Want A Healthy Kid? Feed Their Minds, Too
High school students rarely have time to visit the park just outside of their classroom or the playground outside of their science lab. And yet it’s everywhere their classmates travel – their recreational areas, their outdoor class trips and study hall hours – without realizing. What seems like mere moments of freedom from the burdens of textbooks and homework – a quiet stroll, a quick walk along the side of the road, a walk to the bus stop – can actually be the very drivers of good health.
In January, the LA County Department of Public Health hosted its first National Week of Outdoor Fitness, focusing on the importance of physical activity for long-term health, wellness and better learning. The week encouraged schools, communities and families to prioritize the role of outdoor education, which includes a holistic view of learning that integrates lessons, practices and ideals into a healthy environment.
“It is crucial for students to take a multi-disciplinary approach when learning and walking away from class to do physical activity. Our students are the ones who will live and die by the things we learn,” says Dr. Jonathan Fielding, LA County’s Director of Public Health. “The outdoor environment helps to shape our futures – leaving an imprint on our bodies, mind and spirit. If we don’t think about how the space around us can affect the way we think and feel, we might not have the benefits we are looking for.”
For many of us, the logic seems intuitive, but it’s still easy to forget as we walk onto a school field in the morning and return to our desks after lunch. As we may have heard, if you want to help a child learn, teach them to swim. In fact, the best result is to teach kids how to swim!” This week’s event did not ignore that, including a half-day program in which a group of high school students got a real-life lesson in aquatic safety for Bora Bora High School.
As we all know, school isn’t the only time to encourage activity. Last spring, low-income students in East Los Angeles learned swimming, the value of multisensory learning and how effective English and math lessons help to both stimulate their imaginations and improve school performance. If a science program includes the study of insects and small mammals, maybe the fruits of this summer may begin to emerge in English and math classes.
Here are some suggestions:
Have a yoga or fitness teacher visit the school once a week to help kids explore their own bodies in a fun and safe way. Children with physical disabilities may be especially open to yoga, but can benefit from different types of movement and exercising, too. Having an assistant to lend a hand in the classroom can also help ease the anxiety for students who may still feel a need to perform just for the sake of participating in the activity.
Teach students to understand in- and out-of-classroom environments through a healthy, symbiotic approach. They should learn about how physical activity affects our bodies and brains in both the classroom and outside. If a topic isn’t related to a classroom lesson, have students process a topic in an outdoor setting and then decide later if they learned more than just the simple information that will most likely come into the classroom.
If your child is physically active and interested in sports or other activities outside of school, invite them to join a local league. Participation not only boosts their self-esteem and participation level in team sports, but improves their grades and teaches them how to manage their time.
Help kids understand the benefits of proper sleep so they don’t set the stage for problems that can hinder their study and athletic performance. A fair sleep regimen isn’t just important for teenage teens; it’s also crucial for students with disabilities or even those with mild cognitive problems.
The key is balance. Students should be given the opportunity to learn with others of similar experience – physically or otherwise – outside the classroom, where interacting with others can help foster a positive and trusting learning environment. Just as school systems, parents and teachers can contribute to healthy habits, outdoor schools can encourage healthy minds as well.