(BPT) - It's no secret that experiences in early and middle childhood are extremely important for a child's healthy development and lifelong learning. Yet schools - the places where kids spend the majority of their time outside of the home during the week - often lack the resources and support needed to enable and inspire students to adopt healthier lifestyles.
The solution is within reach; it rests in the hands of parents and other concerned community members who make investments (even small ones) in kids inside and outside of school to help build healthier communities and a healthier world.
Dominique Dawes, an Olympic Gold Medalist, three-time Olympian and child nutrition advocate, shares her tips on how caregivers can get involved in manageable, meaningful ways to impact change within their children's schools and communities.
1. Understand you're not alone. Look to organizations with a footprint in your community, and seek out ways to volunteer. There's a great organization called Action for Healthy Kids. With the help of sponsors like GoGo squeeZ, their volunteer network works to improve the health and wellness of students in schools nationwide and highlight the link between nutrition, physical activity and learning. They even have an 'Every Kid Healthy Week' to celebrate the great effort schools are making. Programs like these are impactful resources for parents, students and teachers alike.
2. Reach out to your local parks and recreation department. Chances are, they're looking for volunteers. You may be able to help out with something on a recurring basis - a wellness or athletic program of particular interest to you. Also, ask about other ways you can serve your community. They may have park cleanup programs or other projects that can get your whole family moving and contributing.
3. Make it fun. Talk to the administration at your child's school about activities and competitions to help students take ownership of their own health. Action for Healthy Kids offers free online activities to help improve physical activity and nutrition in school, but you can also encourage your school to apply for a grant to expand your local resources. Sponsors like GoGo squeeZ fund new grants every year!
4. Don't underestimate your own abilities. Did you grow up learning gymnastics? Speak to the parents of your kids' friends about organizing a gymnastics workshop at the park one weekend. Do you have a passion for making (and eating) healthy food? Volunteer to bring easy, nutritious snacks to a local after-school program, sports group or camp whenever you're able. Bonus: nothing builds new friendships faster than food!
'I talk to so many people who care about the issues we're facing with childhood health and wellness but don't know how to get their foot in the door,' Dawes says. 'My best advice is to start small, but start somewhere. Just one small change can make a significant difference in the life of a child and the health of a community.'