Integrating Nutrition & Physical Activity into Your Curricula
Nutrition and physical activity can be tied into all aspects of the pre-school curriculum. Active, hands-on lessons not only promote healthy habits, but they can also improve attention spans, engage preschoolers in learning and increase understanding of key concepts. Listed below are suggestions for fun and engaging activities promoting healthy behaviors that can be incorporated into any pre-school curriculum.1
Emotional and Social Development
- Scavenger Hunt
- Send teams of children on a nutrition and physical activity scavenger hunt. Help children look for items using directive words such as above and behind. You can also ask children to complete exercises such as hopping/skipping or to mold a healthy food out of clay.
- "A Salad for One, Please"2
- Assign each child to be a salad ingredient and have children stand in a circle to create the "salad bowl." Tell children to jump into the middle of the bowl and follow directions when their vegetable is called (e.g., jumping carrots). When a few of the children are in the middle, ask the "bowl" to stir the salad before starting over.
- Show and Tell Salad
- Ask children to bring in a favorite fruit to share at group time. Have children tell the class about the fruit they brought and why they like it. Then, cut up the various fruits and make a delicious fruit salad.
- Active Group Time
- Make group time (circle time) an active time by including simple action songs and circle games such as "Hokey Pokey," "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" or "Farmer in the Dell."
Approaches to Learning
- Snack Station
- Have children prepare their own snacks using picture recipe cards. For example, show a picture of one slice of cheese, two crackers and three carrot sticks.
- "Old MacDonald Had a Farm"2
- Sing the song "Old MacDonald" but replace each animal with a fruit or vegetable and each animal sound with "yum." Each child can take a turn using his/her favorite fruit or vegetable.
- Five Senses
- Have children close their eyes and guess mystery fruits or vegetables. Ask the children to describe the mystery fruit or vegetable using their other four senses: "It smells like...it tastes like...it sounds like (when biting)...it feels like..."
- Safari Trip
- Take children on an imaginary safari around the classroom or playground. Call out instructions of different actions they need to do while taking the safari (e.g., crawl under a log, jump across a stream). You can also allow each child to call out instructions for the class to follow.
- Follow the Leader
- Begin by having children follow a teacher around the classroom while following instructions such as "raise your arms" and "hop on one foot." After a minute, say "freeze." Allow another child to lead the class for 30 seconds and repeat the game until everyone has had a chance to be the leader.
- Chef of the Day
- Have children help with meal/snack prep. Each day, allow a different child to help you or a staff member (if applicable) prepare a meal or snack. He can be a "special helper" and wear an apron and chef's hat. The "helper" should also explain to the other children what he prepared, why it's tasty and what makes it good for them.
Language and Literacy
- Stone Soup
- Read the story Stone Soup as a class. The next day, have each child bring in a bag of his/her favorite vegetable that can be used to make a big pot of soup for the class.
- Book List
- See the list of children's books that encourage healthy behaviors. If appropriate, have the children act out the story as it is read to them.
- Activity Alphabet2
- Ask children to use their creativity to imitate animals, people or objects corresponding to the alphabet. For example, "D" is for "dog." Ask children to show you how a dog acts.
- Make Your Own Book
- Work with children to make books that show readers their favorite ways to stay healthy and strong.
Physical Development and Health
- Fitness Tag
- Similar to a traditional tag game, have the children go to a special area when they are tagged. Before they return to the game, they must complete a certain activity (e.g., 10 jumping jacks) while calling out a fruit or vegetable during each repetition. Add variation by telling the children to hop, crawl or skip instead of run during the game.
- Have children march to different types of music while paying special attention to space (e.g., marching in circles), time (e.g., marching for 20 seconds) and speed (e.g., marching fast and slow).
- Freeze Dance
- Play fun music for children to dance to. Right before turning the music off, shout out a pose that the kids need to freeze in, such as making the letter "T" with their body or standing on one foot.
- Serving Sizes
- Demonstrate serving sizes to children using measuring cups and teach them how to serve themselves. Then talk to them about how to identify hunger and fullness cues. At lunch and snack time, children can use their understanding of serving sizes and hunger and fullness cues to decide if they would like more or less food.
- Field Day
- Have a field day with activities such as a 3-legged race, sack race, tug of war and relay race. Check out the link to the "Food and Field Olympics" guide at the end of this section for more ideas.
- Beach Ball High3
- Count the number of times the class can pass a beach ball without it hitting the ground.
- Oat Snack Numbers4
- Give each child a small cup of a healthy, whole grain cereal (e.g., Cheerios®). Encourage children to count out pieces before eating.
- Sorting Foods
- Use either plastic models or real fruits and vegetables for children to sort by size, length and color. As a group, have children count the number of objects in different categories and compare the weights of foods.
- Start the lesson by asking children to help you wash red, green and yellow apples. Slice the apples and have each child taste one slice of every color. Then, ask the class which they preferred and graph everyone's preferences on a large poster (e.g., as a pie chart). Talk with the children about the graph. Ask them which apple is the class's favorite. How do they know?
- Plant a Personal Garden
- Help each child grow a personal vegetable plant (e.g., green beans) and take care of it daily. Children are more likely to try a vegetable that they grew on their own. Discuss how plants need proper nutrition to grow, just like the human body.
- Water Station
- Provide a water station where children can practice pouring water into containers of various sizes. As a class, talk about the importance of drinking water to quench their thirst during the day instead of sugary drinks, such as soda and sports drinks. Help them sense if their bodies are thirsty.
- Funny Fruit Faces
- Use an assortment of fruits of different shapes and colors to design paper plate fruit faces. As a group, identify the shape and color of all fruits used.
- MyPlate Poster
- Have each child cut pictures of food out of a magazine. Next, help the class sort the pictures by food group and glue the foods into the correct places on a big MyPlate poster.
- Creative Learning
- Encourage children to express their idea about healthy eating and physical activity through paint, clay, sculptures, collages, plays, songs or stories they create.
- Bodies in Motion
- Provide large paper for children to trace their bodies in active positions. Paint the active children and mount them together on the wall.
My Family, My Community, My World
- "Let's Walk: Ideas for Making Walking Fun!2
- Guide children through walks around the center or home and have them look for special objects related to their interests (e.g., colors, shapes, vehicles, workmen, flowers, trees, rocks, animals, clean-the-environment, etc.). You might want to take along clipboards for the children to record or draw what they observe on the walk.
- Foods of the World
- As an "at-home" assignment, ask each child to talk with his/her parent(s) about where the family came from. Each week, have a child and his/her family share a little about the family's culture and a favorite healthy food that can be eaten during snack time.
- Pick Fruits and Vegetables
- Visit an orchard or farm and allow children to pick fruits and vegetables. Take these fruits/veggies back to your center or home and show children what wonderful meals/snacks can be made out of the foods they picked.
- Take a Tour
- Tour a dairy farm, supermarket, farmer's market or factory that produces healthy foods. Provide hands-on activities at these locations like a scavenger hunt or milking a cow.
Other Ideas for Encouraging Healthy Eating and Physical Activity
- Use a sticker chart to reward children for trying new foods when they're served.
- Use a sticker chart to reward kids for participating in physical activity each day.
- Take kids outside! Spend some of the time in structured activity and some of the time in free play.
- Allow kids to take turns coming up with physical activity. One child becomes the leader and encourages other kids to participate.
- Let children help with menu planning by giving them choices. For example, "You can have two of the following: peas, carrots, applesauce or pears." Allow kids to choose individually or vote. Encourage discussion during this process about why they chose certain options and why it's important to eat a variety of fruits and veggies.
- Provide coloring books, stickers, activity books and activity pages depicting healthy eating and physical activity. Have kids choose a new physical activity to try at your center.
- Display posters depicting kids exercising and being active in a variety of ways or create one using photographs of the children at your center/home. Discuss the many kinds of physical activity and favorites for each child.
- Delaware Early Learning Foundations for School Success, Delaware Department of Education. http://www.doe.k12.de.us/infosuites/students_family/earlychildhood/files/Early%20Learning%20Foundations%20Revised.pdf. Accessed July 12, 2010.
- Color Me Healthy Toolkit, North Carolina State Cooperative Extension
- MA Dept. of Education, Nutrition Programs and Food Services, HPRC and OCCS. H.E.A.L.T.H.Y Kids: Healthy Kids Move and Healthy Kids Move Beyond Munchies.
- North Dakota Department of Public Instruction. Team Nutrition Fruits and Vegetables Lessons for Preschool Children. http://healthymeals.nal.usda.gov/nal_display/index.php?info_center=14&tax_level=2&tax_subject=552&level3_id=0&level4_id=0&level5_id=0&topic_id=2304&&placement_default=0. Accessed on June 17, 2010.