Eat. Play. Learn. J is for JAM

To celebrate the publication of Proceedings of the Learning Connection Summit: Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Student Achievement, I’m offering a short daily post during February on the ABCs of the health and academics.

J is for JAM (Just a Minute)

How long does it take to wake up a child’s body and brain? According to the physical activity experts at the free JAM program, just a minute makes difference. The JAM School Program brings physical activity and health education into the classroom, teaching kids (and adults) healthier lifestyle habits. JAM offers a weekly one-minute activity routine called JAMmin’ Minute®, a more extensive routine called JAM Blast®, and a monthly health newsletter called Health-E-tips. Why does JAM work for schools?

  • It is fun and free!
  • Whole class does the same thing creating a sense of community and belonging.
  • The JAM routines help improve strength, conditioning and coordination.
  • Brain breaks enhances ability to focus, concentrate and learn.
  • Easily adds more physical activity minutes to the school day.

Sign up and give it a try to day – in your class or in a meeting. JAMmin’ is good for children and adults alike.

Classroom JAMmin'

Classroom JAMmin’ Minute

Eat. Play. Learn. I is for INTERNATIONAL

To celebrate the publication of Proceedings of the Learning Connection Summit: Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Student Achievement, I’m offering a short daily post during February on the ABCs of the health and academics.

I is for INTERNATIONAL

With all the current Olympic coverage, I’ve been thinking international school foods and looking forward to International School Meals Day 2014. In promoting the second year of this event, USDA Yibo Wood emphasized the learning connection – facts that bypass any border.

“A hungry or emotional child cannot develop physically, mentally or emotionally. Healthy eating habits provide the optimum mental and physical health for children and, once established, last a lifetime.”

The theme for this year’s celebration is Food Stories. Check out International School Meals Day 2014 and get involved, find resources and share practices.

Speaking of the 2014 Olympics and great food stories, Gwinnett County (GA) Public Schools has a fantastic promotion this week. The Lunch Games has delicious options based on cuisines from Greek and Argentina to Italy and Russia. You can see all four lunches on the Schools Lunches That Rock Pinterest board.

Gwinnett County (GA) Public Schools 2014 Olympic Promotion

Gwinnett County (GA) Public Schools 2014 Olympic Promotion

Eat. Play. Learn. H is for HUNGRY.

To celebrate the publication of Proceedings of the Learning Connection Summit: Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Student Achievement, I’m offering a short daily post during February on the ABCs of the health and academics.

H is for HUNGRY

When I hear that schools are closed for days in a row, my immediate thought is about what those children will eat when they do not have access to school meals. If children regularly come to school hungry, it means that they do not have access to food at home. And, when the weather is bad, their families may be even less able to shop for groceries or visit a food bank. Honestly, for millions of American children, a snow day may be a hungry day. Preliminary 2013 USDA data shows that an average of 18.9 million children ate a free school lunch daily and 10.1 million ate a school breakfast on average.

The numbers in the previous paragraph also tell another story as well – that is the enormous ‘breakfast gap’ of 8.8 million children who are eligible but are not receiving a free breakfast. These are the children who may to be too hungry to learn as reported in the deeply disturbing Hunger in Our Schools: Teachers Report 2013 by No Kid Hungry: Share Our Strength. If nearly 73 percent of teachers regular try to teach hungry children, we are a very serious educational problem in our schools. The simple fact is that hungry children cannot focus, concentrate and learn. School breakfast is one obvious solution and I applaud the administrators and educators who are ramping up their efforts to expand the program. Michigan State Superintendent of Schools Mike Flanagan is is a true nutrition hero for promoting the “First Fuel” Breakfast Challenge in his state – and I am proud to be part of the Michigan Team Nutrition training for this effort. Too hungry to learn is unacceptable for any child in Michigan, Montana or any other US state.

SHARE OUR STRENGTH’S TEACHERS REPORT 2013

SHARE OUR STRENGTH’S
TEACHERS REPORT 2013

Eat. Play. Learn. G is for GARDEN

To celebrate the publication of Proceedings of the Learning Connection Summit: Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Student Achievement, I’m offering a short daily post during February on the ABCs of the health and academics.

G is for GARDEN

It this point in the cold winter, it warms my heart to think about school gardens. Of course, I also get a envious when I see Florida school gardens that are green and lush when the snow is nearly a foot deep in Montana!

Why include gardens in talking about the learning connection? Students can learn all sorts of things in a school garden – botany, biology, chemistry, ecology and math to name a few. Growing food also provides the most direct, tangible connection to nutrition. I often say, if they grow it, they will eat it – there really is no better way to teach healthy eating habits than in a garden.

Here are four photos to represent the diversity and similarities of school gardens in the USA – just looking at them makes spring a little bit closer!

February 2014: Mrs. Donna Stoddard's 2nd grade class in Read-Pattillo Elementary, New Smyrna Beach (FL) are growing kale, radishes, sunflowers, parsley, cilantro, peas, sweet onions, carrots, kohlrabi, potatoes and green peppers in their school garden! Lucky students!

February 2014: Mrs. Donna Stoddard’s 2nd grade class in Read-Pattillo Elementary, New Smyrna Beach (FL) are growing kale, radishes, sunflowers, parsley, cilantro, peas, sweet onions, carrots, kohlrabi, potatoes and green peppers in their school garden! Lucky students! Thanks Fresh for Florida Kids!

June 2014: Alaska Elementary School Garden, Thanks Alaska Farm to School!

June 2013: Alaska Elementary School Garden, Thanks Alaska Farm to School!

March 2013: AMAZING lettuce planted, grown and harvested in the "Garden of Learning," Gary A Knox Elementary School, Crane, Arizona

March 2013: AMAZING lettuce planted, grown and harvested in the “Garden of Learning,” Gary A Knox Elementary School, Crane, Arizona

April 2012: University City High School Garden, Philadelphia, PA, an oasis in the middle of the city and my favorite urban school garden.

April 2012: University City High School Garden, Philadelphia, PA, an oasis in the middle of the city and my favorite urban school garden.

Eat. Play. Learn. F is for FUEL Up

To celebrate the publication of Proceedings of the Learning Connection Summit: Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Student Achievement, I’m offering a short daily post during February on the ABCs of the health and academics.

F is for FUEL Up

I’ve been a serious fan of FUEL Up to Play 60 since its 2007 kickoff. I’ve seen the frontline benefits in my hometown (Billings, Montana) and in many states across the USA. I wrote the SNA toolkit: Make Fuel Up to Play 60 Work For Your School Nutrition Program and know for certain that the program can enhance school environments, nutrition programs and academic achievement.

In my playbook, FUEL Up to Play 60 scores a touchdown because, at the school level, all plays are planned and implemented by students themselves! If we want to raise a healthier generation of Americans, it is today’s youth who need to make a commitment to wellness in their own lives. FUEL Up to Play 60 grants and resources support and inspire young folks to make the program’s tagline a reality. Here are three examples of how student leaders are making health happen in their schools.

  • EAT HEALTHY. The FUEL Up to Play 60 Willow Creek team (pictured below) served yogurt parfaits and whole-wheat breakfast burritos made with turkey sausage during a National School Breakfast week celebration.
  • GET ACTIVE. The creativity of FUEL Up to Play 60 teams really shines when it comes to fitness fun – and the added minutes of physical activity have helped kids get fit and schools meet the criteria for USDA’s HealthierUS School Challenge.
  • MAKE A DIFFERENCEFUEL Up to Play 60 helps motivate me to stay in the school wellness game. When kids make presentations to school boards, start grab-n-go breakfast carts or plant school gardens, I believe that real change is possible.

Want more details FUEL Up to Play 60 plays or help in bringing the program to your school? Contact your state/regional dairy council and check the FUEL Up to Play 60 website.

Willowcreek Middle School, Lehi, Nevada, Goes BIG with FUTP60!

Willowcreek Middle School, Lehi, Utah, Goes BIG with FUTP60!

Eat. Play. Learn. E is for ENVIRONMENT

To celebrate the publication of Proceedings of the Learning Connection Summit: Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Student Achievement, I’m offering a short daily post during February on the ABCs of the health and academics.

E is for ENVIRONMENT

In the school wellness ‘biz,’ we talk a lot about creating a healthy school environment. In fact, it’s probably safe to say that most of my professional work and a significant portion of my volunteer time has been devoted to promoting a culture of wellness in K-12 schools. A quote from the The Wellness Impact: Enhancing Academic Success through Healthy School Environments captures the key issues.

“… the vital importance of improved nutrition and increased physical activity in creating an environment that enriches students’ readiness to learn.”

So what exactly is a healthy school environment? How can you tell that you are in a healthy environment when you walk into a school? Actually, I think that you can see aspects of a healthy environment before you even get to a school building! Here are just a few of my favorite way to identify a school where students can be fit, well-nourished and ready to learn.

  • Students (and sometimes families) fill the sidewalks as they walk to school.
  1. School bike racks are full or overflowing (see photo below from Idaho middle school).
  2. Playgrounds and sports fields are full of children and adults playing together.
  3. Gardens have a prominent place on the school campus.
  4. Wonderful aromas of food cooking/baking/roasting waft through the hallways.
  5. Hallway walls have artwork, signs or markers to encourage physical activity.
  6. Banners or signs identify awards and recognition for nutrition and fitness.
  7. Breakfast is served in the classroom to every child who needs it.
  8. Food presentations are eye-appealing, colorful and customer-focused.
  9. Cafeteria is bright and cheerful; students socializing with inside voices.
  10. Adults are sitting and eating with children rather than patrolling the tables.
  11. Any snack food sales offer many options from MyPlate food groups.
  12. Fun after-school physical activities are available to children of all abilities.

These are just a few of my favorite things in a healthy school environment. What are yours?

Full Bike Racks at Heritage Middle School in Meridian Idaho

Full Bike Racks at Heritage Middle School in Meridian, Idaho

Eat. Play. Learn. D is for DISCIPLINE

To celebrate the publication of Proceedings of the Learning Connection Summit: Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Student Achievement, I’m offering a short daily post during February on the ABCs of the health and academics.

D is for DISCIPLINE

If you have ever worked in schools, you know that discipline problems can take up lots of time that could be better spent on teaching and learning. What you may not know is that discipline and behavior can be improved with something as simple as active recess or classroom energizers or PE class. It’s true – there is a definite Learning Connection between student’s physical activity and their levels of physical activity.

I am a huge fan of programs like Fuel Up to Play 60 (see Maine photo below), Move to Learn, and Playworks that get kids up and moving throughout school campuses – in classrooms, gyms, playgrounds and even hallways. While the strategies and activities vary from program to program and school to school, the overall goal is the same: Increase student physical activity in order to improve behavior, reduce discipline referrals and, ultimately, to enhance cognition and academic success. Does it work?

According to the experts, the answer is another resounding YES. Short bursts of activity, moderate activities like walking and dancing, skill-building PE classes and active recess all help students become more fit, more focused and ready to learn. Need some proof? Here are links to evaluations, assessments and research about the connection between physical activity, behavior and school discipline issues:

Students in PIttston, Maine, jump for joy (as well as health, wellness and academic success)

Students in PIttston, Maine, jump for joy (as well as health, wellness and academic success)

Eat, Play, Learn: The ABCs of Health and Learning

To celebrate the publication of Proceedings of the Learning Connection Summit: Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Student Achievement, I’m offering a short daily post during February on the ABCs of the health and academics.

A is for ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT 

This new paper, written by me with distinguished co-authors Marie Spano, MS, RD, CSCS, CSSD, Joseph E. Donnelly, EDD, FACSM, Charles H. Hillman, PhD, and Ronald Kleinman, MD, and made possible through an educational grant from Nike, was published in January/February 2014 Nutrition Today. It shares key insights from the September 2012 GENYOUth Nutrition + Physical Activity Learning Connection Summit.

  • The proceedings examine the growing body of research focused on the association between physical activity, school-based physical education, school breakfast consumption, improved nutrition overall, and academic achievement.
  • The Summit convened thought leaders and decision-makers from the public-private sectors in education, health and wellness, academia, government, philanthropy, business and, importantly, students to explore the connection that physical activity and nutrition have to learning and behavior. It explored both the barriers and opportunities to help schools implement wellness policies and practices.
  • The participants identified knowledge gaps, developed practical approaches to leverage the current science, and recommitted to work with schools to enhance children’s health and readiness to learn.

Students were a core part of the Summit – joining conversations about the importance of the learning connection, sharing ideas for improving academic achievement, and acting as leaders among their generation to make a difference. I am excited to share what I learned during -and since – the Summit from the research, from the experts and from young people themselves. Students, like Kylie from Minnesota, are my daily inspiration for improving academic achievement through nutrition and fitness at school.

Eat. Play. Learn. It’s all about ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT. 

Kylie, Fuel Up To Play 60, Student Ambassador, Minnesota

Kylie Kasprick, Fuel Up To Play 60, Student Ambassador, Minnesota