By Emily Hulse, MS
Teachers. Hopefully each of us can recall many times in our lives where we experienced the great power of teachers. I sure can – too many times to write down without turning this blog post into a novel. Let’s just say in my book that I consider Teachers to be super heroes EVERY day!
I want to write about one particular power that teachers possess. It’s the influence and great potential they can have on helping children to make healthy choices. When we deliver trainings to early childhood professionals, throughout the training modules we stress how big of a role they play in promoting early development of healthy behaviors and how much of a difference they can make (often times I think they underestimate their level of influence). Parents are typically the most important role model a child has in developing healthy (or unhealthy) behaviors. However, the next closest role model to that I believe is the child’s teacher. I’ve seen this various times in the lives of my young children already.
Here’s one of the most recent examples. Meet Maddie. She’s 4 and in her first year of preschool.
One of their units at preschool this month was on healthy eating! Yay! I was excited for her to get to learn about nutrition with her class and realize it isn’t just something mom thinks is important. One of the activities they did was taste a rainbow. Every family signed up to bring different colors of fruits and vegetables and then the children got to make a rainbow on their plate with them and try all of the different kinds and colors. I was shocked when Maddie’s teacher wrote in her journal how she ate everything on her rainbow (including the peppers) and encouraged her friends to try them too. The first thing she said when I saw her from school was Mom, I ate peppers! She was sooooo proud and excited. See this is funny and interesting to me because peppers are one of my favorite vegetables; I love red peppers especially! They are normally found in my vegetable drawer in the fridge and my girls are always asking me, mom, did you put peppers in this?! Do you know how many times I’ve offered her peppers in a variety of ways?! However, in this case, the teacher offered them and made them part of a fun classroom activity and praised the children for trying new foods and Maddie was all about the peppers. She even asked me for peppers at lunch a couple days after this activity (and of course, wouldn’t you know it that was one of the few times they weren’t in my fridge!). Then another day she went and found the plastic pepper in her play food bin and came and gave it to me and was reminding me how she tried peppers at school. We often tell early childhood professionals that the child care or school setting is one of the best places to introduce new foods, especially fruits and vegetables. Case in point.
Maddie’s classroom also got to use a lot of the activities, games, books, etc. from my nutrition tote that I use for work. She had seen a lot of this stuff at home already but new excitement was brought for these items after using them with her teacher and classmates. She now asks me about playing with them more and reminds her older sister about making a healthy plate.
As mentioned before in regards to parents, being a positive role model when it comes to healthy eating is of course very important (just as everything else they’ll do what they see us do and not what we just tell them they should do – instead we have to show them). I don’t mean at all for this post to overlook that but I want to stress the level of influence that classroom teachers have on children of all ages and how that shouldn’t be overlooked. They possess a great amount of power too when it comes to this.
At a recent meeting, I heard about many of the great new things LPS is doing in some of the school lunch rooms. One of these included taking pictures of the teachers at that particular school eating vegetables and then hanging them up in the cafeteria. They know that if children see their teachers eating something, then they are in turn more likely to try the food. Since teachers of school aged children aren’t sitting down and eating in the lunch rooms with their classes though, they did the best next thing they could think of. Take fun pictures of the teachers and hang them for the children to see during lunch time.
I know how much my children look up to their teachers and want to be like them. They listen to everything they say and watch carefully everything they do (and eat and drink) and they soak it all up like they are little sponges. Because even though I studied nutrition in college and now teach others about it, my girls are more likely to have healthy behaviors, if they are also being taught and modeled in their classroom settings as well by their wonderful teachers. A team effort between the home and child care or school is the best approach to helping our children have healthy behaviors!