Keeping children fit and healthy is a shared responsibility. However, schools have an important role in getting the ball rolling.
As educators, we’re responsible for the well-being of the children in our care — and I firmly believe that holistic care for children includes consideration of their physical fitness.
Understandably, childcare centres only have a limited amount of power in how we can assist and educate children in being physically fit, the rest involves partnering with parents. However, I do believe doing all that’s in our power can help have a great ripple effect throughout the entire community (and beyond).
Here are some simple ways in which childcare centres can help facilitate a love for physical fitness in our children:
- Start a discussion around serving healthier food
Physical fitness is 80% what you eat, and this is true for children as well. Unfortunately, findings has shown that childhood obesity in Singapore is on the rise, so it’s more important than ever to be sure we’re serving our children nutritious food options.
A healthy, balanced diet is the key to keeping children well. Though it can sometimes be difficult to work healthy food options into the menu (and even more difficult to get the children to eat them) even just making a few simple swaps can make a world of difference. For example, at our childcare center, we’ve substituted some staple options with healthier alternatives that are barely noticeable!
For breakfast, children are served a nutritious choice of milk and cereal. And at lunch, our cook prepares meals that are high in fiber by serving a variety of different fruits and vegetables. Instead of solely using white rice, we mix in some brown rice for a bit of extra fiber and magnesium. For tea break, our cakes and muffins are baked using oats to replace flour, and we use a variety of cheeses that are low in fat. When we serve breads, we make sure it is wholemeal.
These simple swaps can add up to a big difference in nutrients and won’t be too off-putting to your picky eaters.
Here at Ilham, we make healthier food options more simple:
- Choosing ingredients with healthier choice logos, or the healthy choice pyramid symbol
- When possible, choose low-sodium products or substitute vegetable, chicken or fish stock over salt
- When serving chicken, use breast lean meat. It’s skinless and full of protein
- Ensure there are always vegetables served with each meal and fruits served after larger meals
- Encourage children to drink as much water as possible
- Ensure children are getting plenty of time for unstructured play
Research has shown that most children need at least 60 minutes of unstructured active play, and 60 minutes of structured physical activity each day. That’s a minimum of at least two hours of physical activity. Unfortunately, many children don’t reach that goal.
As caregivers, we should offer as many opportunities for physical activity as possible, as well as time outside. This should include unstructured play as well, such as playground time. Children’s little bodies weren’t meant to stay still, and you’ve probably realized that once they’ve been a desk for certain period of time, they start to become a bit restless!
Here are some easy ways to help your students meet their physical activity goals:
- During lessons, try to take a break at least every 45 minutes to allow for some physical activity
- Try working stretching, yoga or another type of physical activity into your curriculum
- Plan for each grade level to receive at least one hour outside each day
- Make teaching lessons into fun, physical games
- Dance to music and let the children be silly
- Be a good role model
As you’re probably aware, children are like sponges! Their little minds absorb the things they see being done and said around them. For child care providers, this means we must set a good example in order to have the children in our care follow suit — even in things like physical fitness and nutrition!
Sometimes, this can be harder said than done! For example, if children see you eating a sweet treat after each meal or in-between meals, they may wonder why they can’t just do the same. Or, if they see you drinking sodas throughout the day, they may want to follow suit!
However, the more we model what good physical fitness and nutrition looks like for the children in our care, the easier it will be for them to grasp.
Here’s to health!