With millions of children heading back to school, a healthy environment is essential to a successful school year. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average New Jersey student spends more than six hours a day in school. The healthiest school environments require consistent effort and partnerships with educators, parents, school staff, and community members. The CDC determined that school health programs have positive effects on educational outcomes, health-risk behaviors, and general health outcomes on students – meaning good students are physically and mentally healthy. Here are ten ways to help students have a healthy and productive year in the classroom:
Join the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) – Active parent/teacher organizations open the lines of communication and advocate for students. Suggest ways to improve healthy habits at school and in after school programs (think family gym nights or family game nights). Everyone will benefit!
Review and update the school lunch menu – Updating the school lunch menu is important. Encourage the removal of foods that are high in fat and sugar. Replace these foods with a salad bar and low-fat options. Read more here about how 14 Trenton elementary schools saw the benefits of serving fresh produce during the 2016-2017 school year.
Advocate for recess and physical education – Physical activity is important to childhood development. NJPHK’s Darrin Anderson wrote a blog that outlines just how important recess is for childhood development.
Encourage children to get moving – Walking is a natural and healthy way to get kids to get moving. Consider walking them to school if you live close enough! Check out this article about how Live Healthy Vineland and their partners are working to keep safe routes to school accessible and bike-friendly.
Start a school garden – School gardens are a great multi-way learning tool. You can learn the science behind what makes a plant grow and enjoy a fresh, healthy snack out of the produce grown. NJPHK’s Val Galarza penned a great blog about how gardening can help fight obesity here.
Encourage nutrition education – Educating children at a young age about healthy living is just as important as eating the fresh fruits and vegetables. NJPHK-Newark launched the Coordinated Approach to Child Health (CATCH) Program in 2015, where preschoolers are being taught the importance of nutrition and physical health. Nutrition education provides parents and children substantial evidence that eating fresh foods is vital for a living a healthy life.
Hang posters promoting healthy behaviors – It’s important to encourage and instill healthy habits in children. Hanging colorful and creative posters in hallways and classrooms serve as great reminders and points of reference for kids throughout the school day.
Set a good example as educators – Practice what you preach! Encourage healthy habits on the playground, in the classroom, and at home.
Encourage children to wash their hands frequently – Germs can be found everywhere, especially during the school year. In between activities, encourage kids to wash their hands often.
Keep students home when they’re sick – Germs spread quickly! If your child is sick, keeping them home until they’re well can prevent spreading illnesses to other kids.