It is no secret that obesity is a problem for the state of Louisiana. The obesity prevalence in Ouachita Parish is 40.3% compared to the national median of 33%. Many children do not get enough physical activity or eat a healthful diet on a regular basis. Children who are obese have an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes, asthma, joint problems and poor self-esteem.
In Ouachita Parish, Shady Grove Elementary School partnered with the LSU AgCenter as a Healthy Communities school. Healthy Communities is an effort by AgCenter extension agents and researchers, along with many partnering organizations, to improve the health and nutrition status of Louisiana residents. Ouachita Parish is one of 20 parishes in the program.
A community forum was held at the school to identify actions that could be taken to implement policy, systems and environmental changes at the school. The decision was made to provide a place for active recess play even on bad weather days.
An empty classroom was transformed into an indoor playground that includes stations for basketball, active games and fitness. The walls were painted with colorful murals to make the space fun and inviting, and an existing counter space in the room was turned into a play kitchen. A pretend grocery store was placed close to the kitchen so children could “shop for food” and then “store and prepare” it in the kitchen. A blank wall was painted with magnetic primer and chalk paint. Large floor stickers were installed to create spaces for hopscotch and movement. A large caterpillar crawl-through sits in the center of the room. Other equipment includes balls, trikes and hula hoops.
Community engagement is also a goal of the Healthy Communities program, and volunteers donated time and resources to clean, paint and organize the play area. One teacher said her students love to go to the indoor playground. She loves the way it encourages them to be active. Teachers, students and the principal have all praised the indoor playground. The principal, Angela Spivey, said the indoor playground has motivated the teachers to make their classrooms more fun and colorful for the students.
“You have really started something with the indoor playground. After teachers saw the new indoor playground, they became inspired to make their classrooms more colorful and appealing. Teachers have been painting and sprucing up their rooms. The school is no longer drab. It is looking great,” Spivey said.
A teacher reported that it is making a huge difference in student behavior and attention on bad weather days because the students get an opportunity to burn off energy and have fun, even when they can’t go outside for recess.
Cathy Agan is an area nutrition agent in Ouachita Parish.
(This article appears in the summer 2021 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)
The indoor playground at Shady Grove Elementary is set up for active play. Photo by Cathy Agan
Children pretend to shop for food in the indoor playground at Shady Grove Elementary. Photo by Karol Osborne
LSU AgCenter area nutrition agent Cathy Agan watches children enjoying play time in the indoor playground at Shady Grove Elementary. Photo by Karol Osborne