Building new habits is like learning to ride a bike. At first it can be frustrating and it might feel like you’re getting nowhere, but looking back years later, you realize how instinctive it’s become.

Just like riding a bike, healthy habits are a lot easier to master during the school years. And building a framework of healthy habits for young children isn’t just common sense – it’s also backed by science. Studies show that a child’s knowledge base is well developed by the time they’re four or five years old, and habits in children take root by the time they’re nine years old.

Fortunately, as a physical education teacher, you can help your students start healthy habits during this critical time. Read on for our 6 healthy-habit-boosting tips.

1. Build on Existing Habits

Integrating healthy activities into regular routines can help create habits. The school day is already based on a structured routine, giving you lots of opportunities to add in these so-called triggers.

Get your students into the habit of stretching for five minutes at the beginning of every PE class. They can also enjoy a piece of fruit or a vegetable snack and a glass of water at the end of each lesson to refuel. Try asking other teachers at your school if they’d be willing to incorporate these kind of triggers into their classes to promote healthy habits throughout the day.

2. Break Down Big Goals

Goals that are too broad quickly lose their appeal when the goal-setter feels like they’ve bitten off more than they can chew. Breaking overarching PE goals down into smaller, more attainable steps can help your students feel accomplished and keep them on track towards the larger goals.

Have them identify one big goal for the end of the year – getting stronger, for example – then break it down into smaller weekly goals, like running for 10 seconds longer or doing one more push-up. As they check off each individual goal, they’re one step – or push-up – closer to becoming stronger.

3. Leave Your Students Alone

Parents and caregivers often intervene in children’s activities because they don’t want to see their child do something incorrectly. Teachers are no exception to this tendency.

While you’re there to ensure your students are using proper form and staying on task, sometimes it’s just as important for them try physical activities without constantly being corrected. This helps children gain confidence and independence, so combine hands-on and hands-off teaching for the best results.

4. Lead by Example

Some say imitation is the highest form of flattery. It also happens to be one of the first and best ways children learn.

It’s essential to model the behavior you would like to see reflected in your students. Explain to them how you set and keep your own healthful goals, and show them with your actions. If you want them to eat healthier and get stronger, start by doing these things yourself. Join your students for a nutritious snack during recess, and get involved in some of the activities in your PE class.

5. Encourage Accountability

Receiving reinforcement is one of the best ways to stick to your goals.

As a PE teacher, chances are you’re one of the most reliable sources of accountability for your students when it comes to their healthy habits. Make sure to follow up with students to see how they’re doing with their PE targets and brainstorm ways to keep on track.

You can also get parents involved by having students share their goals with them. Set healthy homework assignments, or ask your students to come up with some simple exercises they can complete with their family.

6. Celebrate!

If your students are reaching their goals, it’s cause for celebration.

Acknowledging past victories can help people stay focused and driven. Try a rewards system of stickers or fun activities as your students check off their personal PE achievements. Recognizing hard work is one of the best ways to ensure your students keep up their healthy habits.

Contact SPARK today and speak with our knowledgeable team about how you can incorporate more healthy habits into your PE classes.

SPARK is dedicated to creating, implementing, and evaluating research-based programs that promote lifelong wellness. SPARK strives to improve the health of children and adolescents by disseminating evidence-based physical activity and nutrition programs that provide curriculum, staff development, follow-up support, and equipment to teachers of Pre-K through 12th grade students. SPARK is committed to providing outstanding customer satisfaction through timely delivery and exceptional service. SPARK believes in fostering a positive working environment that values professional growth, upward mobility, and opportunities for people to work together toward common goals.