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Healthy Living Pathway

Healthy Living Pathway IconWhat are characteristics of healthy living? Some people have said friendship, physical activity, mental exercise, helping others, stewardship, and a balanced diet. But did you know that after the family, formal education is one of the most important factors in encouraging healthy attitudes and habits in children and young people? It is estimated that the average student will spend some 15,000 hours of his or her life at school. Schools, therefore, play a vital role in promoting not only regular exercise and healthy diets, but in developing students' emotional and social well-being.

Studies show time spent outdoors being active helps children grow lean and strong, enhances imagination and attention span, decreases aggression, and boosts classroom performance. In addition, children who spend time in nature regularly are shown to become better stewards of the environment.

Students collecting waterTime spent outdoors, physically active, and engaged in unstructured play is perhaps the best possible prescription to ensure a lifetime of good health. Identify and establish strategies that engage the entire school community in opportunities to unplug and engage in outdoor experiences and adventures.

Fast Facts

  • Since the 1970s, the percentage of children and adolescents affected by obesity has more than tripled. Research shows that children are spending half as much time outside as they did 20 years ago.
  • According to researchers, kids who spent more time outside during the day tended to have better distance vision than those who favored indoor activities.
  • Test scores have been shown to be better in schools that offer environment-based programs, as compared to schools without such programs.
  • Researchers at University of Illinois report findings that indicate exposure to natural settings in the course of common after-school and weekend activities may be "widely effective" in reducing attention deficit symptoms in children.

Following the Framework

Utilize the Seven Step Framework to complete your pathway.

Step 1: Form an Eco-Action Team

The Eco-Action Team is the driving force behind Eco-Schools USA. Ideally, your Eco-Action Team should be representative of the whole school community—including people beyond the school walls, such as facilities staff, board members, and members of the greater community. Eco-Schools USA has developed a worksheet to help guide the development of this team.

Step 2: Conduct an Environmental Audit

The Environmental Checklist is an essential tool for understanding the current environmental situation in your school. It provides the basis for your Eco-Action Plan. Eco-Schools USA has developed an activity to get your students started.

In addition to the optional Environmental Checklist, pathway-specific audits allow teams to utilize a pathway-specific lens to dive deeper into problems and solutions, and provide the basis for the team’s Eco-Action Plan.

Healthy Living: Outdoor Activity Audit

Healthy Living: Recess Audit

Healthy Living: Physical Education Audit

Step 3: Create an Eco-Action Plan

The action plan follows as the result of analysis and conclusions drawn from the Environmental Audit and sets forth a series of goals, actions, and a timeline for achieving environmental improvements.

1. To get started, preview the sample action plan for the Healthy Living pathway. This example is designed to be a springboard to developing the team’s own action plan.

2. Use the blank action plan to develop the team’s vision.

Sample Action Plan | Blank Action Plan

Step 4: Monitor and Evaluate Progress

Monitoring and evaluation are intrinsic elements of the action plan, helping to check progress toward goals, make adjustments for greater success, and validate that actions are making an impact.

Step 5: Link to Existing Curriculum

Enrich your classroom curriculum with Eco-Schools projects and activities.

Step 6: Involve the Community

Communities are made up of diverse perspectives. When students consistently and authentically work to include community members from all walks of life, not just the school community, they are gaining access to dynamic networks whose end goals are the same, making their place in this world happier and healthier.

Step 7: Create an Eco-Code

The Eco-Code is the school’s mission statement and should demonstrate—in a positive, inclusive, and imaginative way—the whole school’s commitment to improving their environmental performance.

Step 1: Form an Eco-Action Team

The Eco-Action Team is the driving force behind Eco-Schools USA. Ideally, your Eco-Action Team should be representative of the whole school community—including people beyond the school walls, such as facilities staff, board members, and members of the greater community. Eco-Schools USA has developed a worksheet to help guide the development of this team.

Step 2: Conduct an Environmental Audit

The Environmental Checklist is an essential tool for understanding the current environmental situation in your school. It provides the basis for your Eco-Action Plan. Eco-Schools USA has developed an activity to get your students started.

In addition to the optional Environmental Checklist, pathway-specific audits allow teams to utilize a pathway-specific lens to dive deeper into problems and solutions, and provide the basis for the team’s Eco-Action Plan.

Healthy Living: Outdoor Activity Audit

Healthy Living: Recess Audit

Healthy Living: Physical Education Audit

Step 3: Create an Eco-Action Plan

The action plan follows as the result of analysis and conclusions drawn from the Environmental Audit and sets forth a series of goals, actions, and a timeline for achieving environmental improvements.

1. To get started, preview the sample action plan for the Healthy Living pathway. This example is designed to be a springboard to developing the team’s own action plan.

2. Use the blank action plan to develop the team’s vision.

Sample Action Plan | Blank Action Plan

Step 4: Monitor and Evaluate Progress

Monitoring and evaluation are intrinsic elements of the action plan, helping to check progress toward goals, make adjustments for greater success, and validate that actions are making an impact.

Step 5: Link to Existing Curriculum

Enrich your classroom curriculum with Eco-Schools projects and activities.

Step 6: Involve the Community

Communities are made up of diverse perspectives. When students consistently and authentically work to include community members from all walks of life, not just the school community, they are gaining access to dynamic networks whose end goals are the same, making their place in this world happier and healthier.

Step 7: Create an Eco-Code

The Eco-Code is the school’s mission statement and should demonstrate—in a positive, inclusive, and imaginative way—the whole school’s commitment to improving their environmental performance.

Sustainable Development Goals

goal 2 - zero hunger
goal 3 - good health and well-being
goal 4 - quality education
Goal 10 - reduced inequalities
goal 16 - peace, justice, and strong institutions
goal 17 - partnerships for the goals

Top 10 Tips to Promote Healthy Students

  • Check out the non-profit organization Playworks for information about the importance of recess.
  • Work with school administrators to strategize ways students can have nature breaks every day.
  • If recess is not possible, find ways to take lessons outside (for example, make science observations during an outdoor walk) and to incorporate physical activity into indoor lessons (for example, act out action words from a story).
  • Read "Recess Makes Kids Smarter" from Scholastic.

  • Schedule a fun run or walk for your school community.
  • Consider taking part in the NFL Play 60 program which encourages students to be active for 60 minutes every day. Implement the program outdoors to increase outside time simultaneously.
  • Brainstorm opportunities to get students up and moving around in the classroom while teaching daily lessons.

  • Evaluate the safety and accessibility of key features such as sidewalks, bike lanes, and bicycle storage areas.
  • Establish "walking school buses" and "bicycle trains" in which parents take turns walking or biking to and from school with students.

  • No matter what the subject area, teachers can find ways to use the outdoors as inspiration or as topics for research. For instance:
    • Language Arts: Write a poem about a natural object or a favorite outdoor place.
    • Science: Make a hypothesis about a natural process and record observations to test the hypothesis.
    • Math: Collect weather data and graph trends over time. Geography: Map your watershed and label the map using geography terminology.
    • Visual Arts: Use the landscape or natural objects to inspire artwork

  • Consider options for fundraisers that will raise not only funds, but awareness about your campaign. For example, a community walk or run with a modest sign-up cost, or an active relay for which students collect pledges.
  • Items for your "wish list" might include:
    • Equipment for active outdoor play such as jump ropes, hula hoops and sidewalk chalk
    • Garden supplies such as shovels, rakes, plants and seeds
    • Tools for outdoor investigation such as magnifying glasses, binoculars, pond nets and field guides
  • Fundraisers could also be a strategy to raise money for outdoor field trips.

  • Create or enhance a National Wildlife Federation Schoolyard Habitat.
  • Involve students in the process of planning, establishing and maintaining the garden.
  • Use experiential learning in the garden to provide interdisciplinary opportunities to practice concepts.

  • Field trips need not require a large transportation budget. Explore nearby, walkable areas in your community such as parks, trails, lakeshores and riverfronts.
  • Make an effort to incorporate outdoor time even on indoor field trips. For instance, walk to your destination or have a picnic lunch outside afterward.

  • Determine how many teachers currently hold classes outside. Interview them to see how they utilize the outdoors as a classroom and share their tips with other teachers.
  • Create a National Wildlife Federation Schoolyard Habitat on your school grounds to provide functional spaces for teachers to conduct environment-based activities and learning.
  • Read the report "Time Out: Using the Outdoors to Enhance Classroom Performance."
  • Investigate the creation of a quality early childhood outdoor learning environment using the National Wildlife Federation's Early Childhood Health Outdoors (ECHO) initiative.