Does Your Child Have Recess Daily?

The natural inclination of children is to explore their world through movement. When I visit my grandchildren, I wake up to an explosion of physical activity, rolling down the couch cushions, jumping off the toy box, or chasing games around the kitchen island. My oldest grandchild is now in all-day kindergarten. I can’t imagine him not having the opportunity to engage in both free and structured play throughout his school day. Research supports the notion that physical activity is associated with learning readiness and cognitive function (Hillman, Erickson, & Hatfield, 2017). Within the school environment, recess is the vehicle for providing children with opportunities for physical activity and is an essential component of a child’s school day.

Teachers, administrators and parents must realize that recess is more than just a break from the classroom. Recess contributes to your child’s normal growth and development and provides them with a well-rounded educational experience. Recess also helps your child by improving their:

  • Cocial skills and behaviors (e.g., cooperation, following rules, problem solving, negotiation, sharing and communication);
  • Classroom engagement (e.g., on-task and fewer discipline issues); and
  • Academic outcomes (e.g., attention, memory).

Recess is defined as a regularly scheduled period within the school day for physical activity and play that is monitored by trained staff or volunteers. It is also is a period of time when students are encouraged to be physically active and engaged with their peers in activities of their choice, at all grade levels, kindergarten through 12th grade.

Your child’s school should be offering a minimum of 20 minutes of recess daily. If this is not happening, learn about the current recess policies and practices at your child’s school and school district. You can also compare your child’s school practices with Strategies for Recess in Schools, a new resource developed CDC and SHAPE America. You can then see if there is an opportunity to get in involved in your child’s recess program and share with the school staff leading recess possible ways to enhance recess at your child’s school.

CDC and SHAPE America developed a set of resources for recess to help schools develop a written recess plan and implement strategies for recess to increase students’ physical activity and improve their academic achievement. These new resources for recess were developed for school staff or school groups (including parents) to provide guidance on recess.

You can help your child’s school enhance recess by using the

A great place to share the importance of recess and these new resources for recess is at a PTA meeting. We need parents to take a stand for creating healthy and active school environments for all students. Be an advocate within your PTA! Tell other parents about how the physical activity afforded by recess prepares children for learning and is a critical part of all children’s school day.

Fran Cleland is the president of SHAPE America – Society of Health and Physical Educators, and a professor in the Department of Kinesiology at West Chester University in West Chester, PA.  Prior to teaching at the college level, Cleland taught K-12 health and physical education in Indiana, Virginia and Oregon.  She is the lead author of the textbook, Developmental Physical Education for All Children-Theory into Practice.

Free School Meals for All Children

Sound too good to be true? It’s not! Alison Maurice from the Food Research Action Committee (FRAC) explains what the Community Eligibility Provision is, how to tell if your school is eligible, and how to advocate for CEP in your school.

How are schools able to offer meals to all of their students for free?

In the 2016–2017 school year, over 20,000 schools provided free school breakfast and lunch to nearly 10 million children in the United States through the Community Eligibility Provision. Community eligibility allows high-need schools and districts to offer meals at no cost to all students.

Community eligibility has only been available nationwide for three years. In that short time, nearly 55 percent of eligible schools have chosen to use community eligibility, because it increases the number of students benefiting from the school breakfast and lunch programs.

Why are schools so eager to participate in community eligibility?

Because it makes it easy to get meals to students! By offering meals to all students at no charge, community eligibility increases participation among all students which can help school nutrition finances.  Additionally, schools no longer need to qualify students for free or reduced-price school meals. This saves significant time and reduces paperwork for schools, so they can focus more resources on providing healthy meals for your children. Unpaid meal fees are no longer a concern with community eligibility, which decreases stress both on parents and school staff collecting them.

Community eligibility schools have increased participation in the school breakfast and lunch programs. More importantly, more students are eating a healthy breakfast and lunch, reducing hunger and improving nutrition status. School breakfast has shown to improve academic achievement, test scores, and behavior, and to reduce absenteeism and tardiness. Participating in school breakfast allows students to focus on learning, rather than their empty stomachs.

What makes a school or school district eligible?

A school, group of schools, or school district is eligible for community eligibility if at least 40 percent of the students are certified to receive free school meals. Schools identify students who qualify for free meals through other assistance program enrollment. No application is needed to be submitted by parents for schools to determine this.

What can I do to help my school?

On May 1, 2017, your state’s education agencies published a list of schools and school districts that qualify for community eligibility. It is easy to find out if your school or school district is eligible by using the Food Research & Action Center’s Community Eligibility Database. Here you can quickly search for schools by state and district and to determine if your school is eligible and participating or not.

If you find that a school or schools in your school district is eligible for community eligibility but is not using this program, start a conversation with your school administrators and nutrition department. Let them know that you would like them to consider community eligibility. The deadline to apply to use community eligibility in the 2017–2018 school year is June 30, 2017.

Last, but not least, pass these resources along to your school administrators or nutrition department to educate others about the benefits of community eligibility even further:

With these resources, you can help increase access to school meals for all students, giving them much-needed nutrition to succeed.

This blog was prepared by Alison Maurice, Child Nutrition Policy Analyst, at the Food Research & Action Center. For more information, feel free to email Alison at amaurice@frac.org.

Kilgour Elementary: Healthy Food Zone

“Healthy Hands.” Students creating permanent art installations for the cafeteria makeover

Change can be challenging to initiate, especially when you are just one elementary school in a public-school district with over 60 schools. It’s easy to feel too small.

But thanks to our Healthy School Meals grant, Kilgour Elementary School in Cincinnati, Ohio was given an opportunity to stand out and help make change happen. Not only have we been able to take steps to improve the perception of our school meals, we have also been able to create partnerships and momentum to improve our school’s wellness culture.

To help create a positive, healthy-lifestyle atmosphere, this year our school’s cafeteria will host six student-created permanent art installations, as well as a large scale “Farm to School” mural, illustrated by two talented collaborators—a Kilgour parent and school art teacher.

Ever wonder if Kindergartners know how to make a salad? Ours do! Thanks to our “Free Salad Bar Friday’s” every student and staff member can visit the school’s salad bar on Friday and create their very own green masterpiece. Every week over 100 students participate in the free salad bar—students who otherwise would not have the opportunity to experience school meals.

Kindergarten students enjoying “Free Salad Bar Friday’s.”

Growing a positive partnership with our school district’s Food Service Administrative team has given us many opportunities, like bringing in extra salad dressing for students and trying new food items like sweet potato sticks before other schools. Our partnership also has led us to the donation of a Tower Garden growing system to our school, which gives students firsthand experience in growing their own food and creating meals and snacks from the harvest.

Our partnerships have also blossomed in Kilgour Strong Cooking Classes. Local top chefs, in partnership with local distributors, have volunteered their time to help promote school meals. Students in grades 4-6 will be given an opportunity to participate in four free cooking classes, during which they will create a meal served in our school’s cafeteria. These students will be empowered to recreate these meals at home, plus learn why the ingredients are smart choices.

Being one school out of 25 schools awarded the National PTA School Meals Grant reminds us that no matter how small we may feel, we are powerful, we can create change and that we certainly can stand out.

 

Lauren Boehm is a proud mom of a second and third grader, and co-chair of Kilgour Elementary School’s Wellness Committee.

Empowering Students to Make Healthy Meal Choices in School

March is National Nutrition Month and one of my jobs as a parent is to make sure my children are eating healthy, nutritious foods. However, I have to hope that they are making those same healthy choices in my absence while they are at school. The school week leaves a lot of time for friends to offer unhealthy snacks that they’ve brought from home and for one too many cupcakes during birthday celebrations in class.

So, how do we teach our children to choose healthy food alternatives?

As a PTA president for the last four years, I’ve spent a lot of time in our school and began to see the positive impact being made on healthy initiatives for students. I knew that I wanted to be more involved in this effort, so when our PTA had the opportunity to apply for a Healthy Meals Grant we jumped at the chance…and were selected!

Our goal for the year is to increase breakfast and lunch participation by 10%, which sounds great on paper but where do you start? The answer: Empowerment. We start by partnering with the school and meal services provider to help show children what it means to eat healthy by putting the right choices in their hands.

Make them aware
I know that I’ve had those mornings of waking up late and rushing around, hurrying my children to the bus stop with a Pop-Tart.  We asked ourselves: Do students and parents even know that breakfast is available at school? Colorful signs that depicted healthy options were put up at the parent drop off loop to inform families about school breakfast.

Make it fun
During our Fall Festival Celebration we had an apple tasting contest.  It was our chance to highlight the health benefits of apples while having a fun learning experience. Students were given samples of three types of apples: Gala, Granny Smith and Golden Delicious. Student were then asked to choose which apple they liked best by placing representative felt apple on the board.  The apple tasting continued in the lunchroom for the younger grades with Golden Delicious edging out the others by a slim margin!

Give them the tools
We are fortunate to have a schoolyard garden.  Classes are held outside in warmer weather and students of all grade levels are an integral part of planting, harvesting and eventually eating what grows in the garden.  In September, our PTA planted various types of lettuce with the plan to have a “Top Chef Jr.” type of salad making competition using other fruits & vegetables of the season.  The winning salad would be featured on the school menu for that month.  We even used the lettuce for salads at our December ACE & PTA Family Night “Meatballs & Math.”

Empower them
What better way to highlight our school’s breakfast and lunch options than to have students share updates with each other. Each morning the Mullica Morning Howl – student led video announcements – were shown to the entire student body at Mullica Township School. During this time, students were able to speak about what breakfast and lunch options were available each day.

Jessica Carroll is a parent of two boys and PTA president of Mullica Township School in Elwood, New Jersey. 

A New Year for Family and School Health


(Sponsored Post) It’s a new year, and for many of us it’s a time to assess our health and resolve to shed a few pounds, add more fruits and vegetables to our diets, get more exercise and generally do what we can to make ourselves and our families healthier.

It’s also a good time to take stock of the health of your child’s school. After all, that’s where they spend most of their time outside of your home—nearly 1,200 hours each year. Start with a simple quiz to see what you know about your child’s school. Does the school:

  • Allow adequate time for kids to have recess?
  • Provide active indoor recess to ensure kids get physical activity during inclement weather?
  • Ask parents to bring healthy snacks instead of sweet treats for birthdays and celebrations?
  • Incorporate active games and non-food rewards as part of classroom celebrations?
  • Provide opportunities for physical activity during the school day, such as brain breaks in the classroom?
  • Adhere to Smart Snacks standards for school meals and foods sold in school?
  • Host healthy fundraisers involving nutritious foods or physical activity?

If you answered “no” or “I don’t know” to any of these questions, don’t despair. Join your school’s or PTA’s wellness team and find out! Then pick an area where you can make a difference. Get inspired by others like Tara Fisher-Munoz, a parent in Austin, Texas who took her passion and expertise in gardening to form the Go Green Team PTA with other volunteers and start the school’s garden program. Or Dana Dougherty, a parent and substitute teacher in Arlington, Virginia, who worked with her PTA to set up the 2FIT2QUIT team, that organized 5Ks and family fitness fairs and secured pedal desks to keep kids active while learning.

These parents started with big ideas but small steps. They and many others will attest that once you get started, it’s hard to stop, because just one program can spur a culture of health at school. By getting involved in school wellness, you can also help reinforce those healthy habits your kids are learning at home – and likely learn something new for a healthier you, too.

Learn more about how to get involved in school health at ActionforHealthyKids.org and celebrate your school’s health and wellness during Every Kid Healthy Week.

Amy Moyer, MPH, RD, is the VP Field Operations with Action for Healthy Kids and mother of two girls.

Action for Healthy Kids is a National PTA sponsor and has been invited to submit a blog post as part of their engagement with PTA.

Consider a “Digital Diet” for Your Family

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As tablets, smartphones and other personal technology devices play an increasingly dominant role in all of our lives, finding a good balance seems to be a tricky endeavor in many American households. Both parents and teens log more than five hours a day on their devices (outside of work and school), often during family dinners and while spending leisure time together. Many people also use these devices for hours each day with earbuds or headphones.

Finding balance is critical for many reasons, including children’s communication health. Dedicated time for verbal exchange— listening, talking, reading and interacting face-to-face —is essential for young children’s speech and language development. It is critical that time spent alone with devices (even on educational apps!) does not take away from time for interaction with parents. This “talk time” is also a precursor for reading, academic and social success. The benefits extend to older children as well, whose brains are still developing throughout the teen years, as well as family relationships.

Too much time on digital devices doesn’t just negatively impact communication health and academic success, it also has an effect on physical health. There has been a tremendous increase in hearing loss among children recently. Noise-induced hearing loss is a preventable problem, but once it occurs, it is irreversible. Earbud and headphone misuse can be especially problematic.

May is Better Hearing & Speech Month, a great time for technology-dependent families to introduce some better habits. (The exception being for children who require assistive devices to communicate.) A recent survey from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) showed that once parents and teens learn more about the potential negative effects of tech overuse, they are willing to change their habits. Being mindful of balance is also key as we approach summer, when increased leisure time often means even more tech time for kids. Here are some “digital diet” tips from ASHA:

  1. Create a family technology plan—together. An agreed-upon set of rules is a good way to keep everyone on track. Schedule regular check-ins to determine whether you’re actually substituting tech time with more quality time together. Surprisingly, most teens whose parents set rules agree that the rules are fair—and parents report they work.
  1. Designate tech-free zones in the home. The kitchen, bedrooms, the family room…there may be one place in your home that you can keep devices out of, as a general rule. This helps with the temptation to constantly check your phone or jump at the sound of every incoming notification. It makes a difference to even have 30 minutes free from tech distractions.
  1. Talk instead of text, when possible. Texting offers tremendous convenience for parents to get in touch with their kids. But texting is not a replacement for verbal exchange. Tone, facial expressions and other nonverbal signals are just some of the ways in which texting falls short (and no, emojis don’t do the trick). Try to avoid texting your child when both of you are at home, as a start.
  1. Resist overreliance on technology to pacify boredom. Technology is an easy way to keep even the youngest children entertained. However, the best opportunities for conversation, learning and bonding are often found in situations that may be viewed as boring, such as while running errands or on a long car trip.
  1. Always practice safe listening, especially when using earbuds or headphones. Teach kids to keep the volume down (a good guide is half volume) and to take listening breaks. These are messages kids need to “hear” from their parents.

Remember, if you ever have concerns about your child’s hearing or speech/language skills, consult a certified audiologist or speech-language pathologist.


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Jaynee A. Handelsman, PhD, CCC-A is a pediatric audiologist and the 2016 ASHA president.