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Guest blog: Creating healthy spaces for kids during out of school time

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Guest blog: Creating healthy spaces for kids during out of school time

Katie Giles is a project manager at the Out of School Time Nutrition and Phsyical Activity Initiative (OSNAP), a project of the Harvard School of Public Health Prevention Research Center.

“Some of the biggest changes we’ve seen afterschool programs make are ensuring that drinking water is served to kids and setting program policies not allowing in unhealthy drinks and foods during their program.  The OSNAP Learning Communities give programs a feeling of support- that they aren’t making changes related to physical activity and nutrition alone.”  Max, YMCA

Afterschool programs provide children and families with many benefits—from a safe caring space to academic enrichment opportunities.  Afterschool programs also have the unique potential to be health-promoting environments for children.

We know that most children do not get enough opportunities to be active, eat and drink healthy foods and beverages, and spend time in spaces free of unhealthy advertisements on TV and the internet.  The time that children spend in afterschool programming can be time that they are physically active, drink water rather than sugary beverages, and eat healthy snacks—with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.  Afterschool providers can give children these health benefits and they can do it with minimal time and cost.

The Out of School Time Nutrition and Physical Activity Initiative (OSNAP), developed and evaluated by researchers at the  Harvard School of Public Health Prevention Research Center, provides easy-to-use and low-cost tools that guide afterschool program staff through the process of improving health-promoting practices and policies.  OSNAP is an evidence-based initiative that helps afterschool staff improve nutrition, physical activity, and screen time in their programs.  Research studies evaluating OSNAP have found it to be an effective strategy to improve the quality of program snacks, increase water served to and consumed by children during snack time, and increase children’s physical activity levels.  OSNAP researchers have also created and validated a simple observational assessment tool—called OSNAP-OPAT—that program staff can use to accurately measure nutrition and physical activity practices and behaviors.  Some of OSNAP’s tools available free of charge include:

  • An interactive online learning community that brings together afterschool staff from across the country to participate in forums and to share lessons and tips.
  • A validated, personalized assessment and action planning process that walks you through the steps of measuring  current practices, setting data-driven goals, and assessing your program’s changes over time..
  • A policy writing guide to provide suggestions for language that can be directly inserted into parent or family handbooks, staff handbooks, general program handbooks, letters to families, staff training materials, or even schedules and menus.
  • Tip sheets, fast maps, and other resources to give programs ideas for healthy snacks, beverages, and physical activity.

OSNAP aims to make the healthy choice the easy choice.  Get started with these research-tested resources that make it easier to promote nutrition and physical activity in your program.

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