Posts Tagged ‘SPARK’


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

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

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

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

Fruits and Veggies

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

Apples

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

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

Bananas

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

Oranges

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

Pears

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

Baby Carrots

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

Broccoli

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

Cherry or Grape Tomatoes

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

Protein and Fat

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

Low-fat cheese

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

Tuna

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

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

Unsalted and/or Raw Nuts and Seeds

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

Whole Grains

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

Crunchy breadsticks

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

Brown Rice, Quinoa, or Oatmeal

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

Healthy Yogurt Dip Recipe

Ingredients:

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

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

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

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

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

Teaching Children Good Sporting Behavior

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

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

Defining Good Sporting Behavior

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

The Importance of Being a Good Sport

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

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

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

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

Tips for Encouraging Good Sporting Behavior

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

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

Strive to Be a Role Model

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

Establish Rules Early

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

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

Emphasize Performance and Progress

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

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

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

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

5 Ways to Help Students Stay Focused

Monday, November 11th, 2013

Anyone who has braved the perils of babysitting, or who has taken the giant leap into parenting or teaching children knows that keeping young kids attentive, engaged, and focused can be an uphill battle at times. In the best of conditions, research has shown that children between the ages of 6 and 8 have an average attention span of 15-20 minutes. For kids of kindergarten age (around 5 years old), that number drops to only 5-10 minutes. While these numbers might seem low, some researchers also believe that the maximum human attention span is only around 22 minutes, even for teenagers and adults. Compounding the issue of maintaining the focus of young students is the continued growth of ADHD cases in the United States.

As can be assumed, dealing with the struggles of short attention spans and ADHD in an educational setting can be extremely difficult. These days, teachers at nearly every level of education need not only to be well-versed in multiple teaching techniques, but also in how to keep students engaged in a lesson and how to bring them back should they lose their focus. School instructors and caregivers must turn to alternative methods to medication to keep the attention of young children—ADHD is a very real disorder, but more doctors are diagnosing more children with ADHD, even if symptoms are mild, and more medication is being prescribed. For some, medication drastically improves quality of life, but it’s not always the answer and can have unpleasant side effects.

Below we outline five methods that can help keep young students engaged in an educational atmosphere.

1. Implement Active Learning Techniques

In their book “Inspiring Active Learning,” Merrill Harmon and Melanie Toth set forth a plethora of active learning strategies geared toward keeping students thoughtfully and completely engaged in their own education. Some of the basic strategies of active learning include whole class discussions, debates, paired activities, and individual reactions and responses. The main goal is encourage an active, attentive listening and learning environment by making students accountable for their own learning.

2. Use Technology When Possible

The incorporation of multimedia tools to deliver educational messages continues to increase, particularly at lower levels where they can also be leveraged as methods to grab and keep children’s attention. These multimedia tools for educators include Voki, SoftChalk, Screenr, and SMART boards.

3. Have Students Practice Doing Multiple Things at Once

For very young students, this might be singing a song while tying their shoes or listening to a recording while coloring. It might seem counterintuitive to have kids focus on a several tasks at once, but giving them multiple simple tasks to do concurrently can help train their brain to focus more acutely on a set of given tasks. When they have two things to think about, they are less likely to become bored and lose focus.

4. Use Movement

Properly using movement to keep students focused can be an invaluable teaching technique. This is exemplified by our new SPARKabc’s program. SPARKabc’s integrates physical activity into the school day while maintaining an emphasis on student learning. It’s designed for busy teachers with little time, space and equipment to work with. Research by SPARK and countless other trusted health organizations shows an intrinsic link between physical activity student attitude, behavior, and academic performance. The evidence is clear: healthy students are better learners. SPARKabc’s is based on:

  • Standards-based academics
  • Brain development
  • Quality recess
  • Character and nutrition education

Sometimes we forget that kids are naturally inclined to move around and express themselves, and that it’s not something we need to combat—rather, we can embrace this quality and use it to increase the effectiveness of learning and foster academic success and growth in well-being.

5. Don’t Create a Predictable Learning Environment

If students know what to expect from your lessons day in and day out, they can start to disengage from certain parts of a lesson. Keeping students on their toes by mixing up lectures, hands-on activities, group and pair work, multimedia and technology, games, and physical activities will keep them actively engaged in the important information they’re learning.

Keeping students, especially the younger ones, engaged can be a challenge—especially as the number of ADHD cases is on the rise. There are many variables that could be contributing to this trend, but why not refresh our skill sets with techniques to keep kids engaged?

Healthy People 2020 RFP: New Funding Available to Non-Profits

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

New Funding Available to Non-Profits Working to Promote Improved Health at a Community Level!

Healthy People 2020 Community Innovations Project Request for Proposal

Summary:

The purpose of this RFP is to solicit community-level projects that use Healthy People 2020 overarching goals, topic areas and objectives to promote improved heath at a community level. Funding is intended to support activities above and beyond general operations. Using the projects funded through this RFP, the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) intends to evaluate how the Healthy People 2020 overarching goals, topic areas and objectives are being used to improve the health of communities.

In order to be eligible for consideration, proposed projects must address at least one of the Healthy People 2020 topics and incorporate at least one of the following priorities that are linked to the Healthy People 2020 overarching goals.

Funding Information

  • This is a one-time funding opportunity.
  • Awards will range from $5,000 to $10,000.
  • Up to 170 projects will be funded.
  • Awardees will be chosen to represent a variety of themes, activities and regions.

Eligibility: Non-profit, community-based organizations with budgets less than $750,000

Deadline: August 5, 2011

Notification: November 11, 2011

Project Timeline: December 1, 2011 – May 31, 2012

Click Here for more information.

Click Here for the RFP.

Awards and Rewards for a Lifetime of Achievement

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

P5100728

On May 10, 2011, I met a Super Bowl MVP and an Olympic gold medalist–in the same day.  That was a first for me, and these were only some of the sports celebrities gathered in a spectacular chamber in a US Senate Office Building.  The occasion was even more special because I was presented a Lifetime Achievement Award by the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition.  Most of the other awardees came to that moment mainly through sports.  One of the more interesting awardees brought Tae Kwon Do to the US and is in the Black Belt Hall of Fame.  Pretty cool.  Because I was a scrawny, poorly coordinated kid, I arrived by a different route, though I did enjoy all the hours I spent playing sports in my neighborhood.  My connection to sports and fitness is through health research.  Though physical activity research is often in the news, I admit to being jealous about the attention paid to genetically-superior athletes who perform incredible feats of endurance, strength, skill, and determination.  Think about all the media exposure for sports each week.  The irony is that appreciation of sports performance inspires a lot more sitting and watching than active emulation.  Part of the job of physical activity promoters is to get sports fans (and everyone else) off the bleachers and the sofa and out onto the field, the road, the court, and the trail.  I’m glad the President’s Council is bringing the sparkle of sports celebrities to the goal of getting Americans more active.

SPARK had a lot to do with me getting this award.  There are many physical activity researchers who have published papers and been vocal advocates for active living.  However, few of us have been fortunate enough to see our research lead directly to improving the lives of millions.  Over the years, SPARK has certainly provided millions of young people with enjoyable, skill-building physical activity.  This is possible because of the thousands of teachers and recreation leaders SPARK has trained–and trained well.  I assure you that the fantastic accomplishments of SPARK are reward enough.  It’s very nice to get an award, but important to recognize that SPARK’s success, as well as the contributions of many research collaborators, made the award possible.  Even better than the award is seeing that SPARK just keeps getting better.  More programs.  More partners.  More research and evaluation.  Smart use of technology to support teachers.  More activity for more people.  There are more rewards coming for SPARK.  Which awards can we nominate SPARK for?

Jim Sallis

www.drjamessallis.sdsu.edu

National Childhood Obesity Facts, Figures and a Solution to End the Epidemic

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

Childhood obesity is a major concern in the United States. Over the past few decades there has been a dramatic increase in the number of children suffering from obesity. Kids are staying indoors more with limited physical activity and increased caloric consumption, resulting in a nationwide epidemic of obesity in our children. There are hundreds of organizations, large and small, fighting to stem this trend and help get our kids’ health back in check. But a business or non-profit can’t do it alone. Parents and kids must both be willing to change their habits to create a healthier lifestyle.

Causes of Childhood Obesity
There are many causes for childhood obesity, and sometimes a complex combination of circumstances work together to put our children at risk. One thing we know for sure is that reduced physical activity in school is a component and a risk factor for childhood obesity. Studies have shown that throughout our nation, less than one third of school-aged children (age 6-17) engage in physical activity – that is, activity that makes them sweat and increase breathing and heart rate for at least 20 minutes. And that’s just the minimum recommended amount of physical activity. There is no surprise here that childhood obesity has become a frightening epidemic in our country.

Risks of Child Obesity

  • High Cholesterol and Blood Pressure: High levels of “bad” cholesterol called LDL and also high blood pressure are common in obese children.
  • Bone and Joint Problems: There have been numerous cases of obese children experiencing a slipped growth plate in their hip bone.
  • Sleep Apnea: Obstruction of the child’s airway is common and can result in many other day-to-day problems like poor school performance and nighttime bedwetting on top of the primary risk where the individual stops breathing in their sleep.
  • Psychological Problems: Probably the most severe risk of obesity in kids is their emotional and psychological health. Kids will develop poor self-esteem and accept the fact that they will be obese their entire lives, making it extremely difficult for them to change their lifestyle in later years.
  • Type 2 Diabetes: What used to be only of concern in adults and very rare in children is not a major concern for obese kids.

Child Obesity Statistics

  • Prevalence of Obesity: Among children ages 6-11, there was a 6.5% rate of obesity in 1980 which increased to 18.6% by 2008. Ages 12-19 increased from 5% to 18.1% in the same time period.
  • Cardiovascular Disease: 70% of obese children from 5-17 years have at least one symptom and risk factor of cardiovascular disease like high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
  • Low-Income Obesity: 1 of 7 low income children in preschool is obese.
  • 13 million children and adolescents in the U.S. are obese.
  • Obese adolescents are 80% more likely to end up as obese adults.
  • Healthcare expenses directly related to childhood obesity are $14 billion every year.

One Solution to the Epidemic: Quality PE in Schools
The problem of childhood obesity is urgent – changes need to be made immediately. Children need positive influences from the adults around them to make better choices. And who better to provide that than a physical education teacher? In general, children attend about 5 or 6 hours of school, 5 days per week. Physical education classes might take up about an hour per day. Imagine the good that could be done for children if that time was optimized with fun, challenging, and healthy activity.

Implementing quality PE in children’s school schedule would be a great first step to turning this epidemic around. PE classes should be used to really teach children about how important a healthy lifestyle is. We can reverse the stigma about PE classes being boring, awkward, and repetitive by breathing new life into old games and activities. Children can learn that challenging themselves and staying healthy are great for self-esteem and making new friends. Teachers should be passionate about their purpose, and lead by positive example.

When students are able to connect with teachers and create a respectful relationship, they are highly more likely to engage in activities and try their hardest. With energetic and fun teachers, a challenging and exciting curriculum, and education about the crucial importance of physical activity and healthy eating, children will take fitness seriously. We will improve the PE in our schools, and let our children reap the benefits.

SPARK & Skillastics Team-Up to Get Kids Active

Friday, May 6th, 2011

SPARK is proud to announce a partnership with Skillastics, the leader in engaging, reinforcing, and assessing large groups of children PreK-12 in standards-based fitness and sports specific skill development activities.

Skillastics, now a SPARK Recommended Resource, will enhance SPARK activities by providing an additional assessment tool, allowing the instructor the freedom to view a large amount of children engaging in activities supported by a SPARK lesson. This partnership was formed to foster greater access to quality physical activity solutions for schools and community-based organizations nationwide.

SPARK Executive Director Paul Rosengard adds, “I’ve been a big fan of Sandy (Spin) Slade and Skillastics for a long time. Their products are an excellent supplement for our SPARK teachers and youth leaders and I recommend them highly. I’m especially excited about Skillastics’ application in after school environments where space limitations and instruction of children from multiple grade levels are common place.”

Skillastics is considered a “new and improved twist” in circuit training, and allows 1 to 100 children of varying ages and athletic abilities to participate and enjoy being active at one time. They provide solutions for physical education, after school, and early childhood programs.

Their newest offering, “Character is Cool”, is designed as a teaching tool to help children interact positively with one another while participating in cooperative fitness activities that emphasize character traits such as good sporting behavior, respect, responsibility, teamwork, caring and honesty.

Since its introduction in 2003, Skillastics is enjoyed in over 20,000 physical education classes, after school programs, and community-based organizations throughout the world!

For more information on Skillastics please visit www.skillastics.com.

What is a PEP Grant?

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

The PEP Grant, also known as the Carol M. White Physical Education Program (PEP) Grant, is a federally funded grant program designed to award money to local education agencies and community-based organizations, including religious organizations, to help them initiate, expand, or enhance physical education programs for K through 12 students. In 2011, the PEP Grant will award schools and community-based organizations anywhere from $100,000 to $750,000 for programs that help students work toward meeting state standards for physical education.

Money from PEP Grants may be used to purchase physical education equipment, provide support for students, provide training and education to teachers and staff members, bring in programs and teachers from outside the school or organization, and to initiate new physical education programs. Applicants are required to create a new program or improve an existing program that helps students make progress toward meeting state physical education AND one or more of the following initiatives:

  • Helping students understand, improve, and maintain physical well-being
  • Enhancing physical, mental, social, and emotional development through instruction in physical activities and motor skills
  • Development of cognitive concepts about fitness and motor skills that support healthy lifestyles
  • Education in healthy eating habits and nutrition
  • Professional development for physical education teachers to stay current on physical education research, issues, trends, and programs

Examples of Physical Education Programs

Past PEP Grants have been awarded to schools and organizations to implement programs ranging from innovative playgrounds to short-term auxiliary programs and after school programs. Some types of programs that have received PEP grant money in the past have included:

  • Evidence-Based Physical Education Programs
  • Community outreach programs
  • Integrating technology into PE
  • Purchasing equipment such as pedometers and heart rate monitors
  • Implementing “lifetime activities” rather than individual and team sports
  • Bringing in specialty organizations that help schools implement innovative PE lesson plans and programs
  • New, different, and innovative activities
  • Ropes courses
  • Adventure programs

Schools and organizations that are competitive in the application process include programs with elements that provide long-term benefits for students by encouraging a lifelong commitment to fitness that will decrease the costs of medical care associated with inactivity, poor nutrition, and obesity. Programs should include activities for all students, including those with disabilities. Competitive organizations and programs make a connection between physical activity, mental or academic performance, and general well being.

Over 150 PEP winners have chosen to implement SPARK Physical Education or After School programs in their schools. To see why so many schools successfully win PEP grants when they include SPARK as part of their proposal, Click Here.

PEP Grantwriting Information and Tips

If your school or organization does not have a grant writer on staff, consider hiring a professional grant writer with experience writing federal grants. If you use teachers or other staff members to write the grant, an outside consultant can help improve the grant by reviewing it and asking important questions about the essential elements of your grant. There are several websites and online documents available to assist you specifically with the PEP grantwriting process.

In your grant proposal, you must clearly outline a specific program, the goals of your program, and the steps your organization will take to reach these goals. It is essential to address how the program you plan to implement with the grant money will help students benefiting from the program to meet state standards for physical education. This should include a discussion of the PE standards in your state and how your program will help students work toward meeting these standards.

Assessment and evaluation are another significant part of the grantwriting process. Without a plan to evaluate the progress of your students, you will be unable to prove that your program actually met its goals. Having a way to assess the effectiveness of your program is the essential element of receiving current and future PEP grants. In your grant proposal you must outline a plan for the assessment of student progress that will show students met the goals of your program, and you must be prepared to implement this plan alongside the PE program you initiate.

In order to receive PEP Grant money, you are required to establish a need for that money within your proposal. This should include statistics your organization has collected that are specific to your school district, geographical area, or state. You will want to use statistics and data that prove there is a need for your organization’s program and that students will benefit from your fitness program on physical, social, mental, emotional, and/or developmental level. As a supplement to your local data, you may choose to use national research and statistics and professional literature.

  • For additional tips on preparing and submitting your 2011 PEP Grant Click Here
  • For Sample Text for PEP Grant Writers Click Here

To access the 2011 Carol M. White PEP Grant application Click Here.

SPARK Early Childhood Selected as 2011 Head Start Body Start Preferred Provider!

Friday, April 8th, 2011

Good news for all Head Start Centers: SPARK has been selected as a 2011 Preferred Provider for Head Start Body Start!

Nearly $2 million in Play Space Grants will be awarded to Head Start Centers across the country this year by HSBS to improve their outdoor play spaces.  Grant recipients will be able to purchase uniquely designed value-added packages created by the HSBS Preferred Vendors at a minimum discount of 20% off the retail price.

SPARK has included five (5) Value-Add Equipment Packages for Grant Applicants to choose from. Each equipment package includes a 25% discount from catalog list price & free shipping!

Please contact us with any questions about these equipment packages, and we look forward to continuing our work with Head Start Centers to support physically active and healthy lifestyles among Head Start programs nationwide.

Why Choose SPARK?
  • SPARK equipment packages have been selected by content experts specifically to meet the developmental needs of children ages 3-5 years old.
  • The items are age-appropriate and are designed to enable success for all skill and ability levels.
  • Combined with the Head Start Body Start program, SPARK’s specially designed equipment packages will increase physical activity, leading to the physical, cognitive, social and emotional development of young children, with the long-term goal of reducing childhood obesity.

______________________________________________________________

Package 1: SPARK “Shining Star” Outdoor Equipment $3,505.63

Package 2: SPARK “FUNdamentals” Equipment Package $1,411.30

Package 3: SPARK “Dance with Me” Equipment Package $393.14

Package 4: SPARK “Have a Ball” $788.05

Package 5: SPARK “Balance & Scoot” Package $1,275.93

Next Steps:

Contact the SPARK office at:

800-SPARK-PE (772-7573)  or spark@schoolspecialty.com.

2011 PEP Grant Update & Helpful Tips

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

As we wait for the 2011 PEP Grant competition to be announces here are a few tips to help you prepare.

Update 3/29/11: Applications for the 2011 PEP Grant announced! Click Here for the application.

  • Review last year’s guidelines: Rumor has it that very little will change for this year’s competition. However, be sure you understand that they COULD change. We don’t recommend completing an entire application based on last year’s grant. However, we do recommend that you prepare for all aspects of last year’s guidelines.  Click here to check out the guidelines: http://www2.ed.gov/programs/whitephysed/applicant.html
  • Know and understand what you are required measure.  The federal government required detailed and accurate reporting by winning applicants.  Be sure to address each of the required measures in your objectives as well as your evaluations.
  • Go for the bonus points!  Be sure to include a well-outlined plan for collecting BMI data.  Your superintendent will need to be on board and signatures will be required.  However, this could be the difference between a winning grant and an application that almost wins. Likewise, gather your programming partners, like other health organizations, your food service staff or local youth organizations.  A written and signed collaborative agreement can also score you much need bonus points.
  • This last tip continues to be critical to winning PEP Grants: Know your needs and be able to prove them through documentation and assessment information. In your application, clearly outline where your program can improve and how PEP funding will make those improvements. Prove that you’ve done your homework by utilizing available assessment tools like the School Health Index, PECAT and HECAT. Always address local, state and national standards.

Hopefully you’ve prepared up to this point, and already have much of the information you need to craft your winning application.  SPARK knows and understands what it takes to be a part of a winning PEP Grant proposal.  To date, more than 100 PEP grants have been awarded to organizations that chose to implement SPARK curriculum/training and equipment!

Contact a SPARK representative for a free cost proposal and for help writing SPARK into your grant submission. We want to make it easy for you to implement SPARK and improve the quality and quantity of PE/PA at your site(s).