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Celebrate Red Ribbon Week: 5 Tips for Talking to Elementary Students About Healthy Habits

Wednesday, October 18, 2017 -- McKenna Wierman

From October 23 to 31, schools around the nation will observe Red Ribbon Week®, the largest and longest-running annual campaign dedicated to drug prevention. Beyond spreading awareness on the dangers of drug and alcohol use, Red Ribbon Week also presents an excellent opportunity to teach students about the benefits of building lifelong healthy habits, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

To help you recognize this important campaign in the classroom, EducationCity is offering a Free Red Ribbon Week Topical Resource Packet, stuffed with activities, ThinkIts, posters, and fact sheets designed to engage your students in constructive conversations on developing positive habits.

Here are five tips to get you inspired to teach these important lessons and empower your students to build brighter futures for themselves!

1. Talk About Habits

Kick off your Red Ribbon Week wellness discussions by talking to your students about what habits actually are. Many will already have an understanding of the concept, but it’s good to take time to bring awareness to everyday positive habits we don’t always think about, like brushing our teeth after meals, washing our hands after using the bathroom, or recycling. You can also talk about moral habits that help us be better people, like telling the truth and treating others with respect.

Most research suggests it takes 21 days to form a simple habit, like drinking a glass of water before bedtime. However, establishing more significant habits, like going for a walk every morning or eating fruit at lunch, takes up to twice as long. Have a discussion with your students on what some of the good habits they want to develop are and ways they can accomplish those goals, such as keeping a habit log or journal. 

2. Model a Healthy Diet

Teaching students to look at food as fuel can have a huge impact on their eating habits. It’s important for children to develop a healthy relationship with food early on so that they can recognize when they are hungry or full, snack responsibly and maintain a balanced diet.

Modeling a healthy diet is one of the best ways to teach your students about eating right without labeling foods as “good” or “bad.” Your students look up to you and admire you, and as you probably know, they watch your every move in the classroom. So, when they see you pulling out a healthy snack like mixed nuts and dried berries or munching on baby carrots at lunch, they’re really seeing their role model teach them how to eat healthy.

Plenty of children’s books also make learning about healthy eating a fun and memorable lesson that students will love. Additionally, the USDA’s MyPlate Kids’ Place has lots of great resources for teaching children about healthy eating.  

3. Focus on Staying Active

When most of us think of staying active, we usually think of going for run, hitting the gym, or getting in a daily workout. Young children don’t need to work out in the same way that adults do, but it’s still important for them to get plenty of exercise and activity. According to the CDC, children and adolescents should do one hour or more of a combination of aerobic, muscle-strengthening and bone-strengthening physical activity each day.

While that might sound like a tall order, it’s easy for your students to make getting active part of their daily routine. Encourage your students to ditch the electronics or personal devices at recess or after school and instead play group games like tag where they are running, jumping, and getting their hearts pumping. After-school athletics are another great way for students to get active on a regular basis.

You can also incorporate more movement into your class routine with brain breaks, simple yoga flows, or other lessons and class activities that require your students to get up and move around periodically.

4. Teach Strategies for Stress Management

Stress comes in many forms—it can be good or bad, internal or external, sudden or gradual, or temporary or chronic. While none of your students may appear to be experiencing any kind of long-term negative stress, it’s crucial to educate students on ways to identify stressors and practice stress-management skills so that they can learn how to cope with their stress in healthy, constructive ways.

And, teaching students about stress doesn’t have to be stressful! Start by having a discussion as a class about what stress is, how it makes us feel both inside and out, and how different things can cause stress. Once that your students have identified their own stressors, ask them to think of physical activities that help them relax and become happy or activities that they would like to try. Round off the lesson by having your students draw a picture or make a collage of themselves doing their favorite activity to “de-stress”, build a coping-strategies fortune teller, or meditate as a class.

Always remind your students that stress is a part of everyday life; it can’t be avoided, but learning how to identify and cope with it can help them live happier, healthier lives.

5. Unplug

In a world where a computer can fit into your back pocket, is it any surprise how much time children spend plugged in on social media, playing video games, watching videos, and listening to music? Technology is a wonderful thing, and when used appropriately, it can certainly improve student learning. However, technology overuse can do more harm than good. Talk to your students about how much time they spend on their tablets and computers or watching TV when they have free time. Have them brainstorm some other screen-free activities they can do instead. Discuss some healthy tech habits, like not using devices right before bedtime or limiting screen time to two hours per day. For today’s students, building a healthy relationship with technology is key.

While Red Ribbon Week is devoted to raising awareness for one piece of the puzzle to a healthy lifestyle—being drug free—there are lots of other positive habits that are critical for students to build from a young age. Whether it’s eating right and exercising or saying no to drugs and alcohol, teaching young students to actively develop healthy habits will give them the tools they need to build strong foundations for successful futures.

For more ideas on how to talk to your students about drug prevention, as well as engaging teaching tools and classroom activities, check out the Red Ribbon Campaign™ website. And, don’t forget to download our EducationCity Red Ribbon Week Topical Resource Packet, which is just one of the many free topical resources we release each month!