When parents decide to talk to their kids about 'the facts of life' it usually leads into one of those embarrassing situations (from the children's point of view) where parents feel it's their duty to make sure their children know how a baby is made.
The true irony is that how babies are made is only a tiny part of the real 'facts of life'. We seem to forget that there are many more important facts that children need to know about life. The first of these is health.
Good health is the foundation for our quality of life. The healthier we are the better we function in all aspects of life. So how much education do young kids get about health from their family, their teachers or books? Usually they learn something about the human body and organs and how they function. They may learn about healthy behavior - diet, hygiene, exercise etc. They may be given information about what they should and shouldn't do, especially in relation to sex, smoking, drinking alcohol and taking drugs.
However if you look at youth health statistics it seems that while children may learn the facts, these frequently do not translate into action. The increase in obesity in children shows that the facts of healthy eating are not real for young people. The levels of youth drinking, smoking and drug taking show that whatever information young people are provided with is not having the desired impact.
So what are the most critical facts of life that kids at home should be learning while they are still young?
There are two simple priorities which could transform every individual's life.
1. How to be healthy.
2. How to prevent disease.
We now know a lot about health and there is much we can do to prevent all the major diseases. However this is highly pragmatic knowledge which is only effective if it is put into practice. If we want to teach health to kids effectively, we must give them education that actually changes their behavior. If you want to prevent heart disease it is simply not enough to know about exercise in theory. You need to exercise on a regular basis.
If we want to deliver effective health education we need to change our approach to education so we measure changes in children's behavior rather than what they can memorize or write down on a piece of paper. The most useful knowledge in relation to health can only be measured in behavior and action. Words and information don't have any real meaning unless they translate into behavior.
We find it unacceptable that children come out of school unable to read and write. Every child is expected to be able to count and calculate. All young people learn the biological 'facts of life'. But health is more important than any of these. It should be viewed as more fundamental than numeracy and literacy. We need to make sure that children are unable to pass the subject of health until they are healthy. Health is a prerequisite for a high quality of life. We don't give children the right to choose whether they learn to read or write. There should be no choice as to whether they are healthy or not.
If you want to start to make a difference to a child's health now it is simple. Take one aspect of health that you feel is important, for example eating more fruit and vegetables as part of their daily diet. First make sure you are setting a good example yourself. If not take some time to sort out your own behavior. Then start to talk with the children about eating more fruit and vegetables. Make sure that you always have fruit and vegetables available at mealtimes. Explain to them why it is good for them. Never lecture them or get angry or emotional. Just quietly and persistently let them get the message that it is healthy to eat lots of fruit and vegetables. Always let them know why. You may have to repeat this regularly for a few weeks. But after a while you will see that they take on the message for themselves. You may even see them teaching their friends (or their dolls and other toys) to eat more fruit and vegetables. This simple approach can be applied to all aspects of health and because it is experiential they will never forget.
By Sarah McCrum MA, PGCE, Dip LC
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