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October 08
Local park foundation shares new playground guide so families can get out and play at nearby parks

Anchorage Play Map_Cover-page-001 (1).jpgAlaska is well-known for open spaces that make it possible for all kinds of outdoor activities. Anchorage alone has a few hundred parks, 11,000 acres of parkland, and more than 250 miles of trails and greenbelts. Alaska’s Physical Activity and Nutrition program partnered with the Anchorage Park Foundation to distribute a new map and guide so families can learn what parks are nearby, how to get there, and the types of play opportunities available. 

The new Anchorage Playground Map and Inclusive Play Guide includes vibrant photos that highlight the park designs, giving kids a glimpse of the excitement they can expect there. Anchorage parks provide fun opportunities like sliding, climbing, spinning, swinging, and exploring nooks and towers. Some parks offer experiences for many senses, including musical play. The guide gives parents details they need to prepare for taking the family to the park. It mentions if the park has picnic tables and benches, if it’s close to woods or water, and if the playground equipment is designed for children of certain age ranges. Studying the map and guide together as a family gets everyone involved in planning the next adventure. 

“My husband and I wanted to get the kids out, and this map gave us the ability to choose a park near our home and make a family day of it,” said Alyssa Marizan, a local mom of three young children. “Not only did the kids play, but we were able to be active with them and had a blast.” 

Guiding families to nearby places for outdoor play can help them meet the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommendations that school-age children get 60 minutes of activity every day and adults get 150 minutes every week. Many Alaskans fall short of that daily and weekly recommended activity. A lack of physical activity can increase the chances of unhealthy weight gain, which is linked with serious diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Two out of three Alaska adults are overweight or obese, and one out of three Alaska kids is above a healthy weight. Taking the whole family to the park helps everyone be physically active and get closer to their activity goals.

Dave Green Park.jpg

The Anchorage Park Foundation continues to help build playgrounds designed with everyone in mind. While this new map lists all the parks in Anchorage, it gives special mention to parks that provide opportunities for children and adults of all abilities. These parks are often called “inclusive parks,” and they include playground equipment that allows children of all ages and abilities to play with their peers. These parks also have parking stalls that are Americans with Disabilities Act accessible.

“Climbing, swinging, sliding, spinning, these parks offer the best new ways to play,” said Beth Nordlund, Executive Director of the Anchorage Park Foundation. “Not only are they more accessible to all, they are also way more fun! These free guides are flying off our shelves, so please make sure to come get yours.” 

While supplies last, the map is being distributed by the foundation and their inclusive play partners free of charge at park and recreational events around Anchorage. For more information about inclusive play and the maps, visit https://anchorageparkfoundation.org/programs/inclusiveplay​.

Photographs courtesy of the Anchorage Park Foundation


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September 30
Walking to school is good for your kids

Walk to School Stock photo.jpgWalking to school has many benefits for Alaska kids and their communities. It can help students move more and do better in school. Walking also can reduce traffic in neighborhoods, and that can make it safer and easier to get to school.  

Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019, is Walk to School Day. Kids across Alaska will be making a special effort that day to walk to their schools, but some local families make walking to school a daily habit.

 “I walk my son to and from his elementary school every day,” said John Angst, father of a Rabbit Creek Elementary School student in Anchorage. “We always really look forward to our walks to and from school. It’s a great way to get going in the morning and a nice way to unwind after school. It gives us a chance to talk without the distractions of TVs, phones and computers.”

Move more, feel better and perform better

Walking to school helps children get closer to the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity that kids need for the best health. Daily activity improves growth and development, as well as heart health. It makes muscles and bones stronger. A walk to and from school likely doesn’t take an hour, but the benefits add up over time.

“Walking to school provides students an opportunity to activate their bodies and brains in preparation for a great start to the school day,” said Melanie Sutton, curriculum coordinator for the Anchorage School District Health and Physical Education Department.

An hour of daily activity might sound like a lot, but it doesn’t have to happen all at once. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans say every bit of activity counts — no matter how short. That means kids can add the time it takes to walk to and from school to other activities, like the minutes they spend being active at recess, in gym class, or playing with their friends and family. 

Walking to school could help children at school, too. The national guidelines say that regular activity improves memory, attention and performance in the classroom. Kids who get regular physical activity can learn better and improve their grades.

Promoting safety for walkers

Simple strategies make it safer for children to walk to school. Vision Zero Anchorage is an initiative to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries for all road users. Communities like Anchorage are making it safer to walk by enforcing low speed limits in school zones, using marked or signaled street crossings, designing safe and convenient sidewalks or paths between neighborhoods and schools, and adding street lighting. 

Drivers can help keep walkers safe by not driving distracted. 

“When driving, it’s much safer for everyone if we put down our phones, and leave the controls, displays and navigation alone,” said Dawn Groth, physical activity and nutrition specialist with the State of Alaska. “Let’s pay attention to what is going on around us.”

During recent school years, the Rabbit Creek Elementary School PTA in Anchorage called for a cell phone ban while driving to protect their students from distracted drivers. This led to similar requests from other local parents, teachers and students. As a result, during the summer of 2019, Anchorage passed an ordinance making it illegal to drive in active school zones or grounds while talking on a hand-held mobile communication device, such as a cell phone, smart phone, tablet or any similar device. School zones where the speed limit is always 25 MPH or less are active between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. Other school zones are active when school zone lights are flashing. Parents picking up their kids can use their devices once their car is parked. The penalty for using a cell phone in a school zone is a $500 fine. 

Take steps to keep children safe

Everyone can help ensure children get to and from school safely. 

Drivers:

  • Do not use your smart phone or device while driving, including while stopped at a light or stop sign. 
  • Pay attention. Look for and stop for children.
  • Slow down, especially in school zones, intersections and places kids walk and play.
  • Leave the controls, displays and navigation in your car alone.
  • Drink your coffee or do your grooming when you reach your destination.
  • Do not drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Parents:

  • Be a role model for good driving habits.
  • Ask children who are walking to put away mobile devices that can distract them.
  • Put reflective stickers or materials on outer clothing and bags of children.

Kids:

  • Walk on sidewalks and use crosswalks. If no sidewalk is available, walk facing oncoming traffic.
  • Wear blinking lights.
  • Always look left, right, then left again before crossing any street.

For more information on ways to promote safe walking to school, visit https://www.transportation.gov/mission/health/Safe-Routes-to-School-Programs.

September 18
Large amounts of sugar often hide in drinks that look healthy

Fruit Drink Label with Organic and Vitamin C.jpgSEPTEMBER 18, 2019 — It’s been a long week, and you’ve made it to the store to buy groceries for your family. You’ve got a toddler in the cart and a grocery list in your hand. 

You’re looking for convenient, healthy drinks for your little kids. You’re in the drink aisle and spot a bottle that says “Cranberry Raspberry Drink.” The front of the label also says “Organic” and “100% Vitamin C.” Plus the bottle size is small enough to fit into your preschooler’s backpack or lunchbox. 

Before you add that drink to the cart, turn that bottle, pouch, box or can around. The back of the label will tell you the truth about what’s actually in that drink. 

Many drinks in the grocery store appear healthier than they are, based on the words and pictures shown on the labels. But many of these drinks aren’t the best options for your toddlers, preschoolers or older children. The healthiest drinks for them — and your whole family — are water or milk.

“Ounce for ounce, fruit drinks can be hiding just as much added sugar as soda,” said Karol Fink, registered dietitian and manager for Alaska’s Physical Activity and Nutrition program​. “Serving these sugary drinks to your kids from a very young age can increase their chances for developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease years from now. Serving healthy drinks like water or milk now, plus daily physical activity, can prevent these serious diseases that last a lifetime.”

National recommendations give limits for daily sugar

A drink can have a fruit in its name and NOT be made with any fruit juice. Some fruit drinks have a small amount of fruit juice, but they’re still filled with a large amount of added sugar. If sugar or any other sweetener is listed in the first three ingredients, your drink is likely loaded with sugar.

For the best health, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting the amount of sugar your kids eat and drink to less than 10 percent of their daily calories. For preschool-age children, that means limiting added sugar to fewer than 8 teaspoons a day. Small drinks like fruit drinks can be packed with that much sugar, even more.

Play Every Day is sharing new videos to help show the large amount of sugar in fruit drinks, and to give examples of how labels on these drinks can be confusing to families looking for healthy options. Its Fruit Drink PSA focuses on those labels and explains how the added sugar in small fruit drinks can add up to serious health problems over time. Another 30-second video shows that these small fruit drinks can have the same amount of sugar as 8 mini doughnuts. Serving water or milk instead can cut out a lot of added sugar each day.  

Look out for other sugary drinks, too

Other drinks also contain a lot of added sugar. A label on a vitamin drink may say it’s loaded with vitamins, but it’s also loaded with sugar. A drink can contain 100% vitamin C and still have added sugar along with the added vitamins. As an example, a 20-ounce bottle of a vitamin drink can have 8 teaspoons of added sugar. 

Sports drinks are sold as beverages to rehydrate you after physical activity, but water is all that kids (and adults) need after they get out and play. A 20-ounce sports drink can have 9 teaspoons of added sugar. Water has none. And what about that orange powdered mix that looks like it could be served with breakfast? Mixing up a powdered drink for your child is like stirring sugar into water. An 8-ounce glass of a powdered mix can have almost 6 teaspoons of added sugar.

Organic drinks may sound healthy, but that’s not always the case. Organic drinks often have the same amount of sugar as non-organic drinks. Both organic and non-organic drinks with added sugar can lead to health problems in little children.

Learn more about serving healthy drinks to your family

You may have young kids at home, take care of them in a pediatric or dental clinic, or tend to them in child care centers or preschools. Alaska’s Play Every Day campaign has educational materials to help learn more about the large amounts of sugar hiding in many drinks, the health harms related to that added sugar, and ways to make it easier to serve healthier drinks at home, at school and on the go. All of these materials are free and available to download online. Looking for print copies? Please contact playeveryday@alaska.gov to request materials related to physical activity, sugary drinks or healthy drinks. 

September 03
Get ready to cheer on Alaska kids racing in Jamborees and other fall fun runs

Jamborees Photo 2 Courtesy of Healthy Futures.jpgSEPTEMBER 3, 2019 — When the leaves start falling, Alaska kids start racing through the trails. 

On several days this month, thousands of elementary students from Anchorage to Fairbanks will be running through the wooded trails during the annual Cross Country Jamborees and similar fun runs.

The Anchorage School District is organizing three running Jamborees, and the North Star Borough School District in Fairbanks is organizing four races. The Jamborees will wrap up by the end of September, but Anchorage parents and children will have weekly opportunities to keep running as a family through the end of October. The popular fall running tradition called the Tuesday Night Race series begins on Sept. 10, 2019. The series continues on different trail systems throughout Anchorage every Tuesday through Oct. 29, 2019.

Long history of fall fun runs in Anchorage 

The free running Jamborees in Anchorage go back almost three decades. This year, the Anchorage School District Health and Physical Education (PE) Department will partner with the Healthy Futures program, Play Every Day​, local athletes, and others to organize several Jamborees in North Anchorage, South Anchorage and the Beach Lake area of Eagle River. Several thousand Anchorage kids across the city are expected to participate. 

“The elementary school Jamborees are a great opportunity for kids of all abilities to get some exercise in a festive atmosphere,” said Matias Saari, Healthy Futures event support coordinator.  

Many children are getting ready for the fun runs by participating in their schools’ running clubs. Elementary students will run different distances, depending on their ages. The race course length ranges from about ½ mile to 1 mile. All kids will receive a Healthy Futures pin when they reach the finish line, Saari said.

Like in past years, participating children and their families will be able to stay hydrated at a special “H2O 2GO” water trailer from Anchorage Water & Wastewater Utility (AWWU). The trailer has multiple drinking fountains and water bottle fill-up taps for thirsty runners and observers.

Dates, times and locations for Anchorage Jamborees

Here are the dates, times and locations for the upcoming Anchorage Cross Country Running Jamborees:

  • North Anchorage Jamboree — Thursday, Sept. 19, starting at 5:30 p.m., with an optional walk-through of the race course beginning at 5 p.m. The Jamboree will be held at the trails near Bartlett High School. For more information, contact Benjamin Elbow, Rogers Park Elementary physical education (PE) teacher, at elbow_benjamin@asdk12.org.

  • South Anchorage Jamboree — Saturday, Sept. 21, starting at 10 a.m., with an optional walk-through of the race course beginning at 9:30 a.m. The Jamboree will be held at the trails near Service High School. For more information, contact David Hall, Chinook Elementary PE teacher, at hall_david@asdk12.org.

  • Beach Lake (Eagle River) Jamboree — Thursday, Sept. 26, starting at 5 p.m. The Jamboree will be held at the Chugiak High School trails. For more information, contact Caela Nielsen, Ravenwood Elementary PE teacher, at nielsen_caela@asdk12.org.

Elementary students can attend any of the Anchorage Jamborees, regardless of where they live or where their elementary schools are located. Parents are encouraged to pre-register their children for the Jamborees at their schools. All children must have a signed waiver before participating in the event. Ask your child’s physical education teacher for more information about the Anchorage Jamboree in your area.

Dates, times and locations for Fairbanks running events

Here are the dates, times and locations for the upcoming running events in the Fairbanks area:

  • Birch Hill Recreation Area — Thursday, Sept. 5, starting at 5:30 p.m. This event is hosted by U-Park Elementary School. 
  • Chena Lakes Recreation Area — Thursday, Sept. 12, starting at 5:30 p.m.
  • Salcha Elementary School — Thursday, Sept. 19, starting at 5:30 p.m. This event is hosted by Salcha School.
  • Chena Lakes Recreation Area — Thursday, Sept. 26, starting at 5:30 p.m. This event is hosted by Watershed and Two Rivers schools.

For more information about Fairbanks events, contact Norm Davis at norm.davis@k12northstar.org.  

Photograph courtesy of Healthy Futures

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August 19
School is starting, and so is the free Healthy Futures Challenge in communities across Alaska

2014 Healthy_Futures_Logo.jpgAUGUST 19, 2019 — Schools open this week for thousands of children from Juneau to Anchorage to Bethel.  More than 115 elementary schools in 23 school districts across Alaska are getting ready for the Fall Healthy Futures Challenge ​that starts Sunday, Sept. 1. Many schools in rural communities are participating, thanks in part to organizations like the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC).

Aqqaluk Elementary School in Noorvik is ready for the free challenge that has students logging their physical activity each month. So is Chief Ivan Blunka School in New Stuyahok. Kids will be doing the Challenge in Fort Yukon in the Interior, Sterling on the Kenai Peninsula, and White Mountain at the end of the Iditarod Trail. 

Recruiting champions to support the Challenge in rural Alaska

This year, ANTHC is partnering with Healthy Futures to expand the number of Healthy Futures champions who support the Challenge in their rural, often remote communities. Champions can be more than teachers and coaches, said Dana Diehl, Wellness and Prevention Director at ANTHC. They can be parents, young adults looking for ways to help their communities, and people who work in health education and prevention at local clinics.

“I think one of the things that we like about Healthy Futures is it doesn’t have to be organized physical activity,” Diehl said. Participating students can count all kinds of activities, not just organized sports. 

“In the rural areas, that’s especially important because there are so many opportunities to get activity in the outdoors,” Diehl said. That includes Alaska Native dancing, hunting for moose, picking berries, fishing and more, she said.

Diehl lives and works in Anchorage, but she grew up in Aniak along the Kuskokwim River — the home of Auntie Mary Nicoli Elementary School. Teachers at this small school regularly sign up to participate in the Challenge. Diehl said she’s excited that her hometown school commits time to promoting physical activity and the Healthy Futures Challenge.

“The village is on a river, so there are all kinds of things you can do on the river – like fishing,” she said. “It’s across from all kinds of rolling hills where you can go berry picking.” 

Families can bike, walk and run near the village’s airstrip, she said. 

“There are all kinds of opportunities to get out and play around Aniak.”

Completing the Challenge: Logging 60 minutes of activity at least 15 days a month

The free Healthy Futures Challenge runs each fall and spring for students in kindergarten through sixth grade. Students keep a log of their daily physical activity with the goal of being active at least 60 minutes a day for 15 days each month. Students can count active time in gym class and during recess. They receive a prize each month for completing their activity log. 

This school year, Play Every Day, Healthy Futures and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium are working together to share a 30-second video to encourage more schools across Alaska to sign up for the Challenge. The video also encourages parents to reach out to their children’s schools to support the Challenge. It features children being active in all kinds of ways in communities across Alaska, from Utqiagvik to Unalakleet to Bethel, Wasilla, Petersburg and Sitka.

Adding new prizes for the Healthy Futures Challenge 

New this school year is a set of updated Healthy Futures prizes. Each month of the Challenge, students who complete a log will receive a colored gel art pen and a matching colored sticker. They can put the sticker next to their name on a classroom poster to recognize their participation, said Alyse Loran, Healthy Futures Coordinator.

Another addition is an end-of-year raffle for a grand prize. Students will get a raffle ticket after completing one month of the Challenge. They will write their name on the ticket and place it in a grand prize box supplied by the Healthy Futures program. At the end of the school year, school staff will draw a ticket for a grand prize. The winning student at each school will be able to choose from a menu of prizes, including a Healthy Futures Champion hoodie, disc golf set, cornhole set, and other outdoor games, Loran said.

Consistent participation in this year’s Challenge will give students better chances for winning a grand prize, while also encouraging them to build the habit of daily physical activity. There are six months of the Challenge in a school year: three in the fall and three in the spring. For each month of participation, students will get new pens in different colors and raffle tickets to sign and drop in the box. Students who complete more months of the challenge this school year will receive more tickets, which means more chances of winning the grand prize. 

Elementary school coordinators will be entered into a grand prize drawing based on the percentage of student participation in their schools. Schools with high participation also receive banners to hang in their gyms to recognize their students’ commitment to physical activity.  


August 05
Read the label: Small fruit drinks may be convenient for little kids, but they can hide a large amount of sugar

​AUGUST 5, 2019 — Alaska parents say that one reason they serve their little kids sugary drinks is convenience. When a toddler says she’s thirsty, there’s a pack of drink pouches in the pantry. The toddler grabs one, punches a straw through the top and starts drinking. 

Parents are on their way out the door — dad headed to work and his 3-year-old to be dropped off at preschool. It’s the morning rush, so he grabs a small bottle of a fruit drink and slides it into the backpack. 

Common drinks have too much sugar

While convenient, these grab-and-go drinks are often loaded with added sugar that can lead to cavities, type 2 diabetes, unhealthy weight gain, even heart disease. A 6-ounce drink pouch can have about 3 teaspoons of sugar. A 10-ounce bottle of a fruit drink can have 8 teaspoons. A 12-ounce can of soda can even more  10 teaspoons. Families often buy vitamin drinks and sports drinks in even larger-sized, 20-ounce bottles. That sports drink can come with 9 teaspoons of added sugar, and the vitamin drink with 8. 

This summer, Play Every Day is sharing new videos, online and print messages to help Alaska families figure out how much sugar is hiding in drinks and to promote drinking water or milk instead. In just 30 seconds, we use a common sweet treat to show how much sugar is in a small fruit drink. This new video shows a 3-year-old girl stacking up mini doughnuts next to a cranberry raspberry drink. Then you hear the message: “A small fruit drink can have the same amount of sugar as 8 mini doughnuts. You wouldn’t let your children eat that much sugar, so why let them drink it?” 

Our new handout includes this infographic to show the amount of sugar in drinks commonly served to little kids. 

20-PAN-0324-One Sheet Graphics 4.jpg

How much sugar is too much?

The most recent U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting the amount of sugar your kids eat and drink to less than 10 percent of their daily calories. For preschool-age children, that means limiting added sugar to fewer than 8 teaspoons a day. As the infographic shows, the sugar from drinks alone can take kids over the recommended limit, and that doesn’t include the added sugar little kids also get from foods.

Added sugars can be tricky to spot because these sweeteners go by many different names. They’re called high fructose corn syrup, honey, glucose, sucrose and other names:

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Read the drink label. Check the back of the bottle to see how much added sugar is in your drink. If sugar or any other sweetener is listed in the first three ingredients, your drink is likely loaded with sugar.

Serve healthy drinks at home and on the go

Unlike sugary drinks, water and white milk have no added sugar. They are the healthiest drink choices for children, and they can be just as convenient.

  • You can keep cold pitchers of water in the fridge so water is ready whenever kids are thirsty.
  • You can add slices of fruit or mint to water to give it flavor.
  • On your way out the door, you can put a refillable bottle of water in your child’s backpack. 
  • You can pack store-bought water bottles, too, but in many Alaska communities, you can drink water straight from the tap or filter it using special pitchers.

Children want to drink what their parents drink. Parents can be role models and choose healthy options. In child care centers and preschools, caregivers can show toddlers and preschoolers how they choose healthy drinks, too. 

Read more about serving healthy drinks to preschool-age children.

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July 23
Play Every Day shares new messages to promote healthy drinks, daily physical activity for preschool-age children

Play-Every-Day-Drink-Water-Poster-8.5_x11_.jpgJULY 23, 2019 — Diseases that can last a lifetime often develop when we’re adults. That includes type 2 diabetes, heart disease and many types of cancer. 

But the beverages we drink and the physical activity we do — or don’t do — as children can help prevent these chronic diseases years down the road. 

That’s why Alaska’s Play Every Day campaign is launching new videos, online and print messages focused on encouraging families to serve their children healthy drinks starting at a very young age. That includes water and white milk, which have no added sugars, colors or flavors. New materials also support daily physical activity for children ages 5 and younger. 

“It’s so important to start early, to serve children water instead of sugary drinks and prioritize daily physical activity for the whole family,” said Karol Fink, registered dietitian and manager of Alaska’s Physical Activity and Nutrition program. “Taking those steps when your children are toddlers and preschoolers is a great investment toward better health for years to come.”

The Physical Activity and Nutrition program within the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services runs the Play Every Day campaign. This year, the program continued its partnership with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium to create and share these new materials.

New recommendations for preschool-age children

Play Every Day’s new messages call attention to recently updated national recommendations for daily activity and limiting adding sugar. The new Physical Activity Guidelines call for a mix of light, moderate and vigorous activities off and on during several hours each day for preschool-age children.

The updated U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting the amount of sugar your kids eat and drink to less than 10 percent of their daily calories. For preschool-age children, that means limiting added sugar to fewer than 8 teaspoons a day. Small drinks like fruit drinks can be packed with that much sugar, even more. For the best health, serve your children healthy drinks instead:

    • Birth to 1 year: Choose breast milk or iron-fortified formula only.
    • 1–2 years old: Serve water and whole white milk.
    • 2–6 years old: Serve water and fat-free (skim or nonfat) or low-fat (1%) white milk.

New Play Every Day videos, posters and other educational materials 

Play Every Day’s staff created its new materials after talking with Alaska parents and learning they wanted to know more about which drinks were hiding large amounts of sugar — and just how much of it. Alaska parents often start serving their children sugary drinks at a young age. On any given day, more than 1 out of 4 Alaska parents report serving their 3-year-old children soda, fruit drinks, sweetened powdered drinks, sports or energy drinks, according to the most recent state survey of Alaska parents of preschoolers.

The labels on these sugary drinks can often make them look healthier than they really are. New Play Every Day videos and materials help parents make sense of drink labels that highlight added vitamins and natural flavors, while not making it clear that the drinks have a large amount of added sugar. Drinks can be loaded with added sugar, even when they:

    • have a fruit in their name — like cranberry or raspberry.
    • say they are organic.
    • have "100% vitamin C" written on the label.

A drink can have a fruit in its name and NOT be made with any fruit juice. Some fruit drinks can have a small amount of fruit juice, but then have a large amount of added sugar. Organic drinks often have the same amount of sugar as non-organic drinks. Both organic and non-organic drinks with added sugar can lead to health problems in little children. 

Bottle-with-Doughnuts-880.jpg

The following new materials share information about how much sugar is hiding in drinks and the health harms that can result over time when children start consuming sugary drinks and foods at an early age:

Share the message

Follow and like Play Every Day’s Facebook page, and share the campaign’s messages with others. Play new animated short videos about water, milk and sugary drinks in child care centers, preschools, pediatric offices and more.

Do you want free printed copies of posters or educational handouts? Please contact us at playeveryday@alaska.gov.

You can also download free electronic copies from these webpages that list print and video materials: 

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July 01
Book a cabin, check trail updates and more at the new Alaska State Parks website

065joly.jpgJULY 1, 2019 —You have family friends coming to town, and you’re looking for an available public use cabin to rent. 

You want to head to Kachemak Bay near Homer, and wonder which trails are open right now and which are closed to flooding. 

Speaking of those trails, you could really use a map that you can view online, and not need to print.

All that, and more, are now available on the newly-updated Alaska State Parks website. 

Making it easier to find what you need

The Alaska Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation launched its updated website this spring and will continue to add new features this summer, said Wendy Sailors, who oversees the division’s public outreach. Alaska State Park users can visit the site to find public use cabins, trail updates and general park information.

Sailors said the previous website version had too many pages, too many words, and not enough cues for users to locate important information quickly. The division’s staff have been working hard to streamline webpages by adding drop-down menus, improving photographs and other visual elements, and tightening up wording to help people navigate the site.

“When you go to a page, it’s really easy to see everything without scrolling,” Sailors said. 

Sailors said the division also updated the website to try to reach those who aren’t typical visitors to Alaska’s state parks. Staff wanted to offer a variety of ideas and tips to safely visit and explore the parks. 

“What I hope they find is direction for a fun adventure,” said Sailors. 

They are sharing those ideas through special events, too, as part of the new Families to Parks program. This year, the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation named local travel journalist and outdoor advocate Erin Kirkland, publisher of AKontheGO.com​, as its first Alaska State Parks ambassador. The division and Kirkland are planning and promoting parks at events around Southcentral Alaska. The next one is planned for Saturday, Aug. 31. It’s called “Fall Family Adventure Day” at Bird Creek Campground south of Anchorage. Families will learn skills for setting up camp, including meal preparation, preparing a campfire, and learning ways to enjoy state parks during the fall season.

Booking a public use cabin or finding an open trail

beluga1.jpgOne of the most popular features of the new website is the menu directing people to information about public use cabins in state parks. Alaska State Parks offers more than 80 recreational cabins for public use. Sailors shared the reminder to start planning early, booking cabins up to seven months in advance. 

“Everybody wants to go camping,” Sailors said. “Everybody wants to stay in public use cabins.”

When people click on the desired cabin online, they’re able to print a handout that organizes key information: Is there a nearby toilet? Hiking trails? What should visitors bring that the cabin doesn’t have?

Another important aspect of the new site is its comprehensive trail status updates. The division regularly collects updates for open or closed trails due to wildlife or environmental factors, like flooding. Visitors can find trail maps and guides online and even view them in 3D.

Coming soon

Sailors and her division are also looking at adding elements to a new, free app Alaskans can use on their phones and mobile devices. It’s called OuterSpatial, and it currently lists parks, trails, and cabin information online for the Mat-Su Borough. Sailors said the app will soon include information about the rest of the state park units, once funding is available.

This app is particularly useful because it is GPS-based and can be accessed with or without Wi-Fi. People also will be able to use the app to send instant feedback and comments about the current condition of state park trails in real time. 

“We don’t have enough staff to hit all the trails every single year,” Sailors said. “We need that feedback from everybody.”


Photographs courtesy of Alaska State Parks

June 11
Little kids at Anchorage Head Start get active in culturally-designed playground

190502 OPCP Head Start-6053 HR.jpgJUNE 11, 2019 — The children at Cook Inlet Native Head Start are boating in canoes, swimming with a beluga whale, and racing sled dogs. That’s all pretend, of course, in their new culturally-designed playground.  

This Anchorage Head Start is a cultural immersion program for Alaska Native and American Indian children from birth to 5 years old. One of the goals at Cook Inlet Native Head Start is to help children develop knowledge and pride in their traditional Native heritage. 

“Everything in the playground is used for education,” said Maggie Kaloke, a teacher in the Eagle classroom with children ages 3–5. “We can talk about different cultures and histories with everything on our playground.” 

Families from all around Alaska live in Anchorage now, so the playground represents the five major cultural areas of Alaska. The children play on small replicas of a cedar house from the Southeast region; a sod house to represent the Yup’ik and Cup’ik, Alutiiq, and Unangax regions; and whale jawbones from the Iñupiak region. A large Aleutian Islands bentwood hat covers the toddler slide and climbing gym. Picture panels hanging on the fence depict traditional scenes from all over Alaska. 

The playground was a whirl of activity, with kids darting back and forth between play areas. Getting a child to stop long enough to find out their favorite activities was nearly impossible. “Climbing” yelled one boy, as he went running to the fishnet rope ladder.

190502 OPCP Head Start-7240 HR.jpg “This playground really gets the kids moving more than our old playground,” said Tiffany Deason, a teacher of 3- to 5-year-olds in the Raven classroom. “It’s designed for climbing, swinging, biking, and racing. The kid’s love it.” 

Teachers and staff spent several years planning and designing the playground before it was built during the summer of 2018. A teacher at the center designed the bentwood hat, and another staff member painted the large picture panels that surround the playground. 

After playtime, the little kids lined up to go back inside to their classrooms. It was time for lunch. And like the equipment in the playground, meals at Cook Inlet Native Head Start also tie in culture. The kids that day sat down together, family style, and ate reindeer stew. 


May 22
Young children can grow a lot in one square foot of dirt

JH picture for Farm to ECE blog.JPGMAY 22, 2019 — One square foot of dirt sounds like a small amount of space, but children at Ray’s Child Care and Learning Center in the Mat-Su Valley are making the most of it. Children at the center are growing vegetables, herbs and flowers in their own one square-foot garden box.

“Children plant different types of seeds in their own little gardens, water daily, and watch their seeds grow,” said Natalie Ray, the founder and director of Ray’s. The children love to show off their plants and get excited about them, and that enthusiasm is shared by the parents. 

“Parents think it’s wonderful,” Ray said. “Even if they don’t do it themselves, they want their kids to experience it.” 

Ray has been doing “Farm to Early Care and Education (ECE)” long before it became popular. She’s added gardening to her lesson plans for over 30 years. Farm to ECE activities include gardening, purchasing local foods, and teaching kids about food and agriculture. Farm to ECE activities match many of the goals of child care providers, including providing hands-on learning, engaging parents and community, and developing life-long healthy habits. 

In addition to the square-foot garden the children tend, Ray also planted a larger edible garden for them to explore. She includes plants that are culturally important to Alaska Native people and can be harvested in the wild, like raspberries and fireweed. 

Ray takes advantage of Alaska’s Farm to School program through the Department of Natural Resources, Division of Agriculture. The Farm to School program provides Alaska-focused resources and grant opportunities that can help child care providers with their Farm to ECE experiences. Ray has received several grants to help build raised garden beds, buy child-size shovels for little kids to use in their gardens, and purchase a food dehydrator to dry some of their harvested produce.

Efforts to educate kids don’t just happen in the garden. Ray’s students also take field trips to local farms and host farmers in the classroom. Ray also ties in gardening and healthy foods into other lessons, including art and reading. 

“Farm to ECE activities set up young children for a lifetime of healthy habits,” said Johanna Herron with the Alaska Division of Agriculture. “It helps kids develop an appreciation for local food; knowledge of good food choices; and a connection to their environment, land, and their community.”

When it’s time to harvest at Ray’s Child Care and Learning Center, the kids enjoy some vegetables right off the plants. They add other vegetables to their meals. Serving the harvest helps kids see the complete cycle of the garden, from the seed to the table.

Ray continues to expand the center’s Farm to ECE program by adding composting, hydroponic gardening during the winter season, and using fish fertilizer. Ray said she wants the kids attending her center to understand where food comes from, because knowing that can empower them to take care of their health.

For more information on the Division of Agriculture’s Farm to School program, check out their website at www.farmtoschoolalaska.org. Sign up for the program’s newsletter or call (907) 745-7200. 


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