News / USA

US Schools Teach Kids to Play

Unstructured outdoor activity, eating fruits and vegetables become part of curriculum

At Calvary Preschool in Pittsford, Vermont, nearly one-third of class time is devoted to active, outdoor play.
At Calvary Preschool in Pittsford, Vermont, nearly one-third of class time is devoted to active, outdoor play.

Multimedia

Audio
Nina Keck

Over the past 30 years, the childhood obesity rate in the United States has doubled for children and tripled for adolescents. Overweight kids face an increased risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and stroke.

Since 95 percent of young people are enrolled in schools, many experts believe innovative school programs can go a long way to help fight childhood obesity.

Schools in the state of Vermont are focusing on more than just academics, they are also teaching children about making healthy food choices. And one is even teaching the children how to enjoy playing outside.

At a preschool in Pittsford, Vermont, nearly one-third of class time is devoted to active, outdoor play.

The idea of having to teach kids how to play outside leaves Anita Caldwell, a teacher at Calvary Preschool in Pittsford, Vermont, dumbfounded.

"You just kind of take for granted that kids want to go outside and play but then you recognize, when you talk to them, that they don't," says Caldwell. "They spend their day with a large screen TV and some snacks."

Fellow teacher, Laura Peterson, agrees. "When I was growing up - 'shoo!' - out the door in the morning and you'd play outside until the streetlights came on at night."  

But it's different today, she says. With many parents working, it's often easier for them to have their kids play inside with a video game or watch TV.

Peterson says an early childhood education class got her thinking about ways to incorporate more activity into their school day. She began to research playground equipment and found many experts touting the benefits of 'back to nature' unstructured play.

Teacher Laura Peterson and her students examine a stream during Hike Day.
Teacher Laura Peterson and her students examine a stream during Hike Day.

Hike day

Calvary preschool is located near a series of hiking trails, so Peterson approached her colleagues and together they revised their three day teaching schedule so that every Friday is hike day.

Teacher Joanne Pye says 15 kids come to the morning session while another 15 attend in the afternoon.

"Fridays we are only inside for half an hour to gather together. We meet, we talk about what the hike is for the day, and then they pack their backpacks and we head out the door - no matter what the weather."

Pye has seen dramatic changes in the kids because of their weekly hike day.

"At the beginning of the year, it seemed like [the kids would say] 'Oh, I'm getting tired, this is too long - when are we going back to school?' And now on Monday mornings they come in and say, 'Is this hike day?' So it's changed completely."

Loosening up

Teacher Laura Peterson says kids today are more used to structured play, where they have to follow rules, listen to a coach, or play on specific equipment. So, she says, their first big challenge was getting the kids to freely explore the things along the trail.

"Then we started to go off the trail into the woods, and the kids were floored. They had no idea what to do. I said, 'Wow, look at all these trees, let's play!' And they kind of looked at me, 'What are you talking about?' So we had to show them how to walk on trees and how to swing off of them onto other branches and see the little holes underneath that you can play in."

Halfway along the hike, teacher Joanne Pye stops near a huge boulder. Within seconds, the kids are climbing all over it, like ants on honey.

"The first time we visited this rock last fall - there were maybe one or two children out of 15 who knew how to climb up this," says Pye.
"Research shows that if children are exposed to the outdoors between the ages of 1 and 6, they're going to love the outdoors and want more of it, and hopefully they'll become responsible for their environment."

At a time when many schools have cut back on their physical education programs, Calvary's weekly hike day is unique. Teacher Laura Peterson says they got their inspiration from a teaching method that originated in Germany in the 1960s. Preschoolers who attend these so-called 'forest kindergartens' spend all their time learning outside from nature.

While a handful of U-S schools have incorporated the teaching method, Peterson felt it was a bit too drastic a change for their public preschool. One day a week outside probably isn't enough, she says. But as she watches her students run through the woods, she smiles, and says it's a good start.

Brook Burnham prepares the daily fruit and vegetable snack at Mettawee Community School in West Pawlet, Vermont.
Brook Burnham prepares the daily fruit and vegetable snack at Mettawee Community School in West Pawlet, Vermont.

Eating well

More schools are focusing on help children make good food choices. In Vermont, 57 schools are using snack time to encourage kids to eat more fruits and vegetables.

During snack time at Mettawee Community School in West Pawlet, all eyes are on Brook Burnham as she wheels her food cart from classroom to classroom.

The 190 youngsters at Mettawee enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables every morning, thanks to a $13,000 grant funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. To qualify, a school has to have a high percentage of low income students.

Heather Champney, Mettawee's kitchen manager, says they couldn't afford the fruit, or a part-time employee to prepare it, without the funding. "Just for an average for the month of March, we spent $1,300 just on the fruit and vegetables."

Champney believes it's money well spent, since so many kids don't get fresh fruits or vegetables at home.

Fourth grade teacher Mark Rampone dishes out the fruit snack for his students.
Fourth grade teacher Mark Rampone dishes out the fruit snack for his students.

Health benefits

Mandy Mayer is Mettowee's nurse and health coordinator.

"We can stand up in front of a class as much as we want and lecture them about healthy eating," says Mandy Mayer, Mettowee's nurse and health coordinator. But for the kids to really absorb and practice what they learn, Mayer believes hands-on modeling is what works best.

"They have to have the fruits and vegetables there every day, so they can see this is what we do. They'll be hungry, they're ready for it and all together as a class they're sharing in wholesome foods."

It's a lesson some of the children have already learned.

"Yeah - because the choices we make now can affect who we are when we grow up," says Autumn Manning who is 12. "Like, if we get into the habit of eating fresh fruits and veggies now, we'll be more likely to eat them later on because we'll already have formed the habit. And a lot of people just stick with the habits they form as children."

Lesson learned

Her classmate Emily Couper says it's also a lesson kids are bringing home.

"Yesterday, me and my mom were at the store and I asked her to pick up some kiwi because that was a fruit that I had here and I really enjoyed it."

Officials at the U.S. Department of Agriculture say schools in all fifty states are participating in the fresh fruits and vegetables program and the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

Because it has been offered nationally for less than two years, there is little scientific data on the program's effectiveness. But officials say anecdotal evidence has encouraged the agency to boost funding from $40 million to $150 million annually, so that more schools will be able to take part next year.

You May Like

Kurdish Party Pushes Political Gamble to Run in Turkey Poll

HDP announces it will run as political party instead of fielding independent candidates in June election, but faces tough 10 percent threshold More

Twitter Targets Islamic State

New research shows suspending Twitter accounts of Islamic State, its supporters has been effective; group, its backers are facing 'significant pressure,' says terrorism expert More

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

Majur Juac made the leap from being a refugee in Africa to a master chess champion in US, where he shares his expertise with students More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Spacei
X
Rosanne Skirble
January 27, 2015 5:05 PM
The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video Saved By a Mistake - an Auschwitz Survivor's Story

Dagmar Lieblova was 14 when she arrived at Auschwitz in December 1943, along with her entire Czech Jewish family. All of them were to die there, but she was able to leave after several months due to a bureaucratic mix-up which saved her life. Now 85, with three children and six grandchildren, she says she has a feeling of victory. This report by Ahmad Wadiei and Farin Assemi, of RFE/RL's Radio Farda is narrated by RFE’s Raymond Furlong.
Video

Video Weekly Protests in Korea Keep Japanese WWII Atrocities Alive

Every week in Seoul protesters gather in front of the Japanese Embassy to demand an apology and reparations from Tokyo for the thousands of South Korean women who were forced into prostitution during World War II. Although this year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, these protestors have helped keep the issue of comfort women alive and made it difficult for Japan to move beyond its past wartime atrocities. VOA's Brian Padden reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Exercise: New Prescription for Parkinsons Disease

Exercise could be the new prescription for Parkinson's Disease, a progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects movement. More than six million people worldwide suffer from Parkinsons and they're traditionally treated with medication and surgery. Shelley Schlender has more.
Video

Video Brussels Shaken as New Greek Leader Challenges Europe’s Austerity Drive

Greece’s youngest-ever prime minister, 40-year-old Alexis Tsipras, was sworn in Monday after his victorious far-left Syriza party entered a coalition with far right rivals. Tsipras says he will restore dignity to Greece by ending spending cuts. So begins a new chapter for the country at the epicenter of Europe’s economic crisis - a change that has sent tremors across the continent, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visit

U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video White House Grapples With Yemen Counterterrorism Strategy

Reports say the U.S. has carried out a drone strike on suspected militants in Yemen, the first after President Barack Obama offered reassurances the U.S. is continuing its counterterrorism operations in the country. The future of those operations has been in question following the collapse last week of Yemen’s government. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Oil Price Drop Troubles Texas Producers

As oil prices have fallen over the past several months, drilling operations have slowed in some parts of the United States - including Texas, the state that surpasses all others in energy production. The Lone Star State’s energy output has been boosted in recent years by development of resources trapped deep below ground in the Eagle Ford shale deposit, which stretches across south central Texas. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Karnes City, Texas, the drop in oil prices has created concerns,
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid