By Polly Bliss with Alex Chiu
“Teaching health class is my favorite time of the day at MCA. The hand washing and vegetable songs are music to my ears, and I enjoy the great questions and funny, honest comments your children make during class. If you have Diet Coke for breakfast, I may hear about it!” ~ Nurse Bliss
Health lessons at The Montessori Children’s Academy (MCA) are based on five simple principals that are the same whether your child is in our Preschool, Kindergarten, or Elementary Program.
1. Washing your hands, brushing your teeth, and taking care of your body.
2. Practicing safety.
3. Taking a deep breath.
4. Eating more fruits and vegetables.
Every day, we should all be doing these five simple things.
1. Wash Your Hands! Brush Your Teeth! Take Care of Your Body!
The simple act of washing hands prevents us from getting sick and stops the transmission of illnesses. We encourage the children to wash their hands after they go to the bathroom, before they eat or prepare food, and when they come in from playing outside. The first thing children should do when they get home from school is wash their hands.
A Practical Life lesson MCA preschool students learn in Health Class is how to use a tissue, and children are reminded to keep fingers out of their noses and mouths. A favorite lesson is titled “Germs are Not for Sharing.” Using a spray bottle, we dramatically demonstrate what happens when sneezes and coughs aren’t covered—the children do NOT like to get sprayed with the pretend germs, and they quickly learn to use an elbow to catch their coughs and sneezes to protect themselves and others. In the Elementary Program, we take the topic of hand washing further by discussing viruses and germs and the many ways our immune system protects us.
In the fall, our preschool lessons also focus on body parts and how each body part has a specific job to do. We discuss ways to keep all of our body parts healthy and working properly. At the Elementary level, we discuss each body system, how the body systems work together, and ways to keep each body system functioning for optimal health. Later in the year, during Dental Health Month, students learn all about teeth and how important it is to keep teeth clean by brushing twice a day and flossing once a day. A local dentist and hygienist visit our classrooms for a fun, interactive dental health lesson, as well.
2. Practice Safety!
In winter, Health lessons focus on what to do in emergencies and calling 911. We talk about what an emergency is and what an emergency isn’t. Students are given different scenarios, and they must decide if it’s an emergency or not. They also learn to call 911. This is a tricky lesson because children cannot practice actually making the call to 911. However, as fewer of us have land lines in our homes, it’s important that children know how to use cellular telephones, so students should practice unlocking the phone, choosing a name to call from the contact list, or accessing the keypad–these are essential skills needed to call 911 in an emergency. Our Elementary lessons also focus on personal safety. After this lesson, you may find that your children remind you, their parents, not to text and drive or cross the street while looking down at your phone!
Poison Prevention Month in January provides us with the opportunity to teach the students about things that are good for our bodies and things that are bad for our bodies and that could hurt us. Students are introduced to a basket of poisons, such as cleaners, laundry detergent pods, dishwasher pods, and medicine, and in Health Class, they discuss the many things children should not touch or put in their mouths. At home, please remember to keep all poisons out of sight and out of reach. Elementary students also discuss medicine, both prescription and over the counter medicine, and they are taught how important it is to read directions and to take the proper prescribed dose. Students are reminded that a safe adult should always administer medicine to them rather than the children taking the medicine on their own.
Later in the year, during the month of May, our safety lessons focus on staying safe around water and the importance of wearing sunscreen. Students often end up reminding their parents to apply sunscreen, which is a wonderful way to see how they have internalized these important lessons!
3. Take a Deep Breath!
Throughout the year, and in every Health Class, students practice taking three deep breaths. The children learn to breathe in through their noses, the body part that warms and filters the air before it comes into our bodies. They learn to sit up, let their shoulders drop, and let their stomachs go out when they take a deep breath. We discuss how breathing is a great tool that can help us calm ourselves, and the children come to understand how breathing helps to flood our brains with oxygen so we can think better. In Elementary, students also use deep breathing as a strategy to calm their nervous systems, de-stress, and refocus their attention to the task at hand.
4. Eat More Fruits and Vegetables!
To introduce nutrition, preschoolers explore a basket of colorful fruits and vegetables and are invited to form a rainbow with the produce. They learn that each different colored fruit and vegetable has different health benefits. For example, blueberries are brain food, naturally red food is good for your stomach, naturally green food keeps your insides clean and builds strong muscles, naturally orange foods are good for your eyes, and naturally yellow foods are good for your lungs, while white vegetables are great for fighting germs. We also discuss the food plate and how important it is to eat a variety of foods.
It doesn’t matter what diet you follow at home, our health lessons at MCA focus on eating more fruits and vegetables and less junk food. Fruits and vegetables are nature’s multivitamins that come in a form our bodies can immediately recognize, absorb, and digest. Fruits and vegetables are loaded with healthy fiber. We encourage you to send fruits and vegetables for your child’s snack and lunch. If you have a picky eater, there are some strategies you could try to help your child incorporate a wider variety of healthy foods into his or her diet. If your child will only eat vegetables dipped in something or covered with cheese, that is a really great start in developing healthy eating habits. If your child is hungry after school, offer vegetables first. Have vegetables prepared when you are making dinner or setting the table so your children are free to munch on them. Choose different colors, shapes, and textures and let your child pick out new fruits and vegetables to try when you go food shopping.
In Health Class we refer to fruits, vegetables, and healthy whole foods as “go foods”, which are foods that our bodies need to stay healthy and foods that we should eat a lot of each day. “Go foods” also are foods that our bodies immediately recognize and can easily digest. Whole and natural foods have more nutrition in their natural, minimally processed state. At school, we call junk foods “whoa foods,” and these include foods that are loaded with chemicals, sugar, food coloring, preservatives, and anything hydrogenated. Our bodies aren’t designed to digest “whoa foods”. In fact, many foods we consume today wouldn’t have even been considered food 100 years ago. And sugar certainly wasn’t added to practically everything either. Our bodies don’t know how to digest highly processed foods and foods loaded with chemicals and preservatives. “Whoa foods” take much longer to move through our digestive system and since they stay in our bodies longer, it’s no wonder why obesity and chronic illnesses are on the rise.
Our MCA students learn that they should eat “go foods” most of the time and have “whoa foods” every once in a while. If you do choose processed food items, (which are usually the foods you find in the center aisles of the supermarkets), try to keep the number of ingredients listed on the packaging to under five. Another good rule of thumb as you shop is if you can’t pronounce an ingredient on the package, it’s probably not good for you. Also, if you lose count trying to count the number of ingredients, it’s not good for you, and if it will stay fresh for a year, it’s not good for you. You might also keep in mind that if your preschooler can reach a breakfast cereal, it probably isn’t good for them, and if your yogurt is loaded with sugar or has candy on top of it, it’s dessert.
During our Elementary nutrition lessons, we discuss the digestive system and how to read nutrition labels including portion sizes. We “re-think our drink” by using a sugar bowl to count out the number of teaspoons of sugar that are in our favorite junk beverages. This can be quite an eye-opening lesson for our students. Try it at home sometime and you, too, will be surprised! Take the number of grams of added sugar and divide by four. For example, if your 16 ounce bottle of soda has 44 grams of sugar, you are consuming 11 teaspoons of sugar. We hope this helps you all to ‘re-think your drink’!
As the seasons change and we get closer to summer, the children are encouraged to visit a local farmers market to see what fruits and vegetables are local and fresh. Not only is this a fun family outing, but a great way to take part in a community event and perhaps discover a new favorite healthy food!
MCA students are taught that exercise is also important for healthy bodies. Our bodies are made to move, not to sit in front of a computer or television all day. It’s no wonder so many of us have a stiff neck from looking down at our computers or phone screens constantly. Our MCA students learn that they should engage in at least one hour of physical activity a day. The best exercise for children is simply to go outside and play. Children build strong bodies by playing. Go to the park, go to the playground, go for a walk or a hike, ride bikes together, play a sport, learn to swim, and take the stairs. As parents, we model behavior for our children, so we encourage you to put the phone down, turn off the computer, turn off the TV, and go do something active together with your children. Encourage raking leaves, snow shoveling, vacuuming, cleaning, gardening, and car washing. They are all terrific physical, family activities that also count as exercise. Engaging in physical activity is a family affair that is good for everyone across the lifespan, and all of our MCA students from our youngest to our oldest, learn the value of movement and exercise. The older students extend their understanding of this by also learning about the cardiovascular, respiratory, and muscular systems. We are always emphasizing healthy behaviors that keep all of our body systems functioning properly.
Putting It All Together
In every lesson throughout the year, MCA students refer back to the 5 basic principles of taking care of their bodies, practicing safety, taking a deep breath, eating more fruits and vegetables, and exercising, and they learn to see the connection between these simple steps and staying healthy. It is our hope that our students are learning healthy habits that will last throughout their lifetimes!
Image credit: intranet.tdmu.edu.ua