Your kids spend a good part of their day at school, so you want it to be
the healthiest environment possible. "A campus that provides healthy
snacks and lunches, opportunities for physical activity, and classrooms
that are clean and well-designed are valuable for students," says
Katherine Roberts, MD, Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, a board-certified pediatrician at
Mission Hospital. "Not only do these things promote their health and well-being, but
they also help create an environment conducive to learning.
Parents can be strong advocates for their children's wellness at school,
and working together with teachers and administrators, they can form a
team that can create real, healthy change." If you're looking
for some ideas on what you can do, take a cue from the suggestions below:
Form a wellness committee. If you and other parents want to integrate healthy initiatives at your
campus, talk to administrators about forming a committee. "The group
can consult with teachers and staff on schoolwide plans for any number
of topics, ranging from offering lunchtime games to get kids moving to
drafting guidelines for healthy snack options for classroom holiday parties,"
Dr. Roberts says.
2. Switch it up and
give the teacher a plant instead of an apple. There are several kinds of house plants that can
purify air indoors, including English ivy, rubber trees, Boston ferns,
spider plants and several varieties of small palms. Plus, many of these
are easy to care for and make for cheerful classroom decor.
Go green to clean. Some schools are making the switch to non-toxic cleaning supplies in classrooms.
"Ask your school administrators what types of cleaning products are
used on campus, and lobby for more natural alternatives," Dr. Roberts
says. "If your teacher includes cleaners, such as wipes, on her classroom
donation request list at the start of school, bring in eco-friendly products.
Students can be shown how to regularly use wipes to clean their desks
to prevent the spread of germs, as well as to declutter them."
Plant the seeds of health with a garden. More and more schools have seen the benefits of setting up gardens where
classes can grow fresh fruits and vegetables, and learn about healthy
eating. "It can be as simple as finding some space for garden beds
that can be built by volunteers; seeds, soil and tools can be obtained
with grant money or through donations from local nurseries," Dr.
Roberts says. For more information on what you need, visit the website
for the federal Let's Move campaign, which promotes a healthy lifestyle
for kids, both in and out of school (http://www.letsmove.gov/school-garden-checklist).
Let's do (healthy) lunch. The days are numbered for "mystery meat" entrees and sugary
desserts in school cafeterias. "The Let's Move campaign also
endorses the HealthierUS Schools Challenge, which offers monetary awards
to campuses that voluntarily meet high nutritional criteria," Dr.
Roberts says. "If you want ideas for how your child's school
can improve its lunch offerings, the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement offers
some tips, such as offering more produce, serving only regular milk instead
of chocolate milk and giving more prominent placement to healthy entrees
on the lunch line." To see the HealthierUS Schools Challenge standards,
for the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement, visit http://smarterlunchrooms.org/homepage.
Give kids the chance to stretch their legs. Physical activity is a necessity during the school day. "Obviously,
exercise helps kids stay physically fit, but it also is a good release
valve for kids who have been working in a classroom for a couple of hours--they
can rest their brains, get out some pent-up energy and come back to class
ready to refocus," Dr. Roberts says. "Plus, a
Pediatrics study found that children who had regular physical activity improved their
cognitive function, so exercise is a critical tool for learning."
While some elementary schools may not have a physical education teacher
on staff, parent volunteers can step up and help lead P.E. sessions at
their schools. Another idea that can be helpful for mind and body: stretching
breaks before tests, which can ease stress.
Furnish a healthy classroom. Just as offices are instituting new ideas such as standing desks, so are
schools. "Stability balls have replaced chairs in some classrooms--they
allow students to have movement by letting them gently bounce in place,
and the kids are practicing balance and gaining core strength," Dr.
Roberts says. "Some teachers have reported that students who use
the balls are less likely to get up and wander around in class, which
helps them focus on their work." Other ideas include ergonomically-friendly
computer stations and work tables that allow kids to stand.
"As a parent, you work hard to provide a healthy home environment,
and school should be an extension of that," Dr. Roberts says. "It
can be an active, vibrant place of learning--a place kids look forward
to going every morning, and a place where parents can rest assured their
child is safe and eager to learn."
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