I read a great article in my Lifetime Fitness magazine, Experience Life about some amazing schools that have formed in the last several years. Each of the schools have been able to measure wonderful increases in learning and health of kids by focusing on getting the kids involved in things like outdoor exercise, gardens, cooking and yoga.
There were several facts I found interesting with each of the programs. At Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in California, the kids score higher on average in math, reading and science, but you won’t find them spending endless hours hitting the books. On a typical day, you are more likely to find the kids chopping vegetables in the kitchen, digging in the school garden or checking for honey from the schools beehives. The kids get time during each day to work in the garden or kitchen and many return after school. The principal believes the outside garden is the most impactful thing they offer for improving the kids overall growth. The kids have learned to eat more fruits and vegetables because they see how much effort and time it takes to grow them. They have found that the younger kids exposed to the program have increased their fruit and vegetable intake by 1.5 services per day, and that middle school students ate more dark leafy greens than their peers and believe their food choices affected the environment. In addition, the parents have reported a huge drop in junk food consumption. The participants believe that the gardens program is about more than breaking the junk food habit; it promotes physical and intellectual exercise, cooperation and teamwork, and it gets kids outside.
Another school in the article found amazing results by starting each day with a practice they called “centering”, a short meditative practice that promotes mindful breathing and compassion. The teachers reported that it sets a different tone in the classroom and kids tend to treat each other more respectful and focus better. Also, simply increasing lunch and recess time from 30 minutes to 50 minutes and changing the menu to more whole cooked meals. The teachers and parents found a huge increase in focus, comprehension and overall happier kids.
One of the schools, Academy of Global Citizenship located in Chicago has flourished in promoting a healthy lifestyle even though 8 of 10 of the students come from low-income households. Not only are the kids learning how to take care of their world and themselves, they are passing their new learned habits on to their parents. One of the mothers says that her four children insist they practice earth friendly habits at home, like recycling more and they encourage her to serve more organic foods.
To sum up, it’s clear that kids can learn how to be healthy at school and improve academic performance in a much less ambitious setting. Increasing outdoor time, improving school meals, teaching kids to cook and garden, and implementing yoga classed and mindfulness techniques have shown wonderful results in various settings- and these can happen anywhere. The leaders of these programs believe what really matters in any school is a commitment to make student health a fundamental part of its mission.
If your school hasn’t yet incorporated wellness into its curriculum, there are a number of organizations that will partner with them to provide programs like yoga and garden building.
Here are some links to pass on to your schools:
The Edible Schoolyard
Thanks for reading.
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