Archive for February, 2017


Heart-Healthy Meals that are Child-Friendly

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017

healthy meal

It’s not easy to get kids to eat healthy, and it’s even more difficult to get them to understand why eating a certain way is important; children live in the now and are blissfully unaware of how their habits as children will impact them as adults.

The sooner you help kids to establish healthy eating habits, the easier it will be for them to adopt them for the long term. But before getting into the most child-friendly heart-healthy meals, here’s a primer on how to eat healthy, specifically with the heart in mind:

Heart-Healthy Eating 101

Heart-healthy foods are low in both salt and saturated fat (with zero trans fats). But that doesn’t mean that they are completely free of fat! Instead, heart-healthy foods may contain polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats — and that’s ok. Not all fats are bad, and it’s important to accept this fact if you intend to follow a heart-healthy diet. Of course, anything in excess can be harmful, so make sure to follow a balanced diet that includes proportionate amounts of nutrients.

The following represent some of the best heart-healthy foods, and how to use them in child-friendly heart-healthy meals.

Whole Grains

The ChooseMyPlate website identifies grains as any food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley or another cereal grain. Luckily, it’s not too hard to get kids to eat grains — it’s just important to make sure that the grains they consume are nutrient-rich. Refined grains, like white flour, lose a lot of the best heart-healthy nutrients, while whole grains keep everything intact.

A few child-friendly heart-healthy meal ideas using whole grains:

  • A bowl of oatmeal with sliced fruit
  • A whole grain sandwich with lean meats (like turkey) and vegetables
  • Whole grain pasta with pesto (the olive oil in pesto has heart-healthy fats)

Vegetables

Everyone knows vegetables are good for them, but certain vegetables are better than others for heart health. Specifically, spinach, carrots, sweet potatoes, and red peppers (and many other red, yellow, and orange veggies) are known as being especially heart-healthy.

The secret to getting kids to eat veggies (and getting them excited about it!) is often to hide them in something else, or draw attention to another part of the meal so that they barely notice the vegetables.

A few child-friendly heart-healthy meal ideas using vegetables:

  • A veggie-filled omelette
  • Chicken fajitas with red peppers
  • Sweet potato and black bean salad (recipe)
  • Smoothies — it’s easy to disguise the taste of carrots and spinach with fruit!

Tomatoes

Most tomato varieties provide lycopene, vitamin C and alpha- and beta-carotene. Luckily, it’s usually not too hard to get kids to eat tomatoes.

A few child-friendly heart-healthy meal ideas using tomatoes:

  • Tomato sauce with chopped veggies and whole grain pasta (two heart-healthy ingredients)
  • Sloppy Joes made with salsa and ketchup, with lean ground turkey

Berries

Besides being delicious, berries are rich with heart-healthy phytonutrients and soluble fiber.

A few child-friendly heart-healthy meal ideas using berries:

  • Yogurt parfait with berries
  • Whole grain cereal with berries (two heart-healthy ingredients)

Dark Chocolate

Two things you might not expect to be heart-healthy: wine and chocolate. As you should certainly abstain from giving kids wine, you don’t have to deny them a delicious dark chocolate dessert. The chocolate should be at least 70% cocoa to achieve heart-healthy effects, and is most healthy in its purest form (aka, not as part of a sugar-rich ice cream or multi-ingredient candy bar).

Knowing the right inputs will make it easy to create child-friendly heart-healthy meals. But it’s always nice to have expert help when teaching nutrition basics to children. SPARK’s Nutrition Services can help fill any gaps, and provide a foundation for teaching kids about nutrition.

What would you add to this list?

Visit Sportime featuring SPARK at the 2017 SHAPE America National Convention!

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017

2017-Convention-Banner

The SHAPE America National Convention starts on March 14th and will be in Boston. Visit the SHAPE America website to register for the convention and find all of the event details.

Download the 2017 Convention Program and use the online planner to view all of the convention sessions. Make sure to attend the Sportime featuring SPARK and Teacher of the Year sessions – view our presentation schedule.

Stop by the Sportime featuring SPARK booth to learn about:

We are proud to be a convention sponsor, and the exclusive sponsor of the SHAPE America Teacher of the Year Program.

We are also offering 40% off equipment featured in our booth and during our presentations at the convention with promo code 081SHAPE17.

Not able to make it to Boston this year? Don’t worry! The offer is valid 3/3/17 – 4/28/17 at Sportime.com – use promo code 081SHAPE17 at checkout to save. Select products only.

Just Dance: Improving a Child’s Emotional and Social Skills Through Dance

Thursday, February 23rd, 2017

Dance class

There’s a reason why it feels so good when you have an uninhibited dance party in your bedroom. As well as being a great way to release tension — not to mention have a lot of fun — there are studies showing that dance is also an excellent way to foster the emotional and social growth of children.

Dancing combines all the benefits of physical activity with those of educating children about music and the arts. From an emotional and social standpoint, dance classes for kids between the ages of kindergarten and grade 12 are proven to have an impact when it comes to acceptance of others, respect, teamwork, and cooperation.

This could be because dance gives children the opportunity to express themselves freely and creatively, which allows an outlet for emotional and physical release. While children are still developing full cognitive abilities, it could be that they choose to send messages through dance rather than having to articulate their thoughts in speech.

Dance creates a social environment where kids need to cooperate with and trust one another to complete the moves and avoid stepping on toes. At a very young age, it also instills a greater respect for one’s body, and the bodies of others. Socially, it teaches children how to hold one another appropriately, how to be aware of someone else’s movement, and how to understand the physical abilities and limits of one’s own body.

Dance teaches the aforementioned skills in a language children understand: movement. Kids learn by doing, and there’s nothing better than moving through a dance routine to synthesize the lessons learned.

Bringing Dance to Schools

A survey conducted in 2014-2015 showed that 66% of LA-based schools that incorporated dancing reported seeing its students become more accepting of one another. This acceptance is important, especially in schools with at-risk students or communities where children come from diverse racial backgrounds. Dance, like music, is a universal language, and one that is relevant to every culture around the world. As research collected by NDEO states, dance can help at-risk students deal with more complex emotional and social conflicts, such as violence and race. By creating dance exercises that mirror the movements of different students, the head dancer is able to feel like a leader, and understands that they’re being accepted and respected by their peers.

As a bonus, participation in the arts is also shown to have a positive academic influence on children. A study on this topic found that students who took part in the arts performed better on standardized tests, had higher SAT and math scores, and were more focused in class. Dance can also have much needed health benefits at a time when 18% of American children aged 6 to 11 are obese and only 1 in 3 children are physically active on a daily basis.

If you’re wondering where to get started with bringing dance to your school, look no further than the SPARKdance DVD. Ideal for K-12 students, the DVD includes more than 20 dances and lesson guides so the benefits of the activity are within every educator’s grasp. There is also a Dance Decoded workshop for teachers who want to take their school’s physical education program to the next level.

What Activity Should You Add to Spice Up Your Lesson Plan? [QUIZ]

Thursday, February 16th, 2017

Don’t let your Physical Education routine become stale – take our quiz to shake things up for your students!

 

Announcing the Specialty Workshop Contest Winner!

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

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In partnership with Let’s Move! Active Schools, we hosted the Sportime featuring SPARK Specialty Workshop Contest in the fall of 2016.

Educators were invited to enter the contest to win a Specialty Workshop and bring a past SHAPE America Teacher of the Year or SPARK Presenter to their school district for a unique hands-on professional development experience. Entries were open 10/6/16 – 12/10/16.

We received over 400 entries for the Specialty Workshop Contest! Thank you to all of the teachers who spent time completing the form for a chance to win.

Congratulations to the winning school!

Stetson Elementary School

Falcon School District 49

Colorado Springs, CO

Workshop: Magical MVPA Maximized!

“My students are cheerful, outgoing, competitive in a friendly way, have lots of energy, and have complete confidence in themselves. They are eager to learn new and creative ways to be active and stay healthy at school and for life-long living. The SPARK “Magical MVPA” workshop will provide me with the tools to teach those new and creative activities to the students. New equipment and resources are needed to enhance the Physical Education program at our school as well as replacing old equipment. Let’s Move, Get Active!”

— Matt Monfre, Stetson Elementary School

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The Winning School Receives:

  • (1) Specialty Workshop, brought to you by the SPARK Speakers Bureau. Click here to view our menu of Specialty Workshops to choose the best option for your school.
  • Presenter fees and travel are included in the award, value $2,200. The cost of substitute teachers or teacher stipends to attend the workshop are not included in the award, and are expected to be covered by the awardee.
  • (1) Sportime featuring SPARK voucher for PE supplies, value $800. Use the voucher to purchase instructional materials or PE equipment to support your program.

Total award value = $3,000

Search for other grant and funding opportunities on the SPARK Grant Finder.

We are proud to offer a wide selection of professional development workshops to fit the needs of your school or district! Presenters include past SHAPE America Teachers of the Year, SPARK trainers and program authors, and product experts. Click Here to view our full menu of training options.

Strategies to Help Increase Inclusiveness in Your PE Class

Tuesday, February 7th, 2017

Multi-ethnic group of children with coach in school gym.

By: BJ Williston, SPARK Trainer and Curriculum Development Consultant

When teaching PE, are all of your students successful in reaching the objectives of a lesson? If your answer is “affirmative,” way to go! If, however, they are not all reaching the objectives or being appropriately challenged, this blog is for you. It is important to know how to adapt your activities in a variety of ways in order to help all students, including those with special needs, achieve your objectives.

Students have many things in common, but they also differ in so many ways. They have diverse ways of learning, their fitness and skill levels vary from one extreme to the other, they may enjoy varying levels of competition, their reasons for being active are not the same, and so forth. Even in a “typical” general education (gen ed) PE class, there is a wide range of abilities, fitness, and competitive levels. By providing choices and challenges, teachers can help to address the variety within the group. It is your job to adapt and tweak the variables in PE class in order to allow all of your students to be successful.

This blog will cover a few of these strategies:

Focus on the Positive – Rather than look at just a student’s disability, it may help you to look at their abilities. What skills does the student possess that can assist them with reaching the objectives? What are they able to do well? How can you build on that?

How does the Disability Manifest Itself? – Just because someone is labeled with a disability does not necessarily mean they will have difficulty in reaching objectives in PE. Many students, disabled or not, have difficulties. By noticing the things they have difficulty doing, you may be able to adapt the activity or environment to downplay those challenges or to help them overcome them. Things such as difficulty focusing on a task, lack of technique, limited mobility or strength, etc. may be challenging, but certainly do not make things impossible. There may also be issues you see in your gen ed students, so by adapting for your students with disabilities you may be helping others, as well.

Utilize Peer Tutors – Peer tutoring, where students work in pairs or in small groups to master skills, can be very beneficial for both disabled and gen ed students. Since students with disabilities may thrive where there is a smaller ratio of student to teacher, having a peer tutor helps address that need. It is also nice to have a student with strong skills be a good role model for students working to build those skills. There are several models of peer tutoring:

  • Unidirectional – Where the student with the disability is always the “student” in the pair
  • Reciprocal – Both take turns being tutor and student
  • Class-wide – The entire class is divided into pairs and reciprocate tutoring roles
  • Cross-aged – Older students come into the class to help the younger students

Peer tutors are most effective when they’ve been given clear instructions regarding the best ways for their buddies to learn and receive feedback. It is important for peer buddies to be taught not to over-assist or be condescending toward their peer with a disability, but to treat them simply as a member of their class.

Utilize Paraprofessionals/Aides – Many students with disabilities have aides who move with them from class to class in order to help them be successful. Some aides may be one-on-one, while others are shared with several students or the whole class. The key to success with paraprofessionals/aides is to be clear in communicating your expectations. What would you like them to do during your PE class to help their student(s) be successful and safe? Go over these expectations and foster a collaborative relationship. Let them know they are appreciated and a vital part of the team. Explain that they are responsible for attending and assisting the student in the least restrictive or invasive manner possible. They need to allow their students to do as much as they can independently, but to be there when they need assistance. They should be prepared for activity in clothing, footwear, and attitude. They should do their best to keep their student from interfering with others’ learning as well as enhancing their own.

Adapt the Activity – Many games and activities can easily be adapted to increase success for students with disabilities. Teach all your students that adapting the rules to a game or sport is a skill you want all of them to have. Allow them to come up with new ideas for ways to make the game more fun, active, and safe for everyone. A few examples would be to play with smaller teams, on a different surface, with simplified rules, or different ways to score. When it comes to dance, allow students to change moves or the tempo of the music.

Adapt the Equipment – Find out what your students can do and use special equipment or modify existing equipment to allow them to do that. This typically involves bigger, lighter, slower moving tossables and striking implements. For example, beach balls or balloons in place of volleyballs, or a light racquet to strike a ball instead of a bat. Blind or visually impaired students, for example, can have increased success in object control skills when using an object that makes noise, such as a bell ball.

Don’t Sacrifice Safety for Success – Overall, the goal is to have students with disabilities participating and achieving success, but never at the expense of their or the other students’ safety. Do your research to know what is and isn’t safe for your participants. For example, is anyone allergic to latex? Are there contraindicated exercises for students with a specific disability? Once you are sure of what you can and can’t do, proceed.

Use a Variety of Instructional Strategies – There are a variety of strategies for instructions and practice. Each may work for differing populations:

  • When large groups are overwhelming, break into smaller groups or pairs.
  • Break skills into mini chunks.
  • Teach only a portion of the activity rather than the entire game.
  • Provide breaks for students who get overwhelmed.
  • Challenge students with mini-goals throughout the lesson.
  • Use engaging targets.
  • Use video recording to give feedback on skills.
  • Keep activities age-appropriate.
  • Allow students to explore their abilities and problem-solve on their own where and when appropriate.

We at SPARK would love to know what you and your students are doing in your inclusive PE classes. Send us an email with ideas and strategies that work for you and your classes! spark@sparkpe.org

Now Available: The New SPARK Inclusive PE Guidebook!

The SPARK Inclusive PE Guidebook provides over 200 pages of resources designed for Physical Education (PE) teachers who teach a general PE class that includes students with disabilities. The guidebook provides information and strategies for creating an inclusive environment so that all students can be successful by participating in an authentic and enjoyable PE class.

The guidebook includes 24 sample SPARK lesson plans and 14 skill-building activities with integrations that demonstrate how to modify and adapt the activities for students with disabilities. This guidebook also contains valuable fact sheets for 12 disability categories that includes background material about each disability and information about how a student with the disability learns best.

The SPARK Inclusive PE Guidebook is available in print and digital format. Click here to learn more!

Essential Equipment for a Physical Educator’s Home Gym

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017

home workout

Many of us understand how important it is to maintain good health and fitness. Daily physical activity can help to reduce your risk of stroke and heart disease by boosting heart muscle strength, improving your good cholesterol levels, and lowering your blood pressure. On top of that, regular exercise promotes better blood flow, and helps to limit the threat of obesity. However, for physical educators, there’s one more essential aspect of regular fitness to consider: it gives you the strength to be better at your job.

Physical Education, or P.E., teachers need to consistently keep on top of their physical fitness if they want to continue offering exceptional guidance to young students. One of the best ways to make regular fitness a habit is to install all the equipment you might need into a space within your own home. A home gym can address all the needs that P.E. teachers encounter every day — from strength, to balance, speed, and determination.

Following, we’re going to examine just some of the essential pieces of equipment that every PE Teacher should have in their home gym — and consider why they’re so beneficial.

1. Medicine Balls


Whether you use medicine balls in your lessons or not, these fitness accessories can be the perfect way for Phys. Ed. teachers to build and improve their resilience. Medicine balls can help with improving careful throwing and catching techniquesan essential part of P.E. for students — as well as enhancing abdominal exercises. What’s more, medicine balls aren’t just about building strength — they help to promote strength and speed — both factors that will come in handy when teaching an active bunch of students.

2. Stability or “Exercise” Balls


Stability balls can be an excellent solution for abdominal workouts, stretches, and even adding an extra challenge to your weight lifting. For physical educators, these accessories help to encourage greater balance and posture. After all, when you lie across or sit on an exercise ball, you’re forced to engage every muscle in your core to support your weight. This will help you maintain good form when showing important exercises to children during lessons. What’s more, the balance and posture encouraged by exercise balls can help you cultivate a healthier spine — which means less back pain.

3. Yoga Mats


The chances are that you have soft mats at school where students can take part in floor-based exercises, like yoga. Yoga mats help to cushion your body from a hard floor, and provide more support than a standard carpet when you’re performing warm-up stretches or jumping exercises. Since physical education teachers regularly use these accessories during lessons, it makes sense to get used to them when you’re working out in your home gym, too. What’s more, for stressed P.E. teachers, yoga mats can roll up to offer lumbar support after a tough day.

4. Dumbbells


Perhaps some of the most versatile accessories in the fitness world, dumbbells are a fitness mainstay for any home gym. The exercises that you can do with a set of dumbbells are practically endless, and these crucial accessories are perfect for helping P.E. teachers build their strength and flexibility. The more you work on your strength as a physical educator, the more likely you are able to cope with the long, and sometimes grueling, lessons that you teach on a day-to-day basis. After all, strong muscles allow for greater energy and reduced aches and pains.

5. Pull-Up Bar


Ropes and pull-up bars aren’t always a solid favorite of physical education students — but these resources can be the ideal way to measure upper body and core strength. If you can accomplish incredible feats on a pull-up bar, then the chances are that you can also motivate your students to push themselves toward their fitness goals. One particularly useful aspect of pull-up bars is the fact that they’re so compact and easy to include in even the smallest home gym space. Installing one will help you to build the strength and resilience that you need in your upper body to demonstrate climbing techniques, and more.

6. Resistance Bands


Ideal for building muscle in advanced exercisers and beginners alike, resistance bands help you build muscle and improve balance and strength. If you’re wondering how a giant rubber band helps with building muscle — it’s simple. Unlike dumbbells or barbells, these accessories offer a way to establish constant tension through movement — enhancing the intensity of any exercise and the challenge that your muscles must overcome.

Building Your At-Home Gym


The accessories that you use in your at-home gym may differ per your specific fitness needs. However, the tools that we’ve outlined above are just some of the best solutions available for building the strength, balance, and resilience all physical education teachers need.

Do you have a favorite piece of home gym equipment that we haven’t mentioned here? Share your preferences with us in the comments section below!