following themes: colors, language arts, mathematics, movement skills and knowledge, nutrition, personal development, science, self-image, and social development. (Example: EC Building Blocks: Creative Words and Movements)

The Early Childhood program also includes Family Fun activities (in the bottom left corner on the backside of activity plans) which serve as a type of Home Play to promote physical activity at home with their families.

 

Please share how you use them!

Have you been using integrations in these or other ways? If so, please share with us at SPARK. Email your ideas at spark@sparkpe.org. We’d love to share your best practices with the SPARK family!

Parent Tips: Helping Your Child Overcome PE Anxiety

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014

If your child experiences anxiety about PE class, you can make a huge difference—not just in their PE experience, but in their life as well—by helping them through it. Not only will your child learn to overcome fears and gain self-confidence, but they’ll get the all the benefits of PE too. After all, physical education is an important aspect of any child’s life, teaching them long-term healthy lifestyle habits, reducing sedentary time, increasing academic performance, and teaching other valuable lessons like teamwork, persistence, and goal setting.

Your child is not alone—many kids experience anxiety about PE for many different reasons, and the best thing to do is help them overcome their fears to grow and learn. Keep reading to learn how you can help your child feel confident when it’s time to go to physical education class.

Determine the Reasoning

Whether you begin to notice your child’s grades slip in PE or he even voices the fact that he does not like physical education class, it is important to first determine the reason why this is the case. Getting to the bottom of your child’s source of anxiety or animosity towards physical education class can help you to come up with the proper solutions.

There are many common causes of PE anxiety in children and teens. Some of the most common include:

  • Lack of confidence in physical ability
  • Fear of being picked last for teams
  • Self-consciousness about one’s body
  • Being bullied in school

If you are unsure of your child’s reasoning for disliking physical education class, have an honest and open conversation. It is important to be as open and non-judgmental as possible so that your child will have a better chance of opening up to you.

Speak with the PE Teacher

Once you are sure of your child’s reasons for having anxiety over PE class, it may be a good idea to schedule a conference with his or her physical education teacher. The teacher may be able to tell you things about your child’s performance that you were unaware of. For example, perhaps your child voiced to you that he does not like PE because he hates running. To your surprise, the physical education teacher may tell you that your child is one of the best runners in the class but fails to reach his full potential because he is worried about being made fun of or looked at differently because of his abilities.

Furthermore, speaking with the physical education teacher can be a great way to alert the teacher to problems he or she may not be aware of. Perhaps the teacher does not know that the child has PE anxiety. By working with the teacher as a team, you may be able to form a game plan together to make your child feel more comfortable and perform better in PE. After all, your child’s physical education teacher ultimately wants your child to perform well in the class.

Work on Stress-Relief Techniques

Consider working with your child to develop some techniques for relieving stress and calming down when feeling anxious about PE. Practice taking deep breaths with your child, explaining how taking even just three deep, cleansing breaths can help them on the spot when those anxieties pop up.

Help Your Child Find a Niche

If your child has anxiety because of a perceived lack of athletic ability, start by explaining that they don’t need to be excellent at sports to fit in at school. Help your child understand that they aren’t alone by describing uncomfortable moments you had in PE—being picked last for a team, not being able to get the hang of a sport, etc.

To help him or her gain confidence, however, do what you can to help your child find physical activities that he or she truly enjoys. Whether it is playing a game of soccer, going for a jog, or signing up for karate or dance class, making sure that your child has at least one physical activity that he or she truly enjoys is important. Not only will this help them feel more confident at school, but it teaches the value and joy of exercise.

On that note, it is also important to make sure that your child has plenty of time to explore different physical activities. If his or her schedule is jam-packed with music lessons, homework, church, and other activities, take a step back and re-assess your child’s schedule. He or she may be feeling understandably overwhelmed. Make sure that your child still has time to be a kid and have fun while getting a workout in the process.

Boost Your Child’s Confidence

The reality is that most children tend to overthink social situations, especially ones in which they are worried about being embarrassed. This is especially true in PE class. So what if your child cannot do the most sit-ups in the class? More than likely, nobody else is counting expect for the teacher.

Teach your child that it doesn’t matter if they are the best, worst, or somewhere in between at a sport or skill—the only thing that matters is giving it a good try. Confidence isn’t about knowing you’re the best. It’s about knowing that you can give something your best shot—or even just a shot at all.

Lead by example. Be open and willing to put yourself in positions that test your own confidence. Show your child that you don’t take yourself too seriously—that you are free to be yourself in any situation, whether people might be watching or not.

Practice Together

If your child feels anxiety about certain sports or skills, take time to help them improve—even if you aren’t so great at it yourself. In fact, this can be better because you will be learning together and showing your child that it’s okay to be a beginner.

Having someone to learn and practice with—especially a parent—can make a world of difference.

Overall, many children face PE anxiety; it is especially common among middle school and high school aged children, but it can happen at any time. It is important that you are proactive in helping your child tackle his or her anxiety for maximum success in physical education class. By finding out what the root of your child’s anxiety is, consulting with his or her teacher, and working one-on-one with your child to develop stress-handling techniques and self-confidence, you can get your child on the path to success in no time.