Habits established in early childhood last a lifetime. We know that ages 5 years and under are particularly critical in developing healthy behaviors and attitudes towards food and physical activity. What can child care providers do to encourage healthy habits? That's as easy as ABC...
We often say, "Everyone needs 1 hour of physical activity every day," but best practices in early childhood care call for even more active play. Young children need 120 minutes, or 2 hours, of active play every day, both indoors and outdoors. The benefits are plentiful. Active play:
Kids who cook and assist with meal preparation eat healthier foods. Start young. Preschoolers love helping in the kitchen, and even infants and toddlers can get involved.
- Clean vegetables and fruits
- Wash and rip lettuce and other greens
- Tear bread into smaller pieces
- Deliver shatterproof tableware to the table
Four in ten kids in central Indiana are at an unhealthy weight. That's nearly a quarter million kids, or enough to fill Lucas Oil Stadium three times.
Because of their weight, these kids are at significantly higher risk for life threatening conditions including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
How did we get here?
The causes of the obesity epidemic are numerous and complex. Food has become highly processed, calorie dense, and “super-sized.” Many families lack access to affordable, healthy food. Children have fewer opportunities to play and be active, as recess and physical education classes have been reduced or cut entirely in schools. Too many kids spend too much time sitting in front of computer screens, tablets, or smart phones. Many of them live in neighborhoods that lack safe places to play.
As a result, simply promoting public awareness and “personal responsibility” will not solve this crisis. There are no simple or one-size-fits-all solutions.
Local spotlight: IU Health West Day Early Learning explores wellness with stories, songs, dolls
Matt Miller, director of IU Health West Day Early Learning, had a few doubts about teaching his pre-K students about biological organ functions.
What sense would young children make of stories and songs about characters like Hardy Heart and the Kidney Brothers? Would preschoolers really be able to make connections between a stuffed doll and their own health and wellness?
But Miller was pleasantly surprised by what happened when the class began regularly using the story books, dolls, and music that his center received as part of a grant from Anthem. The tools are part of two curriculum kits from OrganWise Guys, a health and nutrition program with research-proven impact on children’s waist circumferences, BMIs, blood pressure, and test scores.
What exactly do we mean when we talk about physical activity at daycare and preschool? How do you know if you provide enough of the "right" kind of opportunities to help kids get moving? What can you do to encourage more active play?
In short, aim for a wide variety of activities that get all kids moving at the same time. Sprinkle activities throughout the day in age-appropriate lengths of time.
There is some variation in recommendations for children five years and under. We often refer to the best practice of 120 minutes per day, recommended by the National Assocation for Sport and Physical Education, knowing that this is more than the "1 hour" recommended for ages 6 to adult.
We're in the habit of celebrating with food—usually sweets and candy with lots of empty calories. But it's easy to rethink how you party in the classroom or at day care when you're equipped with fun alternatives that kids love. We've got 15 fun and healthy school celebration ideas to help!
Why healthier classroom celebrations?
Why does your school or child care center need a healthy school celebrations policy that extends to birthdays, holidays, and special events? "A birthday is just once a year," we might think—but if you have 25 or more student birthdays, and add in Halloween, winter break, Valentine's Day, the 100th day of school, the last day of school...you can easily accumulate 7 full weeks of sugary treats!
Like adults, kids need to stay active throughout the day. Active kids feel less stressed, sleep better at night, gain more focus, are more ready to learn, and develop healthy bones, muscles, and joints.
One way to make sure that children in your care are getting enough movement throughout the day is to incorporate movement into learning. Below is a list of suggested resources. Check them out and get moving!
Eating family style meals and snacks is recognized as a best practice in child care settings of all types—large, small, in-home, preschool, daycare, etc. Family style is all about children and supervising adults sharing a meal together, with children encouraged to serve food themselves.
Caregivers place enough food on the table to allow each child and adult to take the full regulatory portion of food required by the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) or State Licensing Rules. Children are allowed to choose how much of each food they serve themselves, or if they will take any of the food at all.
Family style meals help children try new foods by allowing them to feel in control of their eating. Supervising adults can encourage healthy eating habits by role modeling them.
Excessive screen time is associated with increased risk for overweight and obesity, lower reading scores, and attention problems in school. But what constitutes "screen time" and what is excessive?
What is "screen time"?
Screen time includes time spent watching TV, playing video games, using a computer, and using mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. "Recreational screen time" refers to use for non-educational purposes.
Consider this: as new technologies and devices have become popular, they haven't replaced the old ones. For example, tablets and smart phones have not replaced television and video games—instead, they have actually added to the amount of time kids spend engaged with screens.
Many young children are picky eaters who prefer to eat simple, familiar foods—perhaps at home and in child care. They may refuse foods based on color or texture, or play at the table and not want to eat.
While picky eating is common in ages 2-5, this is also an important time that shapes lifelong eating habits. Try responding to picky eating behavior in a positive way to help children move through this temporary phase with healthy attitudes and a hunger for variety. These tips can help:
- Introduce only one new food at a time. Serve a well-loved food along with the new food.
- Put a small portion of the new food on children's plates so it doesn't feel overwhelming.
- Transition to new foods or ingredients slowly. Instead of going directly from whole milk to fat-free, serve 2% for a few weeks, then 1% before finally arriving at fat-free milk. Mix plain yogurt with fruit-sweetened varieties, then add fresh fruit, until kids become accustomed to a full serving of plain yogurt and fresh fruit.