Proper nutrition and physical activity are the foundation to a healthy body. But that’s a hard formula to teach our young ones. Junk food is everywhere and resisting temptation is difficult, especially for children. Whether it’s a celebration or a simple night at home, cakes, cupcakes, pizza and sodas seem to be a regular part of the fun.
As a physical education teacher and a health promoter I see my students come to class in the morning with stomach aches, knowing they probably had chocolate – or nothing – for breakfast. Their lunch boxes are filled with packaged and sugary foods. I hear comments from students as young as seven about their favorite caffeinated drink or cafe. I have had cases of students fainting in class due to poor nourishment. It’s alarming and scary to witness.
Many times I have thought to myself, what is wrong with parents? Don’t they have enough information regarding nutrition to feed their children proper, healthy food? It doesn’t matter whose responsibility this is, it is my job to educate kids about health and healthy habits. But I realized teaching them in just one physical education period is not enough.
Realizing the best way to a child’s mind and heart is through imagination and social media, I dreamed up Dr Yum. She was the first character I introduced to my students in a funny video. When I first dressed up as Dr Yum, it was easier to explain the difference between good sugar (an apple) and bad sugar (candy) in a short video posted on YouTube. And the feedback from the students afterward was amazing. They absorbed most of the information presented in the video and started to pay attention to their food. They would point out good sugar and bad sugar, and also look at what their peers were having and tell them if it was good or bad. My students would point out funny things about the video and laugh, but they would watch it again and again and learn.
The best part about this experience for me as a teacher is that I found a way to educate my students without forcing them to focus or have to do extra work. It is working like magic. My students are enjoying the videos, they are learning, they are laughing and their parents are getting involved as well. Maybe I have cracked the secret code to teaching healthy habits to children.
After the first video with Dr Yum on good sugar and bad sugar, I made another video about vitamins that you might find in Dr. Yum’s kitchen. Teaching about vitamins was a struggle in the classroom and it seemed like a lot of information for children to grasp. Guess what? I was wrong. Children are always ready to learn the toughest information, but it is all about how we teach it to them.
While food and poor nutrition are primary problems I see among my students, inactivity and long hours spent in front of a screen is also an issue. That brought Ms Rozy to life. She is crazy but never lazy, a Latin character who likes the color pink and does study break workouts in her chair.
The Clown is another character who is unhappy because children are spending too much time on their tablets and not enough in the playground. The Fairy likes to be outdoors and enjoys nature.
Since I started making these videos with various characters, my students have been asking more questions than ever before. They are also thinking harder about what they are eating or what’s being put into their lunchboxes. These are just a few examples of the comments I’ve heard: “You have inspired me to try a new healthy smoothie”; “I chose to eat fruits at my family gathering instead of chocolate” and “I made sure to bring extra fruits in my lunchbox today.”
Keep in mind that my students are between the ages of six and 10. Although creating videos can be time consuming and requires creativity and preparation, hearing such comments from them is very rewarding and keeps me motivated.
My takeaway from this whole experience is that we are all responsible for the children. We need to try our best to make sure they grow strong and healthy and get all the education they need to build healthy habits. While there are many things we can do to help them get there, the best ways are simple and fun.
Nura Arabi is a physical education teacher in Abu Dhabi with a health promotion background who advocates for parents and children to have a healthier lifestyle. Through radio appearances, her profession and through her writing, she wants to change the world for children’s health one healthy tip at a time.