Archive for the ‘SPARK Blog’ Category

How to Encourage Students to Try Team and Solo Sports

Thursday, November 16th, 2017

A youth soccer team huddles together on the field

Team and solo sports can be a fantastic supplement to physical education (PE) classes, promoting healthy habits and valuable life skills such as teamwork, discipline, and good sportsmanship. Not only that, but these activities can become beloved hobbies that children continue into adulthood and greatly benefit their later lives.

As a physical educator, you may find that, despite the many advantages of team and solo sports, some students still lack any interest in them. With that in mind, let’s look at how you can boost sports participation in your PE lessons and nurture the skills that students start to develop from trying them.

Set the Right Tone

Motivating reluctant students to try a new activity can be one of your greatest challenges in PE lessons. The first question you need to answer is whether or not a child actually wants to participate in the sport – after all, it’s no fun doing something if you don’t enjoy it, even if you’re good at it. More often than not, students are discouraged from an activity because they don’t think they will excel in it, which is why it’s essential to communicate to your class that being the best is not key to practicing sports.

Create a PE environment where all of your students respect and support each other, regardless of individual skill. Some students may be reluctant to participate because they are afraid of being judged or bullied. You must not allow bullying under any circumstances. Instead, celebrate the effort it takes to try something new, as well as the opportunity to learn different skills from one another.

When a child tries a new activity, especially one that is outside their comfort zone, acknowledge their courage and emphasize that every student has something to contribute to the team. This attitude puts a positive spin on the whole experience of trying new team or solo sports.

Break Down Barriers

Boredom is another major factor in a student’s lack of interest in sports. Keeping your lesson plans fresh helps maintain variety and lets your class sample more activities, increasing the chance that they find their preferred sport.

If noncompetitive solo activities appeal more strongly to some students, give them a chance to try activities where you “win” by achieving a personal goal, such as maintaining your target heart rate for a given amount of time. Tracking personal progress can be very rewarding for many children, and even if they don’t like traditional sports, they can still get a great workout from a more unusual PE activity like dancing.

Remember that your students may experience any number of other barriers, including socio-economic and cultural factors, which discourage them from wanting to participate in sports. Some of these factors are beyond your control, but being aware of them may let you find ways to make team and solo sports more accessible to your entire PE class.

Nurture Students’ Skills

When a student demonstrates some level of skill at an activity, they should be encouraged to develop it without being pressured. If a child is pushed too hard, an activity they once enjoyed may stop being fun and start feeling like a chore. Learning self-discipline is important, but those lessons are lost if a sport begins to feel like a punishment.

The skills your students may discover are not just the athletic kind. Some students may show a knack for creating strategies, motivating others, facilitating communication between team members, leadership, or organization. When you notice that one of your students shows promise in a particular area, let them know. This gives them a sense of achievement that is as important as any athletic endeavor, and still lets them associate success with sports participation.

Sports as a Learning Opportunity

Children can benefit from learning that effort and practice are needed to develop valuable personal skills, regardless of any “natural talent.” Solo and team sports are an excellent way to train these skills, while keeping kids active and healthy, which is why it’s so important to keep your PE students engaged.

If you’re looking for inspiration for your PE classes, download SPARK’s free lesson plans with simple instructions for a range of solo and team sports today.

How to Encourage Parent Involvement in PE

Thursday, November 9th, 2017

father and son smile as they play a game of basketball

After a long week of school, you’d think kids would look forward to a weekend of energetic activity and adventures, but that’s not necessarily the case. In fact, research suggests that children’s physical activity levels are lower on the weekends than on weekdays.

The good news is, there seems to be a way to get kids moving on the weekends: get their parents in on it.

That same research showed that kids whose parents cared about and encouraged physical activity were more likely to be active outside of school hours. As an educator, it’s obvious that you can make a difference in the physical education kids receive at school (and how active they are) — but there are ways you can get parents more involved in kids’ health and fitness at home, too.

Assign Homework for Kids and Parents To Do Together

One of the best ways to get parents involved in PE is to get them actively participating in the teaching themselves. This leading by example approach is especially effective for younger learners who look up to and frequently copy their parents.

To accomplish this, try assigning “home fun.” While it may not be common to have homework for PE classes, there’s no reason your class should be different than other subjects. If you design the assigned activities for a household setting, parents can be engaged and involved in their children’s fitness and health.

Educate Parents About Opportunities for Their Kids

While older students may not emulate their parents to the same degree as young children, parents can still influence the physical activity levels of their middle school and high school children. That is, as long as parents are aware of accessible opportunities to get their kids more physically active. Between long work days, caring for the family, and myriad other commitments, parents may not be able to learn about all the options out there for their kids — perhaps they had their daughter try basketball, but she didn’t enjoy it, so they turned away from sports in general.

As a PE professional, you have access to a plethora of local resources and activities. Connecting parents to opportunities for physical activity will, in turn, open them up to your students. Maybe that student who dislikes softball just hasn’t found the right activity yet —  whether it’s karate, swimming, or ballet!

Get Parents Involved in Healthy Eating

While it’s important to get parents involved in the active aspect of PE, it’s equally important to get them involved in the nutrition aspect of PE. Did you know that only one third of parents feel they’re doing a good job promoting healthy eating for their kids?

Nutritional awareness is lacking in many households. As schools continue to introduce healthier options and get rid of junk food in cafeterias, encouraging parents to do the same at home can have a big impact on children’s health.

Beyond teaching your students about healthy food choices in class, send some information home to parents. Consider assigning light homework activities related to food and nutrition, to get your students working with their parents to eat healthier and have discussions about good food.

Ask Parents to Help Track Their Kids’ Fitness Goals

Have your students track aspects of their health and fitness at home, and encourage parents to get involved in helping them monitor and meet goals.

While you may be able to use wearable activity trackers in class, these may not be accessible to every student at home, unless your PE budget can accommodate sending every child home with one. Instead of tech-based monitors, consider cost-efficient tracking solutions like journals or diaries. Students and their parents can use these to jot down the activities they do outside of school, how long they do them, and even how hard they were. This can help your students and their parents visualize how they measure up to the recommended 60 minutes per day of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity.

Educators and Parents Must Work Together to Raise Healthy Kids

It’s simple: when kids are more active, they’re healthier — both in body and mind. Not only is low physical activity one of the greatest risk factors for being overweight or obese, but there’s also evidence that healthier kids perform better in school.

While educators can make a difference at school, children spend more time out of school than in — and at least some of that time should be spent engaging in physical activity and cultivating healthy habits.

Since parents are typically the ones making the schedules and planning the activities for time spent outside of school (especially for younger children), making sure parents are educated, supportive, and involved can have an immense impact on children’s success. By combining your efforts with parent influence, educators have a good chance of making students’ weekends — and their holiday breaks — just a little bit more active, healthy, and fit.

Of course, there’s always the added benefit that by encouraging parent involvement in PE, there’s a good chance they’ll practice their own healthy habits, too!

Guidelines for Enjoying a Healthy Thanksgiving

Tuesday, November 7th, 2017

young girl smiles while waiting to eat thanksgiving meal

With scrumptious side dishes, tantalizing turkey, and a decadent dessert table, the Thanksgiving holiday can put a major dent in you and your children’s healthy diet. But with a few tips from our past blog posts, you can change up your turkey day tactics with food swaps and fun games. It’s the perfect recipe for keeping festive, fit, and out of that food coma!

Thanksgiving Dinner Healthy Swaps

Thanksgiving dinner is designed to be deliciously indulgent, but with a few simple replacements you can create an equally delectable meal that your body will also appreciate – as we found out for our Thanksgiving post in 2011.


Although turkey skin isn’t all bad, it’s worth choosing your cuts carefully. With half the fat of dark meat, white turkey meat contains all the healthful body-nourishing unsaturated fat you need. Foregoing the deep fryer also ensures a healthier way of digging into Thanksgiving’s featured fowl.

Gravy is another high-fat, meat-based gotcha on Thanksgiving, but that doesn’t mean you have to eliminate a topping altogether. For a healthy kick with some tang, try swapping out your gravy with a healthier homemade cranberry sauce.


Many thanksgiving sides start with healthy vegetables, and you can choose how you’d like to prepare them. As their name might suggest, sweet potatoes are naturally sweet – simply roast them to bring out their natural sugars. Green beans are also low in calories at a meager 35 calories per cup. Try them au-natural with a touch of olive oil and lemon or garlic.

If a casserole is a must-have menu item, experiment with a version that is ‘souped up’ with healthy alternatives to the traditional canned soup ingredient. Not only that, but you can shake up your stuffing by using whole wheat bread, whole grains, and even more veggies.


The dessert table is often where we get into trouble, particularly when it comes to pie selections. In fact, pecan pie can contain 500 calories per slice! Try reducing the sugar and butter, and adding a whole grain crust to your homemade pie instead.

Another tip from one of our past holiday posts is to avoid buffet-style meals and dessert selections, because this encourages overeating. Even if you’ve made healthier options, it’s important to take a break from Thanksgiving indulgence.

Thanksgiving Themed PE Class Games

It may be hard to keep kids focused in the lead up to Thanksgiving, but we have the perfect lesson plans to keep them on track. Use these fun alternative lessons to keep your class in shape, as we recommended last Thanksgiving.

Turkey Tag

Turkey tag is ideal for all ages. Designate two players as turkeys, and send them running after other players to tag them. Once tagged, other players are transformed into turkeys and must stay in place and flap their wings until another non-tagged team member taps them to release them.

Capture the Turkey

Similar to capture the flag, this game is great for large classes that can be split up into 2 or more large teams. Each team needs a large outdoor space (or ‘turkey farm’), along with a small ‘turkey jail’ area. The teams get a rubber chicken or paper turkey that must be captured by the opposing team and brought back to their farm. If you get tagged, you have to go to ‘turkey jail’ and squawk loudly to be freed by your team!

Turkey Trot

For this game, divide your class into two groups and use a turkey mascot (rubber chicken or football) to throw back and forth between opposing teams while music plays. When the music stops, the team member holding the ‘turkey’ must run to avoid being tagged. If they’re tagged, they must surrender the turkey, flap their wings, and gobble three times before trying to recapture the bird. When the music restarts, the turkey is tossed back and forth again.

Whether feasting or frolicking, keep these Thanksgiving Day tips in mind to help you and your students enjoy a fun and healthy holiday this year. To learn more about how you can encourage healthy eating all year round, visit SPARK’s Nutrition Services page today.

Maximize Your Equipment Budget with These 6 Tips

Thursday, November 2nd, 2017

Gym class sports equipment

Having the right equipment in your PE classroom is essential. When your budget for equipment is limited, it’s difficult to successfully offer the full extent of activities and learning opportunities you want to give your students. While you can advocate for a budget increase, those conversations take time, and your school won’t always be able to fully grant your request.

One of the challenges of being a physical educator is learning how to make the most of the budget you do have at your disposal. Even if your budget has left you wanting, you can still optimize the use of your existing assets and find innovative ways to raise more funds.

Here are six tips for maximizing your equipment budget, so you can set your students up for success and physical fitness:

1. Apply for Grants

Writing grants used to require career expertise, but the process has become more user-friendly over the years. While it doesn’t hurt to have someone on your side with experience in organizing and submitting grant applications, you shouldn’t be intimidated to attempt it yourself as a PE teacher or administrator. SPARK offers resources to help physical educators find relevant grants and submit proposals. With a specified grant, you may be able to add new equipment to your program sooner than you thought.

2. Share Your Facilities

If you have on-site facilities — such as a swimming pool or football field — that could be used by other organizations, consider renting them out on the weekends, or on the nights that your school’s team plays away games. Additional funds from facilities rentals can supplement your budget and help you achieve that higher quality equipment on your PE department’s wish list.

3. Increase Your Athletic Marketing Efforts

Some of your equipment budget likely comes from ticket sales to school games and events. Take advantage of this source of budget by getting more people in the seats at your school’s football, softball, and basketball games. Use social media to promote upcoming games. Reach out to a local radio station to advertise the upcoming events. Make use of flyers, the school website, and in-school announcements to encourage ticket sales. If your school sends out a regular newsletter to parents, ask to have upcoming games and events featured prominently in each newsletter.

4. Focus on Equipment Maintenance

Some pieces of equipment are more essential than others, and that means when something crucial breaks or wears down, replacing it may shoot to the top of the priority list — squeezing out other goals that were next in line. The fewer items you absolutely need to buy, the more you can spend on new items and activities you want to add to your PE classes. Putting a focus on maintenance of your current equipment can help it live longer, putting off the need to spend budget funds replacing it. Encourage students and staff to properly store all equipment at night to keep it protected from the elements and theft. Even minor efforts for proper maintenance will make a difference.

5. Find a Trusted Vendor — and Build a Relationship

You already know that when it comes to price and quality, not all equipment vendors are the same. Having a good relationship with a high quality vendor can help you get the most bang for your buck and make an impact on your annual spending. Shopping around until you find the right place to buy PE equipment can take time. Start your search for new vendors well in advance, so you can compare product prices and shipping costs. Consider working with a partner who specializes in school equipment — you may be able to get your hands on equipment at a discount.

6. Buy in Bulk

Vendors who specialize in PE equipment make it easy for you to buy in bulk. As with paper products and other school supplies, buying more at once is often cheaper than buying each piece of equipment one at a time. Buying in bulk can also save you on shipping costs. You can get everything from playground balls to hockey sticks in multiples to save some cash.

Through creative fundraising and savvy buying, you can explore every avenue to make the most of your funds, and create the best experience for your students with the budget given to you.

Keep Your PE Students Engaged with These 5 Tips

Thursday, October 26th, 2017

Kindergarten students sitting on the floor

It doesn’t matter how many activities you dedicate to building muscle groups or motor skills if you can’t get your students to care about doing them. If your kids seem to be going through the motions in your PE class, but aren’t really excited or engaged in learning the fitness concepts, they’re not going to take away long-term benefits from your lessons. Helping your students stay on track with fitness goals is a whole lot easier if they are actively engaged in your class.

If you notice students showing less interest during PE, the swiftest way to get their attention is to do something unexpected — switch up their routine. Through the use of invigorating warm-ups, creative fitness circuits, and innovative activities, you can get students amped to participate in class. Here are five tips for keeping your students engaged and active.

1. Divide Students into Groups

Managing a large group of students is a challenge for any teacher, but especially in PE where kids are up and moving for most of the class period. In a large class, your students may be more likely to get distracted, and you are probably less likely to notice. Try dividing your students into smaller, more manageable groups when focusing on an activity. If splitting up your class will result in too many groups to monitor closely, consider utilizing aides or nominating student ambassadors to keep groups on task.

2. Implement Creative Warm-Ups

Before you begin the day’s activities, lead a creative and high-energy warm-up. Not only will your students reap the physical benefits of stretching their muscles before they begin the day’s work, but an interesting warm-up helps students get focused and engaged. Aside from stretching, warm-ups can include dancing, jumping in place, and other movements that get blood flowing. Think outside the box to stimulate their muscles and pique their interests right at the beginning of class.

3. Create Fitness Circuits

Fitness circuits are a great way to keep small groups of students focused and challenged during PE. To set up circuits, you’ll need enough space to spread each student group into a large circle, some cones, and flash cards with instructions. In this activity, students will move at your cue from station to station, engaging in a different exercise at each station. To set up fitness circuits:

  • Place the cones, equally spaced, in a large circle. Attach an instruction card to each cone, describing the activity for that station.
  • Alternate high-intensity and low-intensity cone stations around the circle.
  • Decide how long groups will stay at each station (no more than a few minutes).
  • Use a whistle or music over a speaker system, so you have an audible cue to let students know when to move to the next circuit station.

You can set up all types of circuits, which is another advantage to the system. Popular types of circuits include:

  • Track and field circuits (for outdoor classes). Stations include long jump, sprint, and triple jump.
  • Learning and fitness circuits. Combine stations featuring endurance exercises with stations where students must answer a series of questions about healthy diets.
  • Muscle building circuits. Alternate stretching and weight lifting stations.
  • Play Music: Adding music can be a great way to encourage students, and dancing is a great workout!
  • Make it fun: Fun should be at the core of all of your classes, so always remember to emphasize having fun!

4. Provide New and Challenging Activities

Keep your classes feeling fresh and intriguing by adding new activities periodically. When you keep your students on their toes with new challenges to navigate, they are more likely to pay attention in class. Challenges may be related to building varied skills, or advancing the level of difficulty of your previous activities. Keep the new challenge in your schedule for a month or so, and then start rotating in new exercises or levels to give your students both mental and physical stimulation.

5. Get Feedback

Perhaps the most important way to figure out how to get students engaged is to ask them for honest feedback about class. A lack of engagement in class may be fixed with a solution you didn’t think up on your own. Ask which parts of the fitness circuits your students enjoy most. Are they more interested in organized sports? Do they enjoy setting up drills, splitting into stations, or pairing mental puzzles and challenges with physical exercises? Your students may give you some great ideas for activities they want to do. Plus, gauging the interest of your students on a regular basis will help you monitor when their engagement is dipping, giving you a heads up about when to switch the routine again.

Improving Student Engagement Benefits Them Outside of Class, Too

As much as you can plan well-balanced activities to teach your class about fitness and nutrition, it’s the student engagement that makes or breaks any PE class. Stimulate your students’ brains by introducing fresh activities, crafting challenges that require mental concentration as well as physical skills, and switching up the routine periodically so it doesn’t feel boring.

Not only will students enjoy better fitness outcomes when they are fully engaged, but they may gain an interest in athletics that transcends PE and leads them to join in a sports team, new school activity, or active hobby. Remember, one of your biggest tasks as a physical educator is to not just make your year with them an active one, but to help give students lifelong knowledge and appreciation for fitness.

Tips for Healthy Halloween Treats

Tuesday, October 24th, 2017

Children eagerly await their halloween treats

Halloween and sweet treats are practically synonymous. While sweets aren’t bad in limited amounts, it is all too easy for one night of Halloween treats to balloon into a week-long sugar spree.

Between the piles of trick-or-treat candy (that might hang around well into November) and the various Halloween parties and events a child may attend in the days leading up to October 31st, it is especially important to cut through all that sugar with some nutritious substitutes that will appeal to kids.

Here are some tips for creating healthy treats that aren’t loaded with added sugar and still evoke the fun spirit of Halloween. Teachers and educators can serve these in class or recommend them to parents.

A Fresh Face for Familiar Foods

These snack ideas don’t require much assembly time; perfect for the busy teacher or parent. The fun Halloween theme comes from arranging them properly on the plate.

These are great for classroom parties and gatherings because it’s easy to scale the amount of food up or down, depending on how many people you’re feeding. You can make an individual plate for one person (after-school snack, anyone?), or a big platter to feed an entire group of hungry little monsters.

All of the recipes below are vegetarian and can be made vegan depending on the ingredients used in the dip. Remember, presentation is key to give these snacks the Halloween look and feel.

Veggie Skeleton

Serve up a nutritious skeleton made out of vegetables. Use a small, round cup of healthy veggie dip (such as hummus or a yogurt-based dip) as the head. Construct the rest of the skeleton’s bone structure from slices of various veggies. Straight veggie sticks, such as carrots and celery, work well for arms, legs, and a nice bony spine. Curved bell pepper slices are perfect for representing ribs.

You can even sneak in a lesson about how eating healthy food helps keep your bones strong — so it’s cute and educational!

Veggie Spiders

Even simpler than the veggie skeleton, this spider’s body is formed by a round bowl (or large round scoop) of veggie dip or black bean hummus. Simply arrange veggie sticks strategically around the dip to form eight legs (carrots and celery are excellent for this one).

Veggie Pumpkin Patch

Spread your choice of veggie dip or hummus on a plate (or large platter, for a group setting). Slice large carrots into round slices and set them upright in the field of veggie dip. The effect works best if you use a green dip, such as one with spinach or kale in it, to evoke the vines in the pumpkin patch — or, add leaves of fresh baby spinach amid your hummus ‘field.’

Bugs on a Raft

This snack gives a Halloween spin to a classic favorite: Ants on a Log. Instead of a log of celery, this treat features a raft made out of an apple. Cut an apple into round slices. Spread the round apple slices with nut butter, then add raisins or seeds (such as pumpkin or shelled sunflower seeds) to represent bugs. Get the kids involved in making this one, by letting them add their own bugs to your ready-made rafts.

Snacks in Costume

Halloween is all about playing dress-up, and dressing up healthy food can make otherwise boring snacks feel extra special. It can also help to get kids in the mindset of thinking of these nutritious food choices as fun treats.

Some of the following suggestions require a little more time and effort than the quick ones above, but we promise, the results are worth it. Depending on the age of your children, they may be able to help decorate and assemble their own snacks!

Clementine Pumpkins

This is an easy one to do with students during class, or at a children’s Halloween party. Let kids use markers to decorate the peel of a clementine with a jack o’ lantern face (oranges and tangerines work just as nicely). Or, decorate them yourself ahead of time and arrange them as a basket of jack o’ lanterns.

Alternatively, you can peel the clementines and stick a piece of celery in each as a stem, to make “pumpkins” before serving.

Fruit and Veggie Jack o’ Lanterns

These are a bit more labor-intensive, but the results are downright adorable. Carve a jack o’ lantern face into a small fruit or vegetable, such as an apple or bell pepper — treating it like a tiny pumpkin. For a group, you can make several ahead of time and present them on a platter for the kids to admire before slicing them up to share.

Super Fruit Heroes

Using paper templates, trace and cut out small masks and capes from colorful construction paper that can be assembled and placed around an apple or similar fruit. This could be a fun classroom project to encourage students to bring home a superhero costumed apple — maybe it’ll steer them away from binging on too much candy after trick-or-treating.

Boo-nanas and Ghostly Graveyard Cups

Turn peeled bananas into tiny ghosts. Peel and cut a banana into segments about three inches long. Form a ghost face at the end of each banana segment, by pressing miniature chocolate chips to create two eyes and an open mouth. Set each boo-nana in an individual cup of healthy yogurt, add small chunks of chopped fruit if you wish, and serve with a spoon!

We hope these ideas spark your imagination, inspire sensible snacking, and help your students to have a happy and healthy Halloween!

9 of Our Best Posts About Food and Nutrition

Thursday, October 19th, 2017

Children eating healthy food in cafeteria

The world of physical education is about much more than just exercise — physical education programs also teach students how to eat well and take care of their bodies by making nutritious choices.

Healthy eating boosts physical and mental health, so an emphasis on good food is an important habit for any family. Kids who eat nutritious diets perform better on exams and show improved attendance over kids whose diets are lacking in nutrition.

We’ve posted a lot of blog entries about healthy eating and nutritional foods — because we know how important it is for our children to learn healthy eating habits as they grow!

Here, we revisit some of our best blog posts that highlight food and nutrition, from snacks to meals and healthy eating on special occasions.

Snacks for Kids


Healthy Snacks to Beat the Heat

When the summer sun is blazing, serve your kids treats that help them remain hydrated and get essential nutrients. From frozen juice pops to refreshing guacamole, these healthy snack ideas will satisfy your kids while providing vitamins and protein. Read on for summer snacking inspiration.

Summer Treats to Beat the Heat: 6 Healthy Snacks Your Kids Will Love

Healthy Pinwheels for Healthy Kids

This scrumptious tortilla and veggie pinwheel recipe was posted as a holiday snack idea for little ones, but it can be served year-round. Have your kids help you make pinwheels for the next holiday occasion, serve them at your child’s next birthday party, or prep them for sleepover snacks instead of ordering pizza.

Holiday Pinwheels Recipe from Healthy Kids Challenge

Adding More Veggies to the Snack Routine

One of the biggest challenges as a parent is actually convincing your kids to eat more healthy food,  especially when it comes to veggies! Consider asking them to pitch in when creating meals — when you get your kids involved in the grocery shopping and cooking process, they often get more excited about trying new things. Read our post for more ideas to help boost your kids’ love for this nutritious food group.

The 5 Best Ways to Get Your Kids to Eat More Vegetables

Holiday Eating


6 Healthy Recipes for the Holidays

The holidays can be a nutrition landmine, with platters of sweets and indulgent plates available around every corner. Seasonal festivities make it hard for kids and parents alike to stick to healthy food choices. The next time you invite friends and family to gather around your table, wow them with these six dishes that are just as delicious as they are calorie conscious.

Stay Fit and Festive with 6 Healthy Holiday Recipes

Learning What to Take Off the Holiday Menu

While you’re adding nutritious foods to your holiday menu, consider removing some of the worst offenders. Dishes like stuffing, pecan pie, and green bean casserole are tasty favorites — but they’re also high in calories and tend to be eaten in large quantities. Think about taking one of these five dishes off the table, or making low-fat ingredient substitutions in your recipes.

5 Dishes to Consider Removing From Your Holiday Dinner Plans

Stop the Halloween Binge in Its Tracks

It’s not just the holidays with big family gatherings that can get us in trouble — Halloween is one of the most difficult holidays for healthy eaters! Halloween candy can feel downright addictive. Kids and adults alike find themselves drawn to the plastic pumpkins filled with sugary treats. Read our post with tips to help you stave off a late-night Snickers binge, or a post-Halloween sugar coma.

4 Ways to Avoid Halloween Candy Overload

Meal Tips for the Family


Starting the Day with a Healthy Meal

Begin your day together with a healthy family meal. Not only does a hearty breakfast — with a balance of fruit and protein — support better concentration throughout the morning, but sitting down together allows you to set the tone for the day with some family bonding time.

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

Protein-Rich Foods for Your Kids

Any parent knows it’s hard to find time to cook up a well-balanced, nutritious lunch everyday. Most parents rely on easy, on-the-go lunch solutions. But just because you’re making a quick lunch doesn’t mean it can’t be filling. With these kid-friendly protein-fueled food ideas, both you and your kids can have a healthy packed lunch.

6 Ideas for Protein-Packed, Kid-Friendly Food

Making Easy and Nutritious Meals

Amending family favorites like quesadillas and sloppy joes by using low-cal ingredients is easy. You can whip up something for the entire family that you can feel good about – and they’ll love. These popular recipes include a mix of protein, vitamins, and healthy grains.

13 Spooky Lesson Plans

Tuesday, October 17th, 2017

13 Spooky Lesson Plans

While September may find your students invigorated with the energy of a fresh start, by October, the excitement of beginning a new school year has usually begun to fade. Put some pep back in their step, with a little spook factor!

Halloween is a great time of year to re-engage your PE classes with some seasonal fun. SPARK’s PE lesson plans already offer a wealth of exciting activities, so don’t be afraid to get creative and add a spine-tingling new twist to one of your tried-and-true lesson plans.

Here are a few examples for your inspiration. Many of these activities already have a holiday twist, so it’s easy to transform their theme from Thanksgiving to Halloween with seasonal toys and props, or just a simple name change.

1. Capture the Jack-O’-Lantern

Turn this fun Capture the Turkey activity into Capture the Jack-o’-Lantern by exchanging the toy turkey for a rubber jack-o’-lantern toy. A rubber skull works just as well, and you’re sure to delight your students with a spooky game of Capture the Jack-o’-Lantern.

2. Zombie Tag

Use a Halloween toy to turn Turkey Tag into Zombie Tag. Have students who are tagged lurch around like zombies, until they are tapped on the shoulder to be ‘awakened’ or ‘cured’ from their zombie infection.

3. The Monster Mash

Combine a Halloween-themed toy (rubber skeletons would work well) and a spooky playlist, and you can easily turn the Turkey Trot into the Monster Mash. When they’re tagged, have your “Fleer” students act like classic monsters, before they become the “Chasers.”

4. Mummy Bowling

You don’t need a new toy to turn Aerobic Bowling into Mummy Bowling. Simply change the names of the bowling pins (or lightweight cones, if you choose) into mummies. If you want to get crafty, glue some googly eyes to the bowling pins to give the ‘mummies’ a face! Students must roll balls to knock the mummies down before they can come to life and chase their classmates.

5. Monsters Alive

Grades K-2 will enjoy Monsters Alive, a Halloween twist on Toys Alive. The students have to act like Halloween characters (think monsters, mummies, witches…), but can only move when the PE teacher isn’t looking — and must freeze in their pose when the teacher turns around.

6. Ghost Tag

Update the theme of Triangle Tag to transform it into Ghost Tag — this one’s ideal for grades 3-6. In this version, players can be renamed as Halloween characters (such as Dracula, Frankenstein, or Casper the Ghost!), and live out a Halloween-inspired story.

7. Vampire Tag

Convert the tried and true Rock-Paper-Scissors Tag into Vampire Tag. The winner of each rock-paper-scissors match becomes a vampire, who must chase his or her partner.

8. Tiny Pumpkin

Changing the game of Tiny Soccer into Tiny Pumpkin is as simple as a name switch! Just call your paper balls ‘pumpkins’ instead of soccer balls. No adjustments to the rules are needed.

9. Lava Aerobics

All grade levels can do Lava Aerobics, an exciting version of Paper Plate Aerobics. The object is to do the aerobic moves while keeping your feet on the paper plates, which are your only protection because the floor is lava — yikes!

10. Werewolf Tag

With a little imagination, Hospital Tag becomes Werewolf Tag. This game is suited for grades 3-6. The rules are as follows: If you get one “bite,” you must use your other hand; the second bite sends you to the hospital (sidelines) to get treatment, so you won’t turn into a werewolf.

11. Spiderwebs

To turn this fun Hearty Hoopla game into a spooky Spiderwebs game, consider the hoops as spiderwebs. The goal is for each team to try to collect as many rubber spider toys as possible from the other team’s webs.

12. Spider Boogie

Grades K-2 can play Spider Boogie by substituting a rubber spider toy for the beanbag traditionally used in Line Boogie. If you can’t get your hands on a fun toy, simply refer to the beanbag as a spider.

13. Werewolf Puppy Chase

Elementary aged students may love Werewolf Puppy Chase, a Halloween version of Catch and Chase that’s much more cute than scary. Play as usual, but when the music stops, the student holding the ball turns into a werewolf puppy and chases the other partner, trying to tag them (safely and softly — these pups are just playing).

The Right Spooky Atmosphere for Each Age Group

Think about age appropriateness when catering these activities — not only to avoid making things too scary in your younger classes, but also to ensure that you make activities intriguing enough to hold the interest of your older students.

For elementary students, exercises involving role playing and sound effects lend themselves well to young minds. Students can pretend to be monsters, or role play as the character they intend to choose for their Halloween costume. SPARK’s Superhero lesson plan suggestions offer a number of ideas that would also work for Halloween, and can suit all ages.

Middle school students could try a Halloween-inspired track and field day. Think of the fun students can have when Team Vampire, Team Werewolf, and Team Zombie compete in relay races and obstacle courses.

High school students may enjoy a lesson plan infused with a scary narrative. Everyone knows you need excellent cardio in order to run from a monster attack. Perhaps you could frame all your class activities as training exercises to practice different ways to escape from hordes of zombies.

Our Best Tips to Increase Fundraising

Thursday, October 12th, 2017

Happly Teacher Standing in Corridor

As a physical education teacher or administrator, you know that the resources you need to implement new lesson plans and update your curriculum may come with a big price tag.

If you have more students than you planned for or want to incorporate additional equipment and activities that require funding, it’s not too late to raise money for the school year. In fact, now that school is in full swing, you may have more success with your fundraising efforts.

Between innovative solicitations for private donations and grant applications, there are many ways to put some more cash in your coffers. Here are some tips for increasing your fundraising in the new school year.

Making the Most of Crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing through websites like GoFundMe, Fund My PE, ACTIVE Schools Fundraising, and Adopt a Classroom is becoming an increasingly popular – and effective – way to raise money for your school. As a physical educator, these websites present an opportunity for you to reach a wide audience of people who are interested in physical fitness. Donations using these types of platforms are becoming more popular, and individual donors appreciate the sense of personal connection they feel to the cause.

Recommendations for creating a successful crowdsourcing page that will inspire donations include:

  • Fill out the page completely. If your page doesn’t have a lot of information on it, potential donors may not be sure if it’s legitimate.
  • Add photos of your gym and/or students (if you can). Putting a personal spin on the page may solicit more donations.
  • Be specific about how you will use the funds. Being transparent about your budget will give people more confidence to donate. You may even offer to follow up with photos of what you buy with the funds.
  • Share the crowdsourcing link on social media, and encourage parents of your students to do the same.

Holding Successful Fundraising Events

Traditional fundraising events are another great way to garner some funds for your PE program. These events offer more face time, so donors can see the teachers and administrators who will benefit – or even the kids themselves.

Once you set a goal for your fundraising and get enough staff and parents committed to helping, you’re ready to brainstorm your efforts. Here are some ideas for creative fundraisers that will draw attention and earn money for your PE classroom:

  • Arrange a parents vs. teachers basketball game or soccer match, and sell tickets.
  • Get a local greenhouse to donate some plants and hold a garden sale.
  • Organize a 5K and ask people to pledge money for every mile students and teachers walk.
  • Partner with a local restaurant that is willing to donate a certain percentage of sales on a particular night to your classroom.

When planning fundraisers, try to keep in mind your goal — to improve the health of your students.  Because of this, you may want to consider not gearing your fundraisers around junk food, like candy bar and cookie dough drives. There are many other options to raise funds for your program that won’t give a conflicting message to your students.

Applying for Education Grants

Government and private grants offer another way to boost your budget for specific equipment or program goals. For PE teachers, the Physical Education Program (PEP) grant is a good option. To improve your chances of success with your application:

  • Start researching the program requirements as soon as possible and put together a needs assessment for your school (one example is the CDC’s School Health Index).
  • Craft a detailed budget and name your grant project.
  • Gather data about your school that establishes the need for funds.
  • Incorporate state standards in your proposal, and show how the grant funds will help you reach them.

The grant writing process can be nuanced, so consider taking a grant writing class or consulting with someone who has experience with PEP grants.

The Bottom Line: It’s All About the Kids

With school already in session, it’s easier to keep student programs top of mind for parents and the surrounding community. Parents want to ensure their kids have access to top notch education, so remind them of how important PE is to a child’s long term wellbeing. Emphasize what you plan to do with the funds raised, and how it will benefit your students. You may be surprised to find how many people are willing to chip in to help.

With the above tips and some perseverance, you can add a chunk of change your school’s PE piggy bank. Don’t despair if your efforts don’t raise quite as much as you hoped — get creative to make the most of the funds you do have. A little extra budget can go a long way, enabling you to add brand new equipment or activities to support your students’ health and wellness this school year.

5 Research-Driven Tactics to Improve Your PE Class

Thursday, October 5th, 2017

Gym teacher helping student climb gymnasium climbing equipmentIt’s recommended that kids in elementary school spend at least 150 minutes per week in a physical education class (this jumps to 225 minutes for middle school and high school students). In order to make the most of those minutes, physical educators must be strategic in designing lesson plans and structured activities. The goal should be to provide students with as much value to their long-term health and fitness as you can fit into your weekly lesson times.

Research shows that well-structured PE classes not only boost physical health, but can also supplement academic performance by increasing concentration in class and supporting cognitive growth. What does a well-structured PE class look like? Lesson plans can take many forms, but the key factor connecting all good PE classes is that the methods used are supported by studies and research with proven benefits for students.

Here, we’ll look at just 5 research-backed tactics that could improve the value of your PE lessons.

1. Maintain Activity at Least 50% of the Time

PE classes aren’t just about teaching students the facts and figures surrounding health and fitness; your class should also provide an active contrast to the hours of static learning that students engage in each day. Unfortunately, studies show that almost half the schools in the US have no PE curriculum, leaving educators struggling to optimize their classes for success. How much time should be spent playing kickball or introducing concepts surrounding heart health and nutrition?

Overall, the CDC recommends that all PE lessons should focus on keeping students active at least 50% of the class time. To increase the amount of your class time dedicated to getting your students up and moving, consider the following strategies:

2. Teach the Science Behind Active Lifestyles and Exercise

The exercises and drills in physical education class can feel like chores when children don’t know why they’re doing them. Help your students understand the science behind why physical activity is so important to their health. By incorporating a small health lesson with your exercise plans, you can boost their motivation in class while providing them with supplemental knowledge about their own bodies.

According to a meta-analysis by Lonsdale et al, physical education lessons that outline the health benefits of activity can significantly increase the amount of dedication children show towards fitness — helping to foster a commitment to regular exercise. Controlled randomized studies also show that teaching the reasons behind activity in PE made students more motivated to engage in physical activities.

Consider outlining the health benefits of an activity at the beginning of each lesson, and ask your students to reiterate those benefits at the end of the exercise.

3. Use Circuit Training to Reduce Boredom

Boredom is a sneaky opponent to physical activity. Many adults struggle to stay motivated when their workout becomes repetitive and predictable — young children are even more susceptible to this kind of distraction and lack of interest. Circuit training can be effective at eliminating boredom and improving student engagement. It can also be a good way to differentiate learning by giving two choices of activity at each station.

Circuit training involves moving quickly from one physical activity to another in the form of a circuit. Because there’s a clear pattern in these lessons, it can be easier for educators to measure progress, or pinpoint children that are struggling and offer additional help. You can even implement cognitive learning into circuit training; amid physical exercise stations, include stations where students take a quick break from activity to answer questions or discuss the physical benefits they’re getting from each exercise.

4. Introduce Cooperative Learning

The concept of “cooperative learning” stems from the premise that developing self-knowledge is important to students’ lifelong skills for functioning in group situations. A lot of teaching and learning in PE classes happens in small team and group situations. Good group experiences can empower your students as they work towards team goals.

Cooperative learning programs aim to teach:

  • Positive interdependence — students take on key roles in a group to achieve common goals.
  • Accountability — students recognize their place in contributing to the success of a team.
  • Group processing — students reflect on where they need to improve as a group.
  • Developing social skills and leadership skills within students.

Find games and activities that require students to work together cohesively as a team. For instance, students in a game of “kin-ball” will need to work together to transfer a ball into a hoop as a team. This motivates individuals to become productive team members.

5. Implement the Public Health Approach

The “Public Health” approach focuses on helping students develop active habits both inside and outside of the PE classroom. For instance, the “Sports, Play and Active Recreation for Kids!” curriculum by SPARK delivers physical activity to lessons beyond just PE, expanding fitness into academic classes, as well.

According to a study by Locke & Lambdin, elementary students involved in SPARK PE programs showed an increase in physical activity. Additionally, a study by Sallis et al found that students taught with the SPARK curriculum spent more minutes per week being physically active.

Aside from implementing more movement into classroom settings, fitness habits can also be introduced in after school activities. For instance, SPARK After School research can contribute to greater fitness scores in children, better nutrition knowledge, and reduced sedentary behavior.

These five methods are just a sampling of the many research-based tactics out there for improving value in PE classes. Take your newfound knowledge and data-driven strategies, and apply these to your own physical education lesson plans to get your kids more engaged, interested, and committed to their own health!