Is yours a healthy school?
At Healthy Kids, we’ve long believed that teaching healthy habits is a whole-school responsibility, and not just the duty of the canteen. And now it seems there is increased awareness that student wellness and academic learning go hand-in-hand. The benefits that arise from proper nutrition and physical activity not only enable better concentration and focus, but also sets kids up for a healthy future. Children who attend healthy schools (that is, a school that encourages a culture of wellness) can make informed, healthy decisions that affect their lives and the lives of their families.
What are healthy schools?
Healthy schools are ones that encourages a culture of wellness across all aspects of learning and play (not just in the canteen or the PDHPE classes). This results in healthy lifestyle habits being promoted and encouraged across the whole school, and engaging all aspects of a child’s education and life.
As any parent knows, children watch what you do very closely and this applies to teachers too. As role models, teachers actions can significantly influence their students’ behavior. A healthy school with a culture of wellness will encourage teachers to adopt healthy behaviours both in and out of the classroom. This includes eating and drinking healthy foods such as a bottle of water or an apple when on playground duty, rather than soft drinks or packets of chips.
Staff, teachers and parent volunteers should all be encouraged to eat the healthy foods that are available on the canteen menu, rather than asking the manager to stock special items ‘just for grown ups’. This demonstration of healthy eating behaviour, as well as offering regular opportunities for physical activity throughout the day, will have a positive affect on the whole school community – teachers, staff, students and parents.
A healthy school community involves just that – the community. Parents should be encouraged to reinforce the nutrition messages being modeled and taught at school by providing healthy foods from the five core food groups and plenty of activity.
How can a school change?
Creating a culture of wellness in your school doesn’t have to be difficult. There are many small changes that can be made that will add up to a big overall difference, not just for the students but for the whole school community. Here are some ideas to get started:
- With the help of parents and students, develop a culture of wellness policy that includes goals and missions your school can strive to achieve throughout the year – this can include some goals for the whole school and some for individual classrooms. Examples may be – Include at least one vegetable in your childs’ lunch box everyday or Take three minutes to stretch before starting numeracy lessons or Add some activity to one weekly whole-school assembly, such as star jumps, squat jumps, etc.
- Try incorporating physical activity across the curriculum in fun and creative ways, such as asking children to skip or jump for one minute between lessons. Or, asking children to stand while listening to news, rather than sit.
- Get involved in our Fruit&Veg month
- Offer healthy menu items in the canteen, consistent with your state’s school canteen strategy – don’t expect special treats to be kept aside for staff or parents volunteering at the school.
- Create partnerships with local community groups such as farmers markets and sporting clubs. Hold a fundraiser that involves buying baskets of fruit or playing sport (such as a walkathon or skipping rope competition).
- When holding school events (such a swimming carnivals, discos and athletics carnivals), provide healthy food options. For instance, swap sausages for chicken kebabs sticks.
- If the budget allows it, consider having a standing desk in your classroom and rotate the kids around so everyone gets a turn.
- Publish articles and information about the benefits of healthy eating and regular physical activity in the school newsletter.
- When covering news items in the classroom, choose headlines that point to healthy lifestyle behaviours as being positive when possible.
- Start a vegetable garden in the school grounds and incorporate gardening into lessons. Teach students to sprout a bean or plant their own seeds in a cup.
- Offer a regular snack break for students to eat fruit and vegetables, such as Crunch and Sip.
- Encourage students to bring water bottles to school.
- Provide secure bike racks or storage for scooters so students or staff can ride to work.
- Encourage short activity breaks during class when possible.
- Make conversation about healthy food choices such as dinner, lunch, breakfast and snack options.
The Nutrition in Schools Policy states that “any activities and programs within the school setting relating to or involving food and drink should promote healthy eating and good nutrition to students.” The policy requires that all school activities that involve the provision of food and drink to students should be consistent with the NSW Healthy School Canteen Strategy – this includes off site school activities such as excursions, camps and school functions.