Reinventing Valentine’s Day With Heart-Smart Lessons

February 11, 2014

Healthy Valentine’s Day ideas from Chicago teachers.

Heart-shaped cards, candy hearts and heartfelt poems. Valentine’s Day is all about matters of the heart. So why not make school celebrations truly about the heart — the real human heart?

That’s what Cherianne Barry, a third-grade teacher at Ariel Elementary Community Academy, intends to do this Valentine’s Day. Instead of letting her students fill their stomachs with candy, chocolate and other sugar-laden treats, Barry wants to fill their heads with knowledge about the heart instead. “We are going to talk about the parts of the heart; the difference between a healthy heart and unhealthy heart. I want to help my students understand that their heart is more than just a [geometrical] shape.”

On Friday Barry plans to focus on the anatomy and the cardiovascular system, teaching her students about what it takes to maintain a healthy heart. Nutritious food and physical activity are the keys, she says: “I am planning to do a couple activities where students move around to test their heart rates in order to combine movement with keeping the heart healthy.”

As for food? Her students are going to make kabobs made from pineapples and other fresh fruits. Yes, there will be sweetness. This is Valentine’s Day after all.

Barry participates in HSC’s Fit to Learn professional development program, which encourages teachers to take a leadership role on health and wellness in their classrooms, creating a culture that motivates students and fellow staff to make healthy choices. Barry works to reinforce healthy habits in her school, which has a no-candy rule and encourages movement throughout the school day. She integrates movement breaks in the mornings and afternoons and has seen “major improvements” in the way her students talk about what they eat and their enthusiasm about moving around. What’s more, she sees improved focus and attention among her 27 students after the movement breaks.

For creative inspiration, Barry turned to Teachers Pay Teachers, a favorite online resource, where she found an “excellent activity book called Hearts! A Valentines Booklet with a Twist! It’s filled with “some fun history and facts about Valentine’s Day,” she says. “I suggest other teachers take a look at it if they are interested in talking about the anatomy/human heart instead of having a typical party.” And, for more fun and inspiration, Barry’s using Pinterest to get and pin ideas for healthy activities.

Says Barry: “My goal is to reinvent Valentine's Day into a wholesome and nutritious week of healthy learning.”

Here are a few other creative and healthy Valentine’s Day ideas from our Fit to Learn teachers:

  • I usually have close to 100 students jumping rope for 150 minutes with music, lemonade and cut-up oranges. It’s a blast!

–Eva Delgado , PE Teacher, Kanoon Elementary

  • “I am researching a read-aloud book for Valentine’s Day and an accompanying healthy alternative for our celebration to share with parents. On Valentine's Day, we will shun the usual party food.”

–Gricelda Perez, 1st grade, Ruiz Elementary

–Lola Pittenger, Namaste Charter School