Five Hands-On Activities to Help Children Learn Health and Wellness Concepts

Teaching children about topics related to their physical and emotional health is an important task, one that builds the foundation for habits that contribute to lifelong wellness.

If you’re looking for developmentally appropriate ways to introduce and teach preschoolers and kindergartners about hygiene, body movement concepts, safety during emergencies, feelings, and their community (and many more topics!), the Growing, Growing Strong curriculum is just the thing for your early learning environment.

The Growing, Growing Strong series is a whole-health curriculum for children age three through kindergarten. Made up of five books, each covering a particular content area (Body Care, Fitness and Nutrition, Safety, Social and Emotional Well-Being, and Community and Environment), it provides a complete set of hands-on activities, information, and resources to help you support children’s growth and wellness. The Growing, Growing Strong series—written by Dr. Connie Jo Smith, Dr. Charlotte M. Hendricks, and Dr. Becky S. Bennett, experienced and passionate leaders in the career management, early childhood, and health education fields—has been a long-trusted source for health education. The activities are easy to implement and they will make a meaningful impact as children learn to care for their bodies, their health, and their wellbeing.

Each book includes:

  • An overview of six topics within the content area
  • Suggested interest area materials and supports for creating the learning environment
  • Learning objectives and vocabulary words
  • Suggestions for evaluating children’s understandings of the topic
  • More than 30 classroom activities
  • Family information and take-home activities

Today, we’re sharing a sampling of the activities in the Growing, Growing Strong series. Here’s to health!

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Book One: Body Care

As young children become aware of their bodies, they can begin to appreciate and care for their health. Encourage children to feel good about their bodies, prevent the spread of diseases, and gain a measure of independence and control in their lives with this curriculum.

Activity: Secret Spray

Let children spray lemon juice on a sheet of paper, and draw their attention to how the spray barely shows up. After the paper dries, use heat to make the spray visible—for example, by holding the paper near a lightbulb, placing it under a heating pad, ironing it without steam, placing it in a warm oven for about ten minutes, or leaving it in the hot sun. Tell children that when they cough or sneeze, they spray invisible germs, just like they sprayed lemon juice on the paper. Show them how to turn away from others when they cough or sneeze and how to cover their coughs or sneezes with tissues or their elbows. Stress the importance of washing their hands afterward.

Bonus idea: Involve children in mixing baking soda and water in equal parts and using a funnel to pour the liquid into a spray bottle. Let children spray the mixture onto paper. Let the paper dry, and then either hold the paper to a warm nonhalogen lightbulb or paint the paper with grape juice to reveal the sprayed picture. Remind children that invisible germs spray from their noses and mouths when they sneeze.

 Book Two: Fitness and Nutrition

During the preschool and kindergarten years, children begin exploring new foods and spending more time engaging in physical activity. Help children learn how to take care of their bodies as they build a foundation for healthy, active lives with this curriculum.

Activity: Let’s Bend

In small groups, provide children with bendable art supplies—garbage bag ties, chenille stems, vinyl-coated wire, yarn, plastic lacing, Wikki Stix. Invite them to explore the materials. As children how the materials are alike. If they do not use the word bend, introduce the term and ask them to show you what parts of their bodies can bend. Ask questions to help them identify bending parts, such as their necks, elbows, knees, ankles, wrists, fingers, toes, and waists. Encourage them to demonstrate the many ways they can bend each body part they name, and then suggest they use the bendable art supplies to mimic bending various body parts.

Bonus idea: Invite a yoga instructor to visit the classroom and give a yoga demonstration.

Book Three: Safety

The earlier children understand safety concepts, the more naturally they will develop the attitudes and respect that lead to lifelong patterns of safe behavior. Support children as they begin to incorporate actions into their lives that make them feel more secure.

Activity: Earth, Water, and Wind

Provide dishpans, each filled with a different soil type to examine. Ask the children to describe the textures, smells, and appearances. Let children measure the soils and weigh the containers. See if they know any other words people use to describe soil (earth, dirt, clay, sand, land, crust, ground, and so on). Ask children what things use soil, and encourage them to consider plants, animals, people, and structures. Let children add toy animals, plants, people, and structures to the soils. Tell them that in some places at some times the ground moves for a few seconds, and ask what they think happens to the animals, plants, people, and buildings when that happens. Allow children to shake the containers of soil and observe. Let children know that when the earth moves, it is called an earthquake and that it is an emergency. Everyone should “Drop, cover, and hold on!” in an earthquake. Encourage the children to practice dropping to the floor, taking cover under a table, and holding on while they chant “Drop, cover, and hold on!”

Safety note: Check soil in advance for any harmful material such as broken glass or animal droppings.

Bonus idea: Using a dishpan with one inch of soil, involve children in inserting upside-down bottle caps in the soil to represent lakes. Ask what they think will happen when the lakes get full of water. Pour water slowly, and encourage children to watch for the overflow. Let them take turns gently feeling the soil as it absorbs water. Keep pouring until there is more water than soil. Explain briefly that when it rains too fast and for too long, water overflows and causes a flood, which is an emergency. Let children know that during a flood people should “Get to higher ground” and stay out of the water. Take a walk, and look for higher ground (upstairs, on hills, at the top of steps).

Book Four: Social and Emotional Well-Being

Young children are better able to cope with their ever-changing world, overcome obstacles, and grow into emotionally healthy adults if they are provided opportunities to build their self-awareness and confidence. Use this curriculum to help children appreciate themselves and others, explore relationships, and develop coping mechanisms for dealing with change and difficult events in their lives.

Activity: Dance with Your Feelings

Play music samples representing various genres (country, blues, jazz, classical, hip-hop, and so on). Select music with a variety of beats, words, and paces. Invite children to dance with you to each type of music. After each sample of music, ask children how they felt when they heard the music. Show respect for everyone’s feelings, and help children understand the differences in preferences and in emotional reaction. Make a video of the activity, and at a later time let children study facial expressions and body language for signs of feelings.

Bonus idea: Lead children in making different sounds (groaning, sighing, mumbling, squealing, yawning, cooing, screaming, and so on). Encourage them to really get into the sound, making it several times. See if they can suggest other sounds for the group to make together. Ask how each sound make them feel.

Book Five: Community and Environment

Children develop a sense of security and self-worth by becoming familiar with themselves, their home, and the world around them. Increase children’s awareness of their own communities and the ways they can help within their home and environment with this curriculum.

Activity: Safety Community

Show children a solid-colored plastic tablecloth. With a permanent marker, draw a main road down the middle and add side roads. Place toy safety vehicles and worker figures on the land beside the road. Ask children to identify each type of safety helper as you place them. See if children can explain when they may need help from each type of safety helper. Show photographs of various safety helper buildings (fire station, police station, hospital, health department, and so on), and encourage children to describe what they see. Involve children in selecting appropriate size boxes and art supplies to create a building for each safety helper and his vehicle. Assist children in placing the building on the lot, labeling each building, and moving the appropriate toy vehicles and people into their building. Leave the safety community available for children to continue to build and play with.

Bonus idea: Provide the dress-up clothes and props of various safety workers, and invite children to identify and try on the clothes for various situations you introduce and then role-play the situation.

Like these activities? There are many more to be discovered in the Growing, Growing Strong series. Books are available individually or as a set through Redleaf Press.

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