Teachers and children from around the country and in Bermuda went all out for the 5th annual Healthy Al, Healthy Me Day!
At Lowell Elementary School in Watertown MA, they had a wonderful celebration complete with fruit kabobs, hummus with carrots and cucumbers, dancing, and even selfies with Al. The children recorded their tasting preferences on this form. They added, “Can’t wait for next year!”
At the Child and Family Network Center in Alexandria VA, children made fruit kabobs, too, creating a pattern using strawberries, bananas, and blueberries. They talked about the importance of eating foods that keep their bodies healthy and strong!
Children at the Catholic Diocese of Evansville IN made Healthy Al hats, played Al Says, read the Al Story, played the rolling dice exercise game, colored on the sheet where they picked fruit for their salad, and completed the maze.
In Richmond VA at the Partnership for Families, we read Al’s Healthy Choices and did Al’s Action Story. It was great fun acting out all of Al’s movements like looking under the bed!
Down at the Corrigan-Camden School District in Corrigan TX, the pre-K classes made a day of it! The Food Service Director presented a short program on healthy breakfast choices. Each child got a chef hat, a cup of yogurt, and blueberries, strawberries, dried cranberries, and graham crackers. Then they created their own healthy parfait. For their outdoor activities, each class planned a game including a ball relay race. Parents attended and participated in the events. Even their principal joined the fun and played games with the children.
In Wytheville VA, children celebrated by playing duck, duck, goose and having races. They had a healthy lunch of turkey and cheese roll ups, salad, and sliced apples. They talked about the importance of drinking water and enjoyed water that was flavored with fresh strawberries!
Meanwhile in Little Rock AR, there was a tasting party going on at Glenview Elementary School. They tried different fruits and vegetables and made a chart of which were their favorites. They also sent home parent notes about Less Screen Time, More Play Time and Healthy Eating. The students enjoyed dancing and exercising and talked about how this helps them to grow and be strong.
We have all faced the challenge of having to wait with young children. There is a lot of waiting in the world: waiting for others to finish snack, waiting at the doctor’s office, checking out at the grocery store, in line for rides at the fair, going to the bathroom at any event. We all have to wait.
How can we make waiting a little more fun, or at least survive without major meltdowns? Here are some ideas that might help.
First and foremost, take a few minutes BEFORE the waiting actually happens to prepare children – preferably well in advance. Talk about the fact that there will be some dull moments ahead. Ask what feelings they might have when they have to wait. How will they manage those feelings? Have them brainstorm ideas – what will make the waiting more fun or at least bearable?
When the waiting begins, remind them about that conversation. Check out the feelings first: “Remember you said you might feel mad, and you were right! Do you remember that you said you would take 3 deep breaths when you felt mad? Let’s do that together.”
Some Engaging Ideas to Pass the Time, Have Fun, and Even Learn Something!
Have your child pick one of the activities they came up with or try one of the following:
Guess Which Hand – put a small object in your hand and hide your hands behind your back. Have your child guess which hand is holding it. Give your child a turn holding the object and you guess.
Sounds Like – say a word and have the children think of all the words that rhyme with it. Start simple with words like ‘cat’ and ‘say’.
Guess What’s in My Purse/Backpack/Pocket – see how many items they can guess that are really there. In anticipation of this game, add a couple of unexpected things like a spoon or a bouncy ball or an adhesive bandage and give them hints. Added bonus: you will have those things should you need them.
Waiting Time Surprise – wrap small items in newspaper or tissue paper and bring them out at random times while waiting: figures with parachutes, paddle balls, pipe cleaners, bendable figures, small notepad and pencil, punch balls, playdough. (Be sure the item is appropriate for the waiting space).
Brainstorm – ask your children to come up with ideas for questions like: “What are all the things we could take on a picnic?” “What would you see on a walk in the city, or in the woods, or in a castle?” “What can you do to cheer up a friend?”
Think Fast! – give a category and see how many answers a child can come up within 15 seconds. Some categories to get you started: animals with fur, things that fly, what you find in the ocean, kinds of fruit, things you see in a classroom, games that need a ball.
Creative Thinking Questions – come up with questions that get your child’s creativity working or try some of these:
“If you could have a super power, what would it be? Why? What would you do with your special power?”
“If your pet could talk, what would it say?”
“What would you do if you were invisible?”
“What do you love about being a kid?”
“What are your favorite smells?”
“What 5 things would you take with you if you were going to live on a desert island?”
Build a Story – start a story, then stop after a few sentences and have children add a few sentences before passing it on. “Once upon a time a green lizard named Freddy was bored. He needed something fun to do. He started crawling towards his favorite pond and saw a big….”
Thumb Wrestling – “Okay, alright, I declare a thumb fight!”
How Many Can You See? – look around the crowd and ask questions like, “How many people do you see wearing hats?” or “How many red shirts do you see?” “How many people have sunglasses on?”
Even or Odd (for two or more children) – First have them guess if there will be an even or odd number of fingers. Then have the children stick out 1 or more fingers and count them up.
Drop a Leaf – drop a leaf holding it up high and see if your children can catch it before it lands.
Feelings Faces – take turns expressing different feelings with your face or by acting them out. Have the other person guess what the feeling is. Expand this by talking about times when you might feel the feeling that was acted out. “Tell me about what makes you sad.” or “What things do you find annoying?”
20 Questions – take turns thinking of an object and have the others ask yes or no questions until the object is guessed.
Alphabet Game – try to find each letter of the alphabet starting with ‘a’ on signs, ads, or tee-shirts around you.
Sing! – don’t worry about those around you. If you’re outside, sing lustily – maybe others will join in. If you are inside or need to be quiet, try singing songs in a whisper. Encourage your children to make up songs about what you are waiting to do, or what they see around them.
And don’t forget the standards: Rock, Paper, Scissors, and I Spy!
A small jar of bubbles is always popular and will engage others who are waiting, too!
By planning ahead for waiting times, we can prevent challenging behaviors – children will have fun, be creative, and they just might learn something, too!
Children in several states, Bermuda, and Canada recently celebrated Healthy Al, Healthy Me Day in grand style! Here are some highlights:
Fairyland family child care in Sandy, Utah made fruit smoothies and whole wheat french toast and egg kabobs for breakfast. Then they had a whole wheat tortilla feast for lunch! Beautiful and nutritious!
Children all got involved in special cooking activities at St. James Child Development Center in Richmond, Virginia. They also decorated hats and did yoga! The teachers said they enjoyed the day as much as the children did.
In Bermuda, children decorated their Healthy Al hats and wore their Al’s Pals tee shirts. They used a beautiful array of fresh fruit to make fruit kabobs, and sang “I’m a Healthy Child.”
Being active was a big part of the morning for children at the Childhood Early Enrichment Program in Lenore, Idaho. They talked about the importance of exercising and did a scarf dance and bean bag throw to prove it can be fun. They also had a healthy food tasting party and recorded their preferences (find the form here).
At St. Andrews School in Richmond, Virginia, children loved hearing the Al’s Healthy Choices book and made veggie faces. They really enjoyed eating the vegetables afterward!
At the Huron-Superior Catholic School District in Sault Ste Marie, Canada children had a ‘fruit extravaganza’, played games, and even the superintendent came by to join the fun! Only disappointment – their pictures got deleted!
Strawberry picking was the first activity for children in Sau’nia Kay’s family child care in New Bern, North Carolina. They took the strawberries to a retirement home and worked with their friends there to make a strawberry, spinach, almond, and mandarin orange salad! What a fun and delicious inter-generational activity!
Our friends at CACS Head Start in Lansing, Michigan invited Very Important Families to join them for their special activities. They read and acted out Al’s Action Story, sang songs about being happy, and had a nutritious snack together.
Children at Michelle’s Playland in Suffolk, Virginia were moving all morning. They did some exercise routines and then finished up with lots of dancing!
At the Shady Grove Y in Richmond, they celebrated as part of Healthy Kids Day. Everyone made a Healthy Al hat and they set up a Calm Down spot where several children took a moment to chill.
What do juice boxes, toy-fortified kid meals, chocolate-covered granola bars, and single-serving sugar-bomb cereals hawked by cartoon characters have in common? These “grab and go” foods have little nutritional value and are directly marketed to young children. Many parents appreciate quick, easy foods children will eat without a fuss.
Unfortunately, while convenient, this kind of sugary, junky food is one culprit contributing to today’s childhood obesity predicament.
Other factors include: not enough fruits and vegetables, too many sugar-sweetened drinks, too much sedentary time in front of TV and other media, and not enough physical activity.
Won’t Most Children “Grow Out Of” Childhood Obesity?
Twenty-three million (one in three) American children are overweight or obese. We used to believe that overweight children had “baby fat” they would naturally grow out of. We now know that when a young child becomes overweight or obese it is usually very difficult for them to reach and maintain a normal weight. Half of all children who are obese at age six will be obese in adulthood, continuing to face health and other challenges.
According to Robert Wood Johnson’s childhood obesity researchers, today’s children could be the first generation to “live sicker and die younger” than their parents because of childhood obesity.
Overweight or obese children are at higher risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, and other health problems in their childhood years and in adulthood. They feel more stressed and anxious than healthy-weight peers and miss more school.
Early Childhood May Be Key To Preventing Obesity
Many health experts believe that teaching and establishing healthy habits in early childhood holds tremendous promise for reversing the epidemic of obesity. After all, it is easier to initiate good habits than to turn around bad ones!
Important environmental changes that support children’s pathway to healthy weight have emerged in the past few years – like updated USDA nutrition standards for school lunches and snacks, and restrictions on marketing junk food to children.
Many schools, child care settings, and families work hard to provide children healthier food, more opportunities for active play, and limited screen time.
Young Children Develop A Foundation of Healthy Habits
Environmental changes are important, but not enough. Children benefit when they learn to take care of their bodies and make healthy choices.
The 5-2-1-0 Model, recommended by medical experts, provides clear guidelines for teaching children daily habits that promote health and prevent overweight and obesity.
5 – fruits and vegetables
2 – hours or less of screen time (TV, computer, tablets, smart phones, etc.)
1 – hour or more of physical activity
0 – sugar-sweetened drinks
How Can 5-2-1-0 Help Young Children?
The 5-2-1-0 concepts are concrete and specific enough to be taught to young children. Unlike complicated information about proteins, carbohydrates, calories, or food groups, young children “get” that fruits and vegetables are healthy choices! They can understand that screen time is a quiet, stay-still activity, and that children’s bodies get strong through active, run-around play time.
Teaching children to make positive choices every day that align with 5-2-10 practices creates a foundation of healthier habits that can promote good health over their lifetime.
5-2-1-0 Practices and Healthy Choices For Children
5 Fruits & Veggies
Many younger children eat fruits and vegetables. However, as children get older, most eat fewer fruits and vegetables and consume more salty, sugary, fatty foods. By the teen years and adulthood, few Americans eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables. Guiding young children to eat five fruits and vegetables each day – including for snack time– can develop the habit of consciously choosing nutritious foods over less healthy, junk foods.
Teach children that eating fruits and vegetables will help them be strong and healthy. For ideas about creating fun, healthy snacks for young children, click here.
2 Hours or Less of Screen Time
Despite years of recommendations by pediatricians to limit children’s screen time, American children are clocking up many hours on TV and other media in their homes. Out and about, young children can be found tapping and scrolling on hand-held devices – in grocery carts, car seats, at restaurants, you name it. The amount of time spent with screens only increases as children get older. Screen time is largely sedentary, and replaces more active and creative play that children are likely to pursue when no screens are available.
Teach children that too much TV and other screen time is not a healthy choice, and that growing bodies need to move around. For a reproducible parent note about the importance of limiting screen time, click here.
1 Hour of Exercise
Most American children get less than half the recommended amount of daily physical activity. Healthy bodies need the muscle development and raised heart rate that comes when children run, jump, dance, and just play. Providing plenty of time and space for active play for young children can establish a habit of exercise that leads to more fit teens and adults.
Teach children that active play is not only FUN, but it makes their heart healthy and muscles strong! For suggestions about lively, active ways children can play click here.
0 Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Juice
More than sweet treats like cookies or candy, sweetened drinks are the largest source of added sugar in children’s diets. Offering almost no nutritional value, sweetened drinks often replace actual food for children. Consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is considered a key contributor to weight issues. Even 100% juice – long seen as healthy for children – has the same amount of sugar as soda. Currently, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends “no more than 4-6 ounces of 100% juice daily.” Many physicians go so far as to say that even 100% juice is not a necessary part of a healthy diet for children. Actual fruit is a more nutritious choice.
Teach children that water and milk are “anytime” drinks that are good for their bodies. To see some lively Pinterest suggestions for encouraging children to drink more water, click here.
Adults Can Help Young Children Get A Healthy Start
Teaching children what they need to know, in fun and age-appropriate ways, equips them to create a brighter future. Adults CAN make a difference in preventing childhood obesity. Starting in the early years is key.
AcornDreams Healthy Choices Resources
The following easy-to-use tools align with 5-2-1-0 guidelines and can help equip you to teach young children about making healthy choices and recognize them when they do.