Modelling Healthy Choices for the Kids

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It has been several months now since Husband and I began our new health and fitness plan. Hubby has lost almost 100 lbs and I have lost over 15 lbs. I run three times per week and cycle twice a week. Hubby runs or cycles six days a week and has started doing a video fitness program at home as well. It has become just a normal, natural part of our life to count calories and weigh food as we prepare our meals throughout the day. It takes such little extra time, and the results are so very worth it.

Having been so successful in changing our own eating habits, we felt empowered to help our kids. Mr. Boo was an average-weight child until around the age of 6, when he began to gain weight. He’s now 9 years old and, while very tall for his age (just shy of 5 feet), is quite overweight, clocking in at just over 100 lbs. He likes his food, especially treats, and he doesn’t like sports. Carrying around extra weight doesn’t make moving your body much fun, either.

And so we decided to put him on our health and fitness plan. He’s watched us on our journey and we asked him about following our plan. We discussed it with him, presented the risks associated with childhood obesity, and stuck to an emphasis on health rather than looks or body image. He seemed quite keen on the idea. We started a food journal in which we log what he eats, and set a goal for him based on a calculation of his daily caloric needs (his goal is < 1650 calories per day). If he meets his goal, his reward is a miniature chocolate bar for dessert (60 calories).

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We’ve been doing this for about a month now and couldn’t be happier with the results. Not only has he lost 2 lbs, a very healthy rate of loss (~ 0.5 lbs per week) but we can see that we are establishing healthy habits that will serve him well for the rest of his life. He now reads nutritional labels and makes choices based on calorie content. He helps prepare his food, weighing out the ingredients and calculating portion size. We help by presenting choices when he’s hungry, and laying out the consequences of those choices in terms of what he can eat later. He’s learning that he likes to have a big meal at the start of his day, a small snack midway, and a good size dinner. He also likes to save room for an extra dessert, and will often forgo a second sandwich, for example, for a banana and some yogurt instead so that he can have that extra treat later on. One day he announced that he wanted to eat a whole pizza for dinner and asked for help in choosing some healthy, low calorie options for breakfast and lunch.

He’s also beginning to see exercise as something positive because it buys you more calories (up until now, the word “exercise” was met with groans and protests). This evening we attended the first night of a new drop-in gymnastics program at our local community centre, where the kids get two hours of free, supervised time on the equipment (trampolines, etc). It’s one of the few activities he has always enjoyed and he was particularly pleased that all that fun meant he could have a treat on the way home from the gym (he carefully read the labels in making his decision).

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To make this as easy on ourselves and him as possible, and given his extremely limited diet due to his sensory issues around food, we decided that “any kind of food goes” so long as it fits within his goals. It’s not what a lot of people would think of as “healthy” eating – it includes hot dogs and McDonalds cheeseburgers, and yet we still see that he is learning about making good food choices for his body. We’ve had a couple of interesting conversations about what a body needs to be healthy and grow, and why some foods are so high in calories while others are low. What we’ve all learned is that when you are looking to get the most food satisfaction “bang” for your caloric “buck” it pays to stay away from the really junky stuff. One bag of of potato chips, for example, is more than an entire cheese and liverwurst sandwich (despite his picky eating habits, the kid loves liver sausage). The sandwich will keep him full for some time and provide his body with protein, healthy animal fats, iron, and other nutrients he needs. But with the chips, he’ll be hungry soon after eating them, and they really only provide carbohydrates (which turn to fat if not needed for energy) and some not-so-healthy hydrogenated vegetable-based fats.

Miss Em is not officially on the plan – she is only mildly overweight and is independent enough that it would be difficult to monitor her food intake as closely. She has definitely been paying attention to what we are all doing, however, and she has expressed some interest in considering calorie content, although she is not prepared to take on calorie tracking just yet. She has made an effort to work more exercise into her week, going on bike rides or long walks to the local corner store. Kids watch what adults do and I know even if she doesn’t follow us right now, we are modelling the route to attaining a healthy weight and being fit so that when and if she decides in the future to do something about it, she’ll know how.

It’s a good feeling to take charge of your health, to be at a healthy body weight, to enjoy being active, and to feel good in your body. Hubby and I are pleased enough that we’ve been able to do so for ourselves, but seeing our son embracing this lifestyle and learning to make healthy choices for himself, is truly rewarding.

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Computer Programming with Scratch

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Today was the first day of Mr Boo’s new project (for more information about Project Based Homeschooling see this post). He has chosen to create a video game using the program Scratch. He has used it before, but not much, and he wanted my help in creating a proper game. This turned out to be a great project – I didn’t realize what a wide variety of learning would be involved.

He started by importing a generic background image from Minecraft. He chose a crab to be his first character (or “sprite”, as they are called). Eventually he added another sprite, coloured the “ground”, and added an obstacle (the brown block). Here’s a screen shot showing where he left off today:

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But first, he started with just the red crab and the background (the pink bar was originally white). He attempted to program the sprite to move right or left with the right or left arrow keys, respectively. However, he ran into trouble when he could not get the sprite to change direction – it just rotated about its axis instead.

I suggested we watch a tutorial and Mr. Boo searched YouTube. He chose this one by MrMattperrault that shows how to make a sprite jump more realistically by incorporating gravity and velocity changes into the motion of jumping and falling.

At the beginning of the video the narrator reviews how to make the character move left and right. By looking at the scripts Mr. Boo learned where he had gone wrong: to change direction left or right you need to set x to positive or negative numbers (the magnitude of the number is how many steps the character takes when the key is pressed). He also saw that to get a character to jump (and thus fall back down rather than just moving up higher) he needed to set y to positive and negative numbers (with a slight delay in between).

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The main topic of the video was how to get a character to jump realistically – in other words, incorporating acceleration due to gravity. Mr Boo immediately wanted to try this, and so he copied the scripts from the video. Not only did he get a lesson in physics about why things bounce, but he was introduced to the concept of velocity and how that relates to gravity for the sake of programming movement. And, he was also introduced to the concept of conditional phrases: “if/then”. Finally, he learned that multiplying anything by -1 changes it’s sign (and thus, in this case, the direction of motion). Here is a script that causes the character to drop onto the ground:

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Basically this says if the character is touching the colour blue (which was the ground in the video demo) then it needs to stop moving, and if it isn’t touching blue (the ground) it needs to fall. Mr Boo programmed his sprite according to these directions and, at first, the character wouldn’t move. With some assistance from me, we figured out the problem. There was a white rectangle along the bottom of the background, and we’d programmed the sprite to stop falling when it touched white. However, there is also white in the sky so that’s why the character wasn’t moving. When Mr Boo changed the ground to pink it worked.

Before wrapping up for today he added a second character and a block to jump over. He’ll program them next Project Time.