According to The American Heart Association, The American Academy of Pediatrics and The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, children under the age of 18 should get at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. Between September and June, the goal is for 30 of those minutes to come during the school day. Schools provide opportunities for sports practices and games, physical education classes, daily recess, brain breaks and many thoughtful activities to keep physical activity fun and rigorous at every grade level and to meet—and often exceed—those recommendations. But what happens during the summer?
In the education world, the focus is often on avoiding the “summer slide” by challenging young minds over the summer months with school resources, contests, encouragement and, in the older grades, required work. However, many schools fail to address the importance of keeping active and healthy over summer break. It takes intention and accountability to keep active when in vacation mode. Along with those recommended reading lists, why not send parents and students some resources to encourage the same commitment to healthy living and physical activity over the summer months?
We’ve gathered a few tips from the experts in health and education to help you and your school community maintain a healthy and active lifestyle without cutting in too much on that much-needed summer relaxation time.
Take PALA+ Challenge (Presidential Active Lifestyle Award).
This updated version of the President’s Challenge in Physical Education Class is perfect for at-home fitness tracking for all ages. For children between the ages of 6 and 18, the goal of PALA+ is to complete at least 300 minutes of physical activity each week and be active at least five days each week. The USDA recently discontinued the online version of the accompanying SuperTracker, but there is still a paper PDF that can be downloaded to get you and your school community started. Let your school community know about this by sharing the PDF and encouraging participation. There is an opportunity to award certificates to all students who complete the PALA+ Challenge when they return to school in the fall. Supplement this challenge with the use of fitness trackers, which can help students to keep track of their activity levels, and may provide the perfect opportunity to design your school’s very own active lifestyle contest and award!
Schedule at-home recess.
Encourage families to incorporate at least 20 minutes of recess time daily into their summer lifestyles by providing them with guidelines you use to allot recess time during the school year and resources with ideas for how they can play together outside. This could include something as simple as a walk after dinner, or recess games families can play together. Have your school’s physical education teacher share the rules and setup for some perennial gym class favorites with parents to spark ideas for at-home recess. Encourage social media photos using designated hashtags like #hillcrestfamilyrecess.
Organize physically fit scavenger hunts.
Try creating some family-friendly scavenger hunts that will keep your community physically active. The GooseChase App is a popular resource for team-building exercises educators and works great in classroom settings, but why not encourage all families in your school to get involved with this technology, too? There are plenty of sample games that encourage health and wellness on the GooseChase website, which you can share in a newsletter with your families. Consider holding a family event over the summer (that may even double as a fundraiser), which encourages families to be active and get to know your campus by participating in Amazing Race-style scavenger hunts utilizing this nifty app.
Let’s talk about screen time.
There are many guidelines coming from a host of organizations when it comes to screen time, but the general consensus for any age seems to be: Less is more. In the summer months, screen time can go way up as students decompress at home. Make sure students and families know why too much screen time is harmful to their health and performance at school by sharing information in your school newsletter, website and social media. Other ideas include encouraging a school-wide screen-free week and inviting an expert into your school community to give a talk to parents on the importance of screen time guidelines, perhaps including topics like cyber bullying and online safety. This is an excellent website with resources to help you plan and execute a screen-free week this summer in your community. This is another great resource to help you find resources to share that will empower parents to make screen time limitations this summer.
Keep summer nutritious.
Ice cream, hot dogs, and unlimited access to the snack pantry: Summertime can mean lax nutrition and poor eating habits for students home from school. Your school nurse or health advocate will be an excellent resource to tap for providing information to parents with tips about how to keep their families eating nutritiously during the summer months. There are plenty of resources to help families learn about nutrition together, including this website that has pages for parents and for young students or this game from the CDC. Farmers markets and farms make excellent day trips where students and their families can learn about food sources and pick healthy vegetables and fruits to prepare at home. Why not send a list of local farms out in a newsletter, with hours and a seasonal growing schedule like this one, to encourage families to support local farmers and make nutritious choices together?
Physical fitness, health and wellness improves learning.
What is your independent school doing this summer to encourage your students and families to keep physically fit and active? As you send resources to keep young minds challenged, we encourage you to provide resources like the ones listed here to help families make healthier lifestyle choices.