Teaching Good Habits

My love for the outdoors is what inspires and drives me on a daily basis to teach students about keeping physically fit and the benefits from the natural environment around them. It has been a realization of mine that children today do not get outside to just play and socialize with friends. Wanting to find a way to address this issue two colleagues and I applied and received a Fund For Teacher grant in 2008. This grant allowed us to explore Norway and understand the healthy life style of the Norwegians.  Our trip included hiking the Fjords, visiting an outdoor school, meeting and speaking to people about their love for the outdoors. Once we were back from our 12 day excursion we hit the ground running excited to start a new way of teaching physical activity to our students. Our idea was simply called the Outdoor Classroom. We took our students out to explore a local park near our school and quickly discovered that many of our students had never been to the park before. This fact propelled us to further develop and tweak our program to fit the needs of our students. The once a month outdoor classrooms are spent hiking, exploring, orienteering, snowshoeing, team building and journaling. Students are learning that the park lands have so much to offer and it’s free recreational fun right in their own backyards. 

In addition to the Outdoor Classroom I have helped to establish other programs that complement our outdoor concept. Our school is a “Safe Routes to School” school which is a national program that promotes safely walking and bicycling to school. We are encouraging our students to walk or bike to school rather than be driven which supports physical activity and a greener environment. Our school participates in special events sponsored by Safe Routes to School which includes the National and Massachusetts Walk To School Days, celebrating students walking or biking to and from school.

Fuel Up To Play 60 is another program at our school and it has proven to be a truly exciting series of activities for our students and staff. Fuel Up To Play 60 promotes healthy eating choices and 60 minutes of physical activity every day. The program is sponsored by the National Dairy and Food Council along with the NFL. They have combined eating healthy with exercising to make a comprehensive program that is a perfect fit for all children. Fuel Up To Play 60 is a program run by students which empowers the students to take charge of their eating habits and physical movement. Our school takes part in all of the events that the program has to offer. We have applied for and received grants from the Fuel Up program which has assisted us in offering fantastic activities to promote healthy eating and exercise. Fuel Up to Play 60 is a wonderful way to teach students about making healthy choices while having fun doing it.

An added activity that we use on a daily basis is the Mighty Milers program sponsored by the New York Road Runners. The Mighty Milers program offers 5 mile membership cards, marathon medals and 35 mile t-shirts to students who throughout the course of a school year run and or walk cumulating many miles along the way. The students are rewarded with bronze, silver and gold medals as they reach their goals equaling single, double or triple marathons. The Mighty Milers program motivates the students to set a goal and work to reach it.

It is important to understand that without the help of many people these programs would not have been put into action. My school principal has always approved of programs which promote exercise and healthy eating, that in turn encourages me to seek out program opportunities for our school. The classroom teachers at Beal School consistently support my endeavors and help create a fun-filled atmosphere by taking part in all events with great enthusiasm.  The School Adjustment Counselor has been a key factor in making these programs extremely successful at our school. The counselor and I have partnered on all the fore mentioned initiatives to help produce programs which promote healthy lifestyles for our students. Our unique partnership has propelled many of these programs beyond what I could ever have done on my own. By combining the social aspect with the physical component we have created programs that reach the whole child; physically, socially and mentally.

I am extremely honored to have been nominated and to receive the Let’s Move! and Physical Activity Champion of Change recognition. This honor will motivate me to continue to instill in my students the value of the outdoors and how it will lend itself to a healthier lifestyle. I also will continue to encourage children to develop and maintain a lifelong commitment to physical activity.

Cindy Coughlin is a physical education and health teacher at Alice B. Beal Elementary School in Springfield, Massachusetts.

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