Happy Tasty Tuesday, friends! Today’s Week of the Young Child (WOYC) focus is “Healthy eating and fitness at home and school.” Click HERE to learn more about the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and WOYC.
Yesterday we explored the importance of music in early childhood. If you missed our Music Monday blog post, check it out HERE. Today, let’s take a look at the roles that nutrition and fitness play in the lives of little learners.
Proper nutrition is vital to growing bodies and brains. What young children eat affects them in both the short-term and the long-term. In fact, the 5-year NUTRIMENTHE research program studied the effects of “Five Important Early Life Nutrients”—breast milk, Omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, folic acid, and iodine—on the cognitive performance of children 0-9 years-old. The study concluded that “nutrition during pre-birth and in early life literally ‘programs’ the long term health, well being, brain development and mental performance of children.”*
Talking with little learners about healthy vs. unhealthy food choices can be a lot of fun. (You may hear some very interesting answers.) NAEYC encourages caregivers to take it a step further with Tasty Tuesday by sharing some time in the kitchen to create healthy snacks. This is an awesome opportunity to bolster some key skillsets:
- Language/Communication: discussing options, learning vocabulary
- Math: measuring, following order of operations, timing
- Science: discussing states of matter, exploring the 5 senses
- Literacy: reading recipes, making a grocery list
- Fine motor: engaging in tasks that require the use of finger/hand muscles
- Working “big” muscles: stirring, whisking
- Self-confidence: making and sharing a culinary masterpiece!
Of course, caregivers will need to differentiate tasks, depending on the abilities of their little ones. While the younger bunch in the 0-5 year-old crowd may not be ready to crack open a cook book, there are plenty of benefits in discussing the items on your own plate with them—building vocabulary and exploring colors, numbers, textures, smells, etc.
Need some age-appropriate snack ideas? Here are a few Zumbini®-inspired healthy options that my little one had a blast helping create and eat, along with quick explanations of their developmental benefits. (Bonus points if you can tell which Zumbini® volume inspired which food!)
Clementine and Whole Wheat Pretzel Sun
Little learners use finger/hand muscles (vital writing skills!) to peel/pull a clementine apart and break pretzel sticks. Go ahead and employ those math skills by counting the pieces!
Strawberry Bagel Flamingo
Little learners practice turning their wrists (vital writing skill!) to spread cream cheese on a mini bagel. They use pincer grasp to place the strawberry wing/head and paper straw legs/neck.
4 Ingredient Healthy Cookie (Recipe linked below)
Little learners use wrist and arm muscles to mash the banana and stir in other ingredients.
Cherry Tomato, Baby Carrots, and O’s Critter
Little learners use pincer grasp, counting, and spatial recognition to create these cuties!
Now that you and your little learner are fueled-up on healthy snacks, let’s move on to fitness (pun very much intended)! I think that most people would agree that an active lifestyle tends to lead to better health. For instance, better coordination and flexibility (gained through practice) can result in fewer instances of injury. Thus, fostering a love of movement and activity at an early age can allow young children to begin developing the skills necessary to continue prioritizing fitness as they grow. Scientific research further supports the importance of fitness in early childhood by concluding that “fitness can boost learning and memory of children…these fitness-associated performance benefits are largest in conditions in which initial learning is most challenging.”** This specific study focuses on 9-10 year-olds, yet, it goes without saying that the earlier fitness is prioritized and becomes a way of life, the better. This only provides greater time to practice.
Play is the way that little ones learn, express themselves, and workout. Zumbini® is not a fitness program, but like other learning aspects of the program, there is plenty of fitness hidden in the fun. Let’s face it, while our toddler and preschool friends are laughing, jumping, and twirling to Zumbini®’s amazing rhythms, they are actually getting their heart rates up, strengthening their “big” muscles, and working on their coordination. The crawlers and new walkers also use their “big” muscles as they excitedly move to choose an instrument during jam time. And what about the babies? They, too, are processing key aspects of fitness as they engage their core muscles to sit upright and bob to the music. Equally as important, when your child sees how much fun you are having by actively participating in class, they see that it’s ok to move to the music because fitness is fun. (Shout-out to all those caregivers who dance with their little ones in class and at home—sometimes one on each hip—you know how to get in a workout and have fun!)
Finally, another beautiful aspect of the Zumbini® program is that families don’t have to wait for weekly class meetings to expose their little ones to fitness. With the aid of take-home materials (access to class music, story/song book, and the Zumbini® Time TV show), caregivers and their little learners can be active virtually anywhere, at any time. So, get grooving and help your little one learn how fun a healthy, active lifestyle can be! See you tomorrow for Work Together Wednesday!