Archive for the ‘SPARK Blog’ Category


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.

6 Ideas for Protein-Packed, Kid-Friendly Food

Monday, April 24th, 2017

peanut butter protein sandwich

Protein is a powerful substance, responsible for building muscle, bone and tissue, as well as keeping your child’s energy levels regulated throughout the day. A regular dose of protein can even protect against infection. But if your child gets most of their protein from high-fat mac ‘n’ cheese or ice cream milkshakes, you may need to find new ways of broadening their protein palate.

Fortunately, there are plenty of easy-to-prepare, protein-rich meals your kids will love. Just open your refrigerator, grab your lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs and low-fat dairy products, and keep on reading.

Here are 6 simply delicious protein ideas for the whole family:

1. Play with Peanut Butter

Peanut butter is one of the best sources of protein, particularly for children who love the taste and the flexibility of the food. If peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are a strictly lunchtime staple in your home, why not inject some creativity into your PB experiments?

Try spreading a thick layer of peanut butter onto whole-grain waffles and decorate with raisins and a banana for a smiley face breakfast. For a fun and dippable snack, serve a bowl of peanut butter with celery sticks, crackers or thin slices of whole-grain toast.

2. Choose Chocolate Milk

Besides being an incredible source of protein, phosphorus, and vitamin D, calcium can also help to regulate energy in children. Since soda is perhaps one of the biggest causes of childhood obesity, it might be a good idea to remove it from the refrigerator in favor of healthy chocolate milk.

While chocolate milk does contain some sugar, chances are your kids will reach for it more often than regular milk. That’s great when you consider that each cup contains around 8-9 grams of protein much more than soda, or even juice.

3. Try Tasty Tuna Dips

Tuna is an excellent source of protein for kids because it’s virtually-fat free and brimming with great substances like Omega-3. While you should limit their intake to remain within safe mercury guidelines, there’s still lots of opportunities for delicious tuna treats.

Mix up a can of tuna with some fat-free mayonnaise and pickle relish, then serve with sticks of celery, carrots and cucumber for a quick and healthy lunch.

4. Build Chicken Burgers

Chicken is yet another low-fat source of protein, provided you avoid fatty favorites like fried chicken and breaded nuggets.

There are a whole host of ways to use chicken for a delightful and healthy meal, though chicken burgers are generally a good place to start. All you need to do is mash up some chicken breast and shape it into a set of patties. Once they’re cooked, you can serve them with thick slices of tomato, lettuce and whole-grain buns, so your kids can assemble their burgers themselves.

5. Develop Egg-cellent Dishes

Even the finickiest children often like eggs. Whether they’re mixed with low-fat milk to create French toast, scrambled and served with whole-wheat bread, or whipped up into omelets, eggs contain plenty of iron, protein and other crucial nutrients. Besides being a great source of protein, eggs also contain lutein and vitamins A and D, which will help to protect children from eye diseases as they grow up.

Mash some hard-boiled eggs into fat-free mayonnaise or low-fat yogurt, and chill. You can then spoon this chilled creation onto bread for egg-salad sandwiches, or even use cookie-cutters to stamp out different shapes for fun.

6. Enjoy the Ease of Cheese

Finally, protein-packed cubes of cheese can keep energy levels high while helping with your children’s health. Cheese can be easily prepared and served in a range of different, yet healthy, ways. As long as you pick something made with 100% milk, you probably can’t go wrong.

For an easy lunch favorite, try shaking up the classic grilled cheese sandwich with some reduced-fat cheddar and low-sodium ham. Use only a couple of spritzes of cooking oil over huge mounds of butter to grill.

The amount of protein your child needs each day varies according to age, body weight and the quality of the protein eaten. Although requirements range from 0.35 to 0.45 grams of protein per bodyweight pound, you’ll have no problem finding the perfect protein snacks to properly nourish your child, thanks to these tips.

Start boosting their protein intake and fueling their physical health today!

3 Innovative Physical Education Teaching Techniques

Tuesday, April 18th, 2017

physical education

Physical fitness among young people has now found itself at the forefront of society’s scrutiny. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), obesity among children between the ages of 2 and 19 has more than doubled in recent years, leaving students susceptible to the development of diabetes, complex joint issues and a host of other serious health problems.

Many physical fitness educators have taken it upon themselves to drastically reduce these statistics over the course of the next decade. Although the improvements in technology have somewhat contributed to the dangerously sedentary lifestyles of many young people, it can also be harnessed to reverse these health concerns. With instant access to almost anything at any given time, technology can be used to improve fitness and potentially save lives. It’s just a question of how it’s used.

So how can today’s educators create interactive work environments for their physical education classrooms?

Here are 3 modern solutions to fight the current health concerns facing our youth:

1. Modern Wellness-Tracking Technology

One way that educators can make physical wellness more interactive is by implementing fitness monitors, like the Fitbit or the Nuband, into their classes.

These lightweight, wearable activity trackers provide a wide range of real-time data. They can be used to help students become more aware of their body’s processes as a whole, or simply to learn their peak heart rate levels to achieve maximum physical fitness. Electronic activity trackers record step counts, quality of sleep cycles and a host of other personal metrics to ensure that students stay active throughout their developmental years. The attention to detail creates a feeling of ownership, fostering a sense of responsibility to maintain that state of wellness for the future. It is said that children should remain active for at least 60 minutes a day to meet proper health standards. Fitness trackers can help make sure kids reach this simple but vital goal in their P.E. classes, and also in their daily lives.

2. Music and Dance as Motivation

When it comes to movement in physical education, there is no better motivator than music. With this universal truth in mind, educators have developed new teaching methods based on viral dance crazes, like the Cupid Shuffle and the Konami Dance Dance Revolution music game. Not only does learning choreography together create a sense of camaraderie among classmates and teachers, but it also provides a great workout. Students can improve their coordination, strengthen their social interactions with one another and reduce stress levels during exam time.

What P.E. teacher wouldn’t want a class of smiling, dancing students?

3. Active Gaming Platforms

Technology-based hobbies have become so ingrained in the lifestyles of students that we often forget that they can serve as a valuable tool.

Exergames, or active gaming programs, like Hopsports and Kinect Xbox, invite users into a comfortable and familiar environment, while offering an opportunity for moderate-intensity physical activity. The best part about this exercise source is that it can be continued outside of school. Many students have their own gaming consoles and could take their P.E. class inspiration to a whole new level at home.

It is becoming increasingly important for teachers to use every outlet at their disposal to improve the health of their students. Some physical education teachers have found the key to success is utilizing what young people love the most – and, very often, that’s the new advancements in technology. By creating interactive and entertaining lessons with activity tracking, music, dance and gaming, teachers can improve student wellness practices not only in school, but in the decades to follow.

Keep Kids Heart-Healthy with These Fun Activities

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017

Heart

Physical inactivity is bad for your heart. Specifically, it’s a risk factor for developing coronary artery diseases, it increases the risk of stroke and can lead to obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and low HDL cholesterol (that’s the good kind).

Encouraging your kids to be heart-healthy will help them fight these issues before they happen, and ideally should be part of their school curriculum. By working to establish healthy routines early on, kids are more likely to continue them through their lives.

What Defines a Heart-Healthy Activity for Kids?

 

Most activities that encourage children to move and exercise can be considered heart-healthy. The American Heart Association suggests that kids participate in at least 60 minutes of regular physical activity per day. Examples of activities that would quality include jogging, swimming, dancing, skiing, and kickboxing, as well as many other team sports.

So how does one get kids excited about heart-healthy activities?

Heart-Healthy Activities for Kids

 

Make It Fun

It’s not hard to encourage heart-healthy activities for kids if they happen to be activities that they already enjoy. A few examples:

  • Biking
  • Jumping rope
  • Hopscotch
  • Playing on the playground and running around with friends

Of course, the key here is to make sure that kids get at least 60 minutes total of moderate to vigorous activity. Since kids might lose interest after just a few minutes, it’s important to supplement these fun activities with a little bit of structure.

SPARK Lesson Plans

With structure in mind, and making sure that kids get in the minimum amount of activity each day for heart-healthiness, we’ve created a number of lesson plans to help make this happen. Here are some easy ways to plan heart-healthy activities for kids:

Aerobic Bowling

For this activity, you’ll need 2 spot markers, 2 bowling pins (or lightweight cones), and 1 utility ball for each group of four students.

The object of this game is to teach underhand rolling skills, and to encourage kids to get as many points as possible before hearing a predetermined signal. The bowler rolls the ball to try and knock the pins over. He/she then runs after the ball, and sets up the cones for the next bowler, while the ball retriever retrieves the ball and runs it to the new bowler. Everyone gets a chance to play each role.

Hearty Hoopla

For this activity, you’ll need 4 hoops and 1 beanbag. You create a large activity area with a hoop in each corner. Four groups will participate, with one in each corner.

The object of this game is to collect beanbags from other hoops to bring to your group’s hoop. Movement is determined by a signal, and the group with the most beanbags scores a point for that round.

Hospital Tag

Who doesn’t like a game of tag?

For this activity, you’ll need 4 cones that create the boundary for a large activity area.

The object of this game is to tag as many others as possible, while avoiding being tagged yourself. Upon hearing, “Hospital Tag!” you tag people using a 2-finger tag. If you get tagged, you have to put a bandage (your hand) on your “boo-boo.” The next time you’re tagged, you have to put your other hand on your new “boo-boo.” Finally, if you get tagged a third time, move outside the boundaries to the “hospital,” complete a wellness task, and hop back into the game.

Do your students regularly engage in any of these heart-healthy activities for kids? Or is there something we missed that you’d add to this list? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

 

How to Include Dance in Your Lesson Plan

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

Children dancing

Just as with most sports, dance has many benefits beyond the physical. It has been shown to improve a child’s social and emotional skills, with teachers reporting that dance made their students more accepting of one another and respectful of their body and that of others. Dance is also a good means of fitness for children who may shy away from team sports, where coaches and competition can be a bit much to handle for younger students.  

With these benefits in mind, dance could be the perfect activity to incorporate into your next lesson plan.

Selecting the Style

 

From conga lines to square dancing to Irish jigs, there are so many types of dance you can use to inspire your lesson plan. The dance that works best for you will consider a number of factors, including the size of activity space and the age of your students.

For kindergarten to grade two, the best style of dance is one composed of simple movements. The teacher makes a series of individual body movements, such as touching his nose, then swaying his hips, then jumping in the air. Children are asked to mimic those movements while maintaining their personal space, an excellent way to teach simple choreography, coordination, and balance. Most movement is on the spot, so modeling can be done in a regular classroom or gym.

For primary school children, dances such as tap and jazz will build the strength and flexibility of students’ legs and feet, as well as introduce them to different types of music. Once students get older and are able to better memorize routines, ballroom, Latin, and faster jigs are ways to challenge students. These dances will require a larger activity space, such as a gymnasium.

Whatever the age of your students, make sure all lessons include a proper warmup and cool down!

Consider the Learning Objectives

 

It could be that you want to incorporate dance into your lesson plan because of its myriad of health and wellness benefits. While this may be true, have you considered the other learning objectives dance can help achieve?

Increased Coordination and Rhythm

Partner dances that incorporate extra movement are effective in increasing coordination and rhythm. For early primary students, dances like the Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride involve movements performed by individual children and performed with one another. Once the music is played, children are asked to time their claps and knuckle taps to the music, which will teach them to listen to the natural rhythm of a song.

Encouraging Creativity

Dance is an artistic expression of creativity. This is the case with any form of dance, but free-form interpretive is the best style to get students to move as they feel. While there are definitely nuances to contemporary interpretive dance, younger students can participate in this type of dance by simply moving along to a piece of music. Try an interpretive “free dance” session at the end of your class — let kids do what they want, and be amazed by the results!

Cultural Education

Almost every style of dance has its underpinnings in some historical and cultural context. For middle school and high school students, dance is an excellent way to complement history lessons, giving teens a less conventional look at the social and cultural side of a certain period.

For more inspiration and helpful instructional videos that will guide you every (dance) step of the way, pick up your SPARK dance DVD today!

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?

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.