- Describe your role in promoting active lifestyles for program staff, children and families.
- Model an active lifestyle.
- Describe strategies and resources for motivating staff and families toward fitness.
Promoting Active Lifestyles in the Program
The majority of your time is probably spent helping staff members support the curriculum: reviewing activity plans, observing in classrooms, meeting with teams, completing paperwork. You probably have many different priorities and responsibilities on any given day. It’s easy to forget that taking care of yourself and setting a healthy example is just as important as many of your other roles! This lesson will help you think about all the ways you can support active lifestyles in your program and in the community.
It may seem like child development and youth programs are naturally physically active spaces for adults. Afterall, staff in your programs rarely sit at a desk, and they may spend the day lifting children, moving, dancing, and playing. This is a great start, but your program can take small steps to make sure staff are active and healthy. Consider the ways you can help promote the intensity, duration, and frequency of physical activity for children, families, and staff throughout the program. You can also think about fun ways to build physical activity across different types of movement:
- Aerobic activities: these types of activities build heart and lung strength. Jumping rope, swimming, dancing are all examples.
- Muscle strengthening activities: these activities make your muscles work harder than they usually do in everyday activities. Activities like climbing trees, pulling ropes, or lifting your body weight can strengthen muscles.
- Bone strengthening activities: these types of activities put pressure on your bones in a way that promotes growth. Running, jumping rope, basketball, or hopscotch can strengthen bones.
- Balance activities: these types of activities reduce the risk of falls and help our bodies resist outside forces. Yoga, standing on one leg, or walking backwards all help improve balance.
- Flexibility activities: these types of activities help your body move through its full range of motion. Stretching, Tai Chi, or yoga may all increase flexibility.
Building an active workplace that incorporates these kinds of movements for adults and youth can help reduce stress and promote well-being. As you begin thinking about your role in promoting wellness, consider the ways you can work with management to ensure wellness is prioritized in your workplace:
- Are there wellness incentives your community, employer, or installation offers that staff can participate in?
- Do you promote things like “active breaks”? Are there brief mindfulness meditations, walking loops, or yoga mats available for staff who have 15-minute breaks?
- Can you advocate for a walkable/rollable neighborhood around your program? Sidewalks, walking or biking trails can make a difference for staff well-being and family access to your program.
- Do you think inclusively about physical activity for the adults in your program? Offer a range of opportunities for staff to join physical activity in a way that works for them and their bodies. Consider the ways postpartum recovery, asthma, diabetes, heart disease, or mobility issues may affect your staff. Offer gentle ways to increase physical activity. This may include gardening in the outdoor spaces, walking meetings, gentle yoga with the youth, monitoring traffic or bus lanes, or active errands around the building (delivering meal carts, changing laundry, etc.).
Training and Curriculum Specialists as Role Models
Whether you realize it or not, you are a role model for staff members and families. Your actions and behaviors make a difference. Think about the messages staff members receive from you. Do they know that you value their health and wellness? Do they know that you value your own health and wellness?
This can be a difficult question. Many Americans are not as fit as they would like to be. Perhaps you struggle to find time to go for a walk, or your hectic days leave you with no time to make a healthy dinner in the evening. You and staff members share the same struggles. You can take a first step toward helping staff members know your program prioritizes wellness. Walk down the hallway to talk to someone instead of sending an email. Organize an evening or morning walking club that meets outside of business hours. Encourage staff members to take walks on their breaks, and you should do the same. Talk about swinging by the gym on the way home and invite someone to go with you.
Try your best to be healthy, active and positive. Do not make negative comments about yourself or your physical activity. Be confident, positive and accepting of who you are both inside and out. The following tips will help all children and staff have positive body images and healthy self-esteem.
- Identify and redirect negative or inaccurate thoughts. If you overheard a child or staff member call themselves lazy or make fun of their own appearance, you would redirect the negative comment, right? You can do the same for yourself. Pay attention to your own positive attributes and the progress you are making towards goals. Push back on unhelpful or inaccurate thoughts. For example, if you are too tired to walk after work, you are not lazy! Try reframing your own thoughts: “I can walk one lap around the parking lot before getting in my car.”
- Recognize and encourage active lifestyles. Make an effort to recognize staff members and children every day. Having an adult who is proud of them and believes in them can mean a world of difference to children who have self-esteem issues. It can also make a difference for your staff members. Observe daily so that you can give compliments on the efforts children or staff are making. You might say something like, “Jezebel, you looked so confident on the basketball court today with the youth!”; “Sam, I noticed you walking around with your mom this morning. I bet that gave you both a good start to your day.”; or “Mariah, I saw you rode your bike to work today. I really admire that.” Observe and notice how hard someone is working or a recent success. Give encouragement when children are playing a game of soccer or working on a project.
- Accept and enjoy your body and all it can do: Have open discussions about accepting yourself for who you are and the amazing things your body can do. Watch out for damaging messages about body size or fitness and push back on those messages. Do not allow yourself or others to imply that body size or shape is a requirement for activities (“I can’t swim with you because no one needs to see me in a swimsuit”, “People my age shouldn’t wear shorts”, or “This body can’t dance”). Seek out movement that brings you joy.
Training Staff on Wellness
You might have some questions: What if I’m not fit? What if I don’t know how to help staff improve their wellness? This is a perfect opportunity to model lifelong learning. Invite experts to come talk to your staff and families. Invite a colleague from the medical center or family health organization to organize a brownbag lunch session about fitness resources in the community. Invite a mental health professional to provide some tips for healthy living. Invite a yoga instructor from the local workout facility to come do an hour-long session for staff members and families. Plan a staff party at a skating rink or ropes course. Reach out to the community to see if your staff and families can get discounts at local gyms or recreation centers.
Creating Opportunities for Physical Activity
You can create meaningful opportunities for physical activity every day. These don’t have to be formal events. They are just moments when you make an intentional effort to incorporate physical activity. Here are a few examples:
- Store a few large balance balls in your office. Encourage staff members to sit on those instead of chairs when you have meetings.
- Have walking meetings when appropriate. Take a lap around the outside of the facility while talking to staff members about your latest observation.
- Post something silly or encouraging above your office door and encourage staff to reach up and touch it on their way out.
- Begin and end meetings with a few stretches or breathing exercises.
- Have a contest to see who can park the farthest away from the building (safely).
- Encourage staff members to wear pedometers and track the steps they take at work. Have a workplace challenge.
- Participate in community events as a staff. There are 5K walks nearly every weekend in many locations around the country. You can get involved in walk-a-thons, jump-rope marathons, or dance marathons.
- When school-age programs take active field trips, get involved. Make sure staff members know they are expected to be participating with the children as part of active supervision. Bring your swimsuit when the group goes to the pool!
- Get everyone involved. If your program has a PA system, have a daily “movement minute.” Announce a fun or silly movement that everyone should do wherever they are.
- Use the Explore section activity to brainstorm fun or silly ways you could incorporate movement into your workplace over the next 30 days. You’ll be surprised how quickly movement becomes a habit.
Promoting Active Lifestyles at Home and in the Community
Families are their children’s first teachers, so they set the stage for a lifetime of physical activity. Unfortunately, many families struggle to find time to be active together or individually. Your program can make a difference by offering ideas and support. Become familiar with the resources available in your community.
The first step in promoting a physical lifestyle is to let families know what is going on in your program. Then help them get involved. If you have a bike club, can you organize a family ride on the weekend? If the children have started a walking challenge, can families add their data to the challenge? Invite families on active field trips. Model for them how to get involved and have fun while staying active.
You can also send ideas home. The Apply section has some really wonderful resources for families. One of the best is a simple calendar with ideas for movement every day of the year. These ideas help families build warm memories and lasting relationships while promoting fitness. Consider posting the calendar in your program, too, and using the ideas across settings.
Help families find resources of interest to help them improve health and manage stress:
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health
A to Z Health Topic list (includes Tai Chi and Yoga): https://nccih.nih.gov/health/atoz.htm
- Military One Source
Resources to manage stress: https://www.militaryonesource.mil/health-wellness/healthy-living/managing-stress/follow-these-stress-relief-tips
Motivating Children, Youth, and Adults to Engage in Physical Activity
The key to motivation is feeling supported and rewarded by your efforts. When physical activity is part of your program culture, staff members are motivated to participate. By creating daily opportunities for movement, you are cultivating staff members’ motivation and participation. Continue to explore the Healthy Kids, Healthy Future website https://healthykidshealthyfuture.org/trainers/ for ideas about building momentum for movement in your program. Start by creating a sense of fun and excitement. Talk to local businesses or gyms about whether they would donate items to help motivate staff, families, or children: a free pass to the gym or pool, a kettlebell, a yoga mat, a T-shirt, or a water bottle could all help motivate staff, children, or families to keep going. In the previous lesson, you watched a video about the Air Force Fit Factor program. This type of program, in which children track their activity, can be a great model for your program. How can you help children, families and staff members be aware of their activity levels? Sometimes the simple act of tracking your activities can be motivating. Learn from others in your community and outside of it, and you will do your best to help develop a program that promotes healthy lifestyles for all.
Physical activity is easiest if you make it part of your lifestyle and your program’s culture. This does not always come easily, and it can be hard to fit physical activity into busy days. Planning ahead is the solution. Take the time now to think of 30 days of simple physical activities that your program can promote as an organization: families, staff and children all participate!
Use the Calendar Challenge Template to fill in a simple game or activity that all members of your program community could do (for example, stand up and stretch after breakfast, walk like an animal toward the door on the way home, turn on music and dance until you feel your heart beat fast, have people toss something in a basket in the lobby). If you need ideas, look at the resources in the Apply section.
Many organizations have developed wonderful resources for promoting physical activity at child care settings, at home, and in the community. Take some time to review the listed resources in the Promoting Active Lifestyles for Everyone activity and use the information to help promote active lifestyles for yourself and everyone the program serves.
Action for Healthy Kids. (2019). Game on activity library. https://www.actionforhealthykids.org/game-on-activity-library/
Action for Healthy Kids. (2019). Tip sheets: Before and after school activities. https://www.actionforhealthykids.org/references/
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011). Physical Activity and Health. http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone/health/index.html
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2021). Physical Activity Before and After School. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/physicalactivity/pa-before-after.htm
Child Care Aware. (2020). Health Resources and Links. https://www.childcareaware.org/our-issues/health-nutrition/health-resources-and-links/
Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness. (2018). Resource Center for Obesity Prevention. State College: Pennsylvania State University. https://militaryfamilies.psu.edu/resource-center-for-obesity-prevention/
Extension NetworkAlliance for Better Childcare (2019). Helping Children in Childcare be Physically Active. https://childcare.extension.org/helping-children-in-child-care-be-physically-active/
The Nemours Foundation. (2020). Healthy kids, healthy future. Retrieved from https://healthykidshealthyfuture.org/
Sanders, S. W. (2002). Active for Life: Developmentally appropriate movement programs for young children. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Sesame Workshop. Street in Communities (2014). Move your Body. Sesame Street: Healthy Habits for Life. https://sesamestreetincommunities.org/topics/exercise/
University of Minnesota Reach Program. (n.d.). Mind, Body, and Wellness Tools.
University of Minnesota Reach Program. (n.d.). Wellness Resources for Returning Service Members.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2018). Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.