Archive for May, 2017


Announcing the Inclusive PE Workshop Contest Winner!

Wednesday, May 31st, 2017

PE Class

In partnership with Let’s Move! Active Schools, we hosted the Sportime featuring SPARK Inclusive PE Workshop Contest to provide schools with a chance to win a new SPARK Inclusive PE Workshop, Guidebook, and Sportime Equipment Package. The hands-on Inclusive PE Workshop provides strategies to create an inclusive environment, adapt activities and equipment, and accommodate students during skill-based instruction. Entries were open 3/14/17 – 4/30/17.

We received over 400 entries for the Inclusive PE 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!

Palm Valley Elementary

Litchfield Park, Arizona

Application submitted by: Kelly Jordan, Physical Education Teacher

 

Palm Valley Elementary implemented “Inclusion Revolution” during the 2015-2016 school year to create a more inclusive environment throughout the school. The school also practices Reverse Mainstreaming in the Adapted PE class, so non-disabled peers join Adapted PE as tutors. The peer tutors provide physical support and positive social interactions. While the physical education program has strong administrative support, the school faces challenges with limited professional development for teachers working with students with disabilities.

“The opportunity for our physical education staff to attend the Inclusive PE Workshop focused on our students with disabilities will be incredibly beneficial…it will help us better meet the needs of all the students that we educate through the creation of a more inclusive environment where all students can be successful. Overall, this opportunity would benefit the thousands of students that attend schools in our district through the creation of a more inclusive environment in PE class where students are supported, practice healthy habits, create positive relationships with peers, and increase physical activity. The hope is that the successes and the acceptance of students with disabilities will continue throughout the rest of our schools and in the entire school district, which in turn will make a positive impact into our community.”  — Kelly Jordan, PE Teacher at Palm Valley Elementary

Palm Valley Elementary is planning their Inclusive PE Workshop for September so that the teachers can begin implementing the SPARK Inclusive PE resources with the new school year.

The Winning School Receives:

Total award value = over $3,500!

Looking for funding for your school’s Inclusive PE program? Search for funding opportunities on the SPARK Grant-Finder.

 

5 Ways to Teach Kids About the Food Groups

Tuesday, May 30th, 2017

The five food groups

Between teaching your kids how to read, write and behave, in addition to many other life skills, the topic of health can easily get lost in the shuffle. It’s important for your children to learn the importance of healthy eating so that they can grow up to make smart decisions concerning their diet. But what are the most effective ways of teaching children about food groups and helping them to recognize when food is healthy?

Here are 5 fun ideas to help you get started:

1. Make Learning Into a Game

Teaching the food groups through games is a great way to get your kids familiar with serious concepts without making it feel like homework.

Why not try one of these activities?

  • Start with a set of play foods and bring out 5 containers, each labeled with one of the food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods and dairy. You might consider an extra container for junk food. Challenge your children to sort the play foods into their proper containers.
  • Cut out pictures of foods from magazines, and label 5 poster boards with a different food group. Your kids have to paste the right pictures onto the right posters in the form of a collage.
  • Set up a play grocery store at home that’s organized by each food group.

2. Help Them Pack Their Lunch

Getting involved in your children’s meal choices is an excellent way to lead by example and demonstrate how important a healthy diet can be. Try letting your kids pick out their food for their packed lunches, provided that they choose something from every food group. Present them with alternatives so that they learn the different types of food from each group. This could include the option of either a banana or an apple to reinforce that these foods are both fruits.

3. Cook Dinner Together

When you’re cooking dinner, you probably want nothing more than to kick your kids out of the kitchen, but don’t miss out on this chance to offer them a valuable learning opportunity. Making food together is always preferable to putting together meals by yourself or providing your kids with pre-prepared meals from the grocery store. By turning mealtimes into a team effort, kids develop greater understanding and responsibility when it comes to their food. Let them suggest a side dish and help prepare the ingredients. In no time at all they’ll be able to cook by themselves.

4. Use a MyPlate Placemat

MyPlate is a graphic providing a visual demonstration of the food groups and their portions on a typical dinner plate. Using this graphic as a placemat serves as a reminder of how much of each food group you and your children should be getting in every meal. Search for placemats that show examples of a serving from each food group to help instill the food group theory. For a more interactive lesson, you can even print out a MyPlate placement for your kids to illustrate with their ideas for a balanced meal.

5. Tour Your Local Grocery Store

Instead of shopping while the kids are at school or daycare, bring them along with you so they can learn some important life lessons. Taking your kids to the grocery store isn’t only a great way to educate them about food choices; it also teaches them about money, if they pay attention to the prices. Talk about the foods you’re buying and why you chose that particular type or brand. Discuss what recipes you’ll use the ingredients for and why certain choices are healthier than others. You might even find that, as they gain a better understanding of nutrition, your children start making excellent dinner suggestions!

Teaching your kids about healthy eating isn’t a one-time discussion; it’s an ongoing process that relies heavily on good examples, open dialogue, and team activities to ensure nutritional understanding and awareness. If you try these fun tips, your kids are sure to enjoy eating a balanced diet, which will further support their physical health.

Are Your Students Meeting the Physical Education Guidelines?

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

teacher marking off checklist with students in the background

By teaching young minds the proper techniques of physical fitness, educators are better able to instill valuable knowledge that will last a lifetime.

But how close are your students coming to an ideal physical education? Read on to discover the Physical Activity Guidelines (PAG) from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to create the best program for your class this spring.

Emphasize Health-Related Fitness

In the world of physical fitness, two competing practices exist: health-related fitness and performance-related fitness. Performance-related fitness rewards students based on achievement of a specific task; PAG guidelines are not meant to promote this type of competitive education. Instead, a full curriculum based on health-related fitness is endorsed to teach heart-health-conscious kids.

Proper instructions for cardiovascular and muscular fitness allow students to continue to work on their health, regardless of their skill level. While an individual focused on performance-related fitness routines may develop quicker, flashier physical results, they lack proper understanding of what it takes to maintain that level of fitness throughout development.

Choose Individualized Health Goals

Not every student is at the same level of physical fitness, and they aren’t in the same developmental stages at the same time, either. That’s why instead of setting arbitrary goals, like a certain time to run a mile or a certain number of sit-ups in a row, physical education teachers should focus on customized fitness goals.

Educators can promote individualized results for each student by tailoring physical education parameters to their specific wishes and health needs. Not everybody functions the same under the same circumstances. Through proper education, teachers should communicate what questions an individual should ask themselves in order to gain perspective of their desired goal. Some of these questions include, but are not limited to:

  • How physically fit do I want to be?
  • How much weight do I want to lose and keep off?
  • How important is it to me to reduce my risk of heart disease and diabetes?

It’s vital to challenge students to achieve higher levels of physical fitness than their baseline comfort levels without making them feel they aren’t good enough if they can’t reach the same goal as a peer.

Focus on Disease Prevention

One of the main goals of the PAG guidelines is developing fundamental education and an understanding of disease prevention. By fostering proper physical fitness routines, students, as well as adults, have less likelihood of developing Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. It’s also crucial to teach students the opposite end of the spectrum: the effects inactivity can have on the human body. By understanding both ends of the spectrum, students are better able to find a balance and ensure sound physical health throughout their lives.

Take the Lifespan Approach

Physical fitness and sports are imperative for children’s healthy growth and development. Exercising the right way for just 60 minutes a day has a huge impact in both the short and long-term, promoting healthy day-to-day habits and encouraging a lifetime of physical activity. Students fully educated by PAG guidelines will be able to take this valuable knowledge and apply it to each stage of their life: adolescence, adulthood, and late adulthood. And it can all start with one well-designed physical education class at school.

With all these benefits, why not update your P.E. classes this National Physical Fitness and Sports Month? Which new lesson plan ideas will inspire you?

4 Fun Lesson Plans to Keep Kids Active During Physical Activity Month

Monday, May 15th, 2017

 

Kids learning from teacher while sitting in a circle

Today, many schools are reducing their opportunities for physical activity, limiting recess, restricting physical education lessons, and keeping youngsters anchored to their desks for hours each day. Although this might seem like the easiest way to ensure a constant focus on academics, research indicates that physical activity and cognition go hand in hand.

May is officially recognized as National Physical Fitness and Sports Month. That makes now the perfect time for schools across the country to begin re-assessing their options for encouraging activity inside and outside of the classroom.

In the past, we at SPARK have drawn attention to the fact that students at every level desperately need movement to thrive in any school setting. Read on to discover some of our simple and effective lesson plans for instant and ongoing classroom physical activity you can start using today.

1. STEM Fitness Training

“STEM” Fitness Training lesson plans focus on fun facts about science, technology, engineering and math, while encouraging physical movement. Using a combination of markers, STEM Fitness Training cards and up-tempo music, teachers can encourage their students to actively pursue a deeper understanding of crucial topics as they get their blood pumping.

STEM Fitness Training involves quick cues, challenges and in-depth discussions between students as they move through aerobic fitness segments that support the mind/body connection. Try using SPARKabc’s Instructional Materials, which include three years of access to SPARKabc’s materials, along with STEM integration solutions, task cards and teaching resources.

2. Social Studies Fitness Relay

The Social Studies Fitness Relay lesson plan looks at the eight basic locomotor skills and helps develop peripheral vision in students. Using markers, the Social Study Fitness Relay state list and state cards, teachers can encourage children to expand their minds and enhance their understanding of crucial topics, while building a healthy vision.

As students spend more time staring at screens with their eyes fixed in distant vision mode, peripheral vision enhancement can help strengthen their eye muscles and improve reading comfort. The instructional materials set contains all the resources educators need to introduce Social Studies Fitness Relay solutions into their classrooms.

3. Nutrition Mix-Up

The Nutrition Mix-Up lesson plan teaches children about the five crucial “MyPlate” food groups, while promoting physical activity. The objective is for each student to identify themselves as a different food. They will then move quickly from one spot to another when the teacher calls their group.

Nutrition Mix-up is a fun and simple lesson solution that helps teachers emphasize the important connections between exercise and diet. The goal is to improve the positive relationships that children have with movement and healthy food, as well as to highlight the impact these elements have on their development and cognition. The Healthy Kids Challenge Wellness Solutions Toolkit can be an incredible supplement to the Nutrition Mix-Up, or any other nutrition-focused lesson plan.

4. Active as Soon as Possible Activities

A full lesson doesn’t need to center around physical activity in order to get students moving. Sometimes teachers will be able to recognize that their students are losing focus or becoming restless. And that’s where Active as Soon as Possible (ASAP) plans come into play. You can incorporate ASAP activities into the lesson plan around the times when children begin to become most lethargic. Each teacher should be able to pinpoint the perfect timing for their class.

Activities such as Invisible Jump Rope and Go Bananas! shake children out of their mid-day slump and get their hearts pumping. The rush of activity ensures an oxygen boost to the brain, which promotes energy and concentration. SPARK musical collections and instructional materials can help craft exciting ASAP activities to engage and revitalize students.

Planning for Physical Activity

As research continues to show the importance of physical activity in relation to brain function, it’s easy to see why teachers should incorporate more movement into their lesson plans. With physical activity lesson plans, educators can ensure that health and fitness don’t take a back seat to education. Instead, academics and activity can blend seamlessly together in an environment that encourages healthier development and better learning for children of all ages.

5 Ways to Promote Physical Activity Month at Your School

Monday, May 8th, 2017

Young kids in gym uniform follow gym instructor

Today, most parents and educators alike know that children need at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise each day. While encouraging children to spend an hour being active might not seem like much of a challenge, the truth is that we’re living in a world where youngsters are spending more time glued to television screens and rooted to classroom desks.

Around 3 out of 4 children are getting less than an hour of physical activity each day. This problem can link back to a reduced number of physical education classes, diminished recess opportunities, and the fact that children are spending around 30 hours per week on “screen time.”

May is “National Physical Fitness and Sports Month,” which makes it the perfect time for schools to start prioritizing activity and introducing the benefits of regular movement to their students. Here are 5 ways you can celebrate the advantages of an active lifestyle at your school to help develop a culture of fitness for the future.

1. Introduce In-Lesson Physical Activity

Today, school administrators across the United States are restricting opportunities for physical activity in classrooms. In an effort to push more focus on academic achievement, recess has fallen to minutes per day, and physical education classes are becoming increasingly less frequent.

Unfortunately, research suggests that P.E. and recess aren’t just crucial for fighting obesity and other common weight-related health problems, they’re also essential for boosting cognitive development. Regular physical activity promotes greater circulation and blood flow throughout the body, helps to enhance focus, and assists children in performing better academically. One way for teachers to overcome this issue is to build physical activity into their lesson plans.

During National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, educators can begin introducing STEM Fitness Training and Social Studies Fitness Relays, designed to get children up and moving while they learn. These solutions can make lessons more fun and engaging, while combining academic achievement with physical fitness.

2. Celebrate Fitness with Special Events

All children love a chance to celebrate something – even physical activity. That’s why National Physical Fitness and Sports Month is a great time to get them involved with special days and community events. On May 10, children from around the country can join families and community partners by walking or biking to school. Schools across the U.S. can register their 2017 event to enter into free prize draws for helmets and bikes.

Alongside a “bike or walk to school” day, you can also encourage parents and students in your school to help you come up with additional events and fundraisers. From a jog-a-thon to a hula hooping money-raising event, the whole community can get involved with exercise-friendly fun. What’s more, these fundraising opportunities will give you a chance to build the cash you need to invest in new materials that can help put fitness first.

3. Invest in New Materials

Sometimes, improving the active culture in a school environment is all about making sure you have the right resources. There are various low-cost and high-reward materials available that are already aligned to national and state physical education standards.

Digital programs, music, and even simple task cards can help teachers start developing new curriculums and lesson plans for a more active future. During National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, schools could examine the resources they already have by reaching out to fitness experts in the community and the school. A little investment and some research could open the door to dozens of new and healthy educational programs.

4. Get Creative

We’ve already established that teachers don’t need to restrict physical activity to P.E. lessons and recess. The time between lessons can be used to ensure physical activity throughout the whole day, without detracting from instructional periods. For instance, you could:

  • Use fitness activities to get students moving during advisory or homeroom periods.
  • Play uplifting music to promote movement during breaks.
  • Make exercise programs available during lunch periods, as well as before and after school.

5. Encourage Students to Take Charge

Finally, remember that National Physical Fitness and Sports Month is the perfect time for teachers and parents to encourage students to take charge of their own healthy habits. If educators can help children understand the benefits of regular movement and offer interesting ways for them to get active, they’ll be more likely to try it.

Students Taking Charge” is the Action for Healthy Kids framework that allows high school students to find ways to create and lead their own projects for nutrition and physical activity initiatives with help from adults and teachers. Student teams can build their own programs from scratch and transform the way they look at fitness with groups and activities that appeal to them.

In a world where it’s becoming more difficult to engage students in physical activity, allowing them to take control of their fitness is the perfect way to promote positive habits. Don’t miss out on all the advantages of promoting National Physical Fitness and Sports Month at your school.

3 Reasons Why Breakfast is the Most Important Meal of the Day for Kids

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2017

breakfast as a family

Do your kids routinely eat breakfast each morning?

Eating a balanced breakfast offers a wealth of health benefits, both physical and mental, for the whole family. Teaching your children healthy habits from a young age by incorporating a nutritious breakfast into their daily routine is a vital life lesson. Breakfast will not only have a positive impact on their bodies, but also on their education. Numerous studies have found that eating breakfast improves a child’s concentration, mood and grades. What’s more, eating breakfast as a family every morning is great way to spend quality time together.

Here are 3 reasons why you shouldn’t wait one more day to make eating breakfast a part of your child’s lifestyle:

1. It Encourages Healthy Eating Habits

Children who make a habit of eating breakfast every day are more likely to continue to do so throughout their lives. Studies have also shown that eating breakfast on a daily basis helps individuals maintain a healthy body weight. Eating healthy meals, starting with breakfast, is just as important as physical education and activity for young children. Make sure your family breakfast is well-balanced and nutrient-rich. A breakfast high in protein and complex carbohydrates is ideal, so next time you’re at the grocery store, make sure you pick up some eggs and oatmeal.

If your children aren’t eating breakfast on a regular basis, try to incorporate it into their schedule by having them wake up a little earlier each morning. You can also involve them in writing the grocery list. When kids feel like they have more ownership over the foods in front of them, they are more likely to actually eat them. Skim milk, low-sugar cereals, fruit and whole grain waffles are healthy foods that they will probably be excited to buy and, more importantly, to eat.

2. It Improves Their Concentration

The Nutrition Consortium of NY State tells us that children who eat a well-balanced breakfast show improved academic performance, demonstrate a longer attention span, have better attendance and experience decreased hyperactivity in school. Children also score better on tests if they have had a healthy breakfast beforehand.

If your child is tired, restless or grouchy by the early afternoon, adding breakfast will help stabilize his or her blood sugar and mood. Breakfast will give kids more energy and the ability to concentrate better throughout the day. The key is to stick to nutritious items and to avoid the empty calories often found in sugary cereals, syrups and breakfast pastries.

3. It Boosts Family Bonding

In the digital age, family time is an increasingly precious commodity. Research shows that children greatly benefit from sitting around the table for a meal with their family, and breakfast is no exception. Mealtimes provide the perfect setting for a catch up with one another, so step away from the television and the cell phones, and appreciate some one-on-one communication with your kids. Children who are involved in family meals are also less likely to get into trouble at school and usually perform better in their classes.

While it’s important for kids to start their day with a wholesome breakfast, it’s beneficial for mom and dad, too! Children model the behaviors they see, which makes eating your own well-balanced breakfast with your child a must. If you prioritize a family breakfast, even for just 10 to 15 minutes each day, you will all enjoy a healthier and more positive start to the morning.

The old saying holds true: breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. The morning meal has a direct influence on how we perform mentally and physically. When you provide the best breakfast experience for your children, you give them the opportunity to have a fantastic and effective day. Make sure your child’s breakfast is low in sugar and rich in fiber, protein and complex carbohydrates. Fuel them with the food that will keep them fit and full, and you’ll maximize the benefits for the family, too.