Handwriting and a Healthy Diet Pair Up!
by Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L
Eating is an essential activity of daily living. It is also considered to be an important family social event. In these harried and hurried times, eating can become a “grab-and-go necessity” that gets shoved to the back of the line as we travel to and from school, sports, daycare, and dance lessons. A baggie of gold-colored fish, a sack of dried apricots, some type of boxed drink, and away we go! “Quick, get in the car. We’re going to be late!” Sound familiar? Sometimes the amount of time between getting the packages opened and jumping back out of the car is not even long enough to finish the “healthy snack” we’ve substituted for dinner. Then there are the times when the return trip home is far past any reasonable dinner time, leaving only enough room in the schedule for homework or a bath – and perhaps some more “fish.”
Healthy eating is a key facet in a child’s physical, cognitive, and emotional development. Research study results have shown that better nutrition builds strong bodies, but they also suggest that it has a positive effect on academic performance and school behaviors. It appears that students who eat a healthy diet are not only better able to learn but will attend school more consistently and demonstrate improved classroom behaviors. (1) Eating a well-balanced diet provides oxygen, minerals, and nutrients that enhance cognitive skills, develop and maintain muscle strength, and allow students to manage the educational and social demands of the school environment. Learning is a demanding “occupation” for our young learners. It only makes sense, then, to educate them on healthy eating habits.
What are eating habits?
I read a quote the other day that may not be the result of long and technical research studies but speaks to common sense: “The eating habits your children pick up when they are young will help them maintain a healthy lifestyle when they are adults.” No, not a new revelation. But it is certainly one that bears discussing as we and our children plough into our schedules each day.
Eating habits simply include:
- Meal Plans,
- Eating Times, and
- Eating Environments.
- Nutritious Meal Plans,
- Consistent Eating Times, and
- Stress-free Eating Environments.
Learning healthy eating habits allows children to:
- consider healthy food choices over those that have little nutritional value,
- manage their snack choices, and
- recognize the difference between hunger-related and stress- or boredom-related eating.
Where does handwriting fit in?
You may be asking at this point, “What does all of this have to do with handwriting?”
Handwriting development skills are primarily those included in:
- our ability to understand how our bodies move and what we can do with that movement (body awareness, directional concepts, and spatial relations);
- our visual processing skills that allow us to gather data through our senses, understand what the data is telling us, and make modifications if needed to our movements; and
- our attention skills as we focus on a task, ignore distractions that do not relate to the task, and maintain our attention on it until it is completed.
The same facets of a healthy diet that I mentioned above – oxygen, minerals, and nutrients – also provide students with the ability to develop those body awareness, visual processing, and attention skills they’ll need for handwriting mastery. A healthy diet pairs up very well with a healthy mind!
How do we teach healthy eating habits?
If we are going to attempt to teach children, or anyone for that matter, about an important topic, it’s always a smart choice to “make if fun!” From preschoolers to middle schoolers, children can benefit from learning to think healthy when it comes to food and eating. Cooking or kitchen activities provide excellent opportunities for hands-on learning that combine healthy eating habits with fine and visual motor development. So, with all of that in mind, I’m offering some functional activities that can turn “teaching into learning” at home, in school, or in a therapy session. And to add a handwriting twist to the learning, I’ve added some ways to turn handwriting from “practice into functional.” (You know that I can pair up handwriting with just about any learning activity!)
Here we go:
- PLAN cooking lessons! Select a healthy recipe that’s easy and quick for preschoolers to “learn to cook” or simple to make in a classroom or therapy session with elementary and middle school children. Banana Smoothies are always fun and so nutritious. All you need are some bananas, a few extras to add inside, and a blender. I found the “Sandwich-on-a-Stick” to be a very creative idea for involving a child in making lunch. And Homemade Applesauce is a delicious and nutritious snack that can be made on the stove or in the microwave. Preschoolers can practice their pre-handwriting skills by drawing a picture of their finished product, while elementary and middler schoolers can write down the recipe in their very own Healthy Food Journal.
- Grocery Shopping is a TEAM Sport! After you select a fun recipe to try, have the elementary and middle schoolers write a list of ingredients that you will need (the preschoolers can draw them!) and take a trip down the grocery aisles looking and touching and selecting the “just right stuff.” (PS: A Hint: Avoid the inner aisles of super markets because “that’s where all the junk lies.”)
- Browse and Ponder. It’s so important to take your time and discuss the different choices available in the grocery store. A smoothie can contain any number and variety of fruits and yogurts. A sandwich can have vegetables, healthy cheese and meat, and as much or as little bread as you’d like. This is a nice time to talk about how foods can be eaten both as a meal and as snacks and how they keep us healthy. When you get home, have the children jot down (or draw) those healthy foods or ways to use them in their Healthy Food Journal.
- Get your hands dirty! Infants learn to accept foods by touching them, squishing them between their fingers, and rubbing them all over their faces. They feel them, smell them, and taste them. Give the children a chance to do the same when you are cooking your meal. Experimenting with an unfamiliar vegetable by getting up close and smelling it, licking it, or breaking it into pieces can give the child a chance to feel “safe” with it. Let’s face it, some vegetables can look pretty intimidating to them. Let’s take broccoli, for instance. What ARE all of those little bumps on the ends? They can then record their very favorites in the Journal, as well as those that they may be willing try at a later date.
- Creativity rules! Colors play a major role in a child’s life. We are always asking them what the color of something is! They even choose their crayons based upon their favorite colors. And the same can be said for food. Select some reds and oranges when you are picking out peppers. Add carrots to the celery and yogurt snack. Adding pimentos on your eggs for eyes, a nose, and a mouth is a fun way to introduce them. Have all the children draw their favorite food or snack in their Journal using only their favorite colors. That should make for some interesting food colors!
- Seated and Slow. After the final product is ready for consumption, have the children help you set the table and learn to enjoy the “ritual” of eating together at the table. TV, video games, and other forms of technology should be set aside and attention should be focused upon the wonderful meal that you’ve created together. Just for fun, have the children make a few notes about what they ate, talked about, and felt during their sit-down lunch or dinner. (Note: Food and eating should be considered fun (and essential) activities and are not recommended to be used as rewards or punishments.)
- Snacks and Treats: Oh, yes! There’s no reason to exclude in-between meal snacks for your children. We all get the “munchies” outside of meal times, especially if we are being very active – like children! And, although healthy snacks are the preferred choice, treats are still an acceptable way to curb the midday stomach growls. Baking homemade treats can help you to maintain a higher level of “healthy” than store-bought items. But, don’t restrict your child totally from those (or candy) because, let’s face it, they will be out in the “real world” soon and those choices will be there for the taking. Learning to eat them in moderation is a more realistic tool than trying to avoid them altogether. Discuss this concept with them and have them write their ideas for controlling the amount of snacks they eat in their Healthy Eating Journals.
Healthy eating and handwriting certainly DO go well together!
Do you have any creative ways in which you teach healthy eating habits to your children, students, or clients? We’d love to hear about them! Please share!
As always, thanks for reading!
KatherineKatherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in the assessment and remediation of handwriting skills and understands the link between handwriting skills and writing. She can be contacted via her website, Handwriting With Katherine. Disclaimer: The information shared on the Handwriting With Katherine website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter page, Pinterest page; on any guest blog posts or any other social media is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the authors of these links/posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.