Rethinking Class Parties Part 3: Why One Teacher Doesn't Allow Sugar in Her Classroom
Sugar is everywhere! Kids experience it at the end of sports games, at birthday parties, and even in the classroom. This inundation of sugar creates kids with a pretty hefty sweet tooth.
How do we stop the sugar? I think we can start in the classroom. As a classroom teacher for over 30 years, I have many reasons to avoid sugar in my classroom, and I advocate that you encourage your teacher to do the same.
#1 Sugar affects all children differently. Mostly, I have observed an increase in poor attention and hyperactivity after children eat foods high in sugar. In particular, children who eat sugary breakfast cereal have more difficulty focusing on their class work. This lack of focus makes learning harder for the child and can cause them to lose essential building blocks for later learning.
#2 Birthdays don’t always have to mean cupcakes. There are many alternative ways to celebrate a birthday that don’t send the message that sugar equals fun.
#3 Not everyone can participate. Many children have dietary restrictions (e.g.: gluten, peanut, dairy) that make it difficult to have any food in the classroom.
My message to the parents in my classroom is “No food in our classroom”.
I prefer this “no food” policy out of respect for all children. How can I serve cupcakes for a birthday treat when several children cannot eat them? Instead, I suggest to parents who want to celebrate their child’s birthday at school the following idea: Ask your child’s teacher if you can donate a new or used book that is your child’s favorite to the class. In my class, I read the book aloud to the class and then write the child’s first name and birth date on the inside. Sometimes, I even include a picture of the child. I have books in my class library today that date back to my first few years of teaching.
Another effective way I help children make healthy food choices is by doing a unit of study on nutrition. I include where food comes from and what their bodies need to grow strong and be healthy. At any age, children can begin to learn about the food pyramid, but I prefer to use a simple circle and show that our bodies need 1/2 of the circle to be fruits and vegetables, 1/4 protein and 1/4 dairy. In the circle, I have my students place pictures of food that represent each category. At home, you could use a large dinner plate and real food to show children what their bodies need each day. Once children can visually see what their bodies need they can begin to make healthier food choices. Another way to help decrease children’s sugar intake, is by setting a good example at home.
As parents, we need to get rid of packaged snack foods that have a lot of hidden sugar. Even fruit juice can have too much natural fruit sugar for some children to consume. Instead, offer fresh fruit and veggies for snacks. I used to tell my daughters they could pick anything from the salad bowl as long as it was two different colors. Also, the younger the child is when you start making healthier food choices, the easier it will become a lifestyle choice for the entire family. Lastly, I want to encourage parents to be their child’s best teacher by helping them to make good food choices as a family. Advocating for sugar-free birthdays in your child’s classroom is an important first step. Often, teachers need your support as a parent to stand up to the pressure of having sugar in the classroom. The end result of this support of your teacher will be that you will reap the benefits of having happy and healthy kids.
Mrs. Beverly Jensen, veteran elementary school (2nd grade) teacher for 30 years of Morgan Hill Unified School District. She has successfully implemented a ‘no food’ policy for classroom celebrations because her students were happier playing games or doing art. She said she’s never had any issues with parents accepting her party policy. In fact, for many parents it’s a huge relief. Mrs. Jensen found that after the kids ate sugary treats it was harder for them to pay attention in class. Without food in the classroom she doesn’t have to worry about special diets or food allergies. If kids bring candy for the class she has them put it away and says, “Don’t eat it! Go home and show your parents and they can decide whether or not you can eat it.”
What do you think? Are you ready to chuck the junk? Leave your comments below…
Rethinking Class Parties Series: