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Teaching Students About Health, Safety, and Wellness at Every Age

Do you know how to talk to your child about where babies are before they are born? Are you comfortable answering questions about private body parts? What about broaching the subject of sex and sexual decision making? These are topics that often make parents, and teachers, uncomfortable and seem hard to broach with children, or simply easier not to address. But if they aren’t addressed, are your children getting the information they need to be successful as they grow up and become more independent in the world? Children are sexual beings from the moment they are born (think about the first question people ask always about a new baby: is it a boy or a girl?!) and they deserve to learn the factual information that they need about human sexuality in a developmentally appropriate way.

Save the Date

Deborah Roffman, an author and long-time educator in the area of human sexuality, will be coming to Wellan in March to do a parent workshop in which she will provide information and practical strategies that parents can use as they talk to their children about all aspects of sexuality—from teaching the names of body parts to your toddler, to engaging in “tough conversations” about sex and sexuality with your pre-teen. We encourage parents of children of all ages to save the date for this workshop on March 5, 2020 from 6:30–8:30pm. If you are interested in learning more before March, we recommend that you read Roffman’s book, Talk to Me First, which is a great resource for parents. Deborah Roffman’s book and approach to teaching will also help inform us as we develop our school’s philosophy and curriculum in the area of human sexuality, which will begin to be implemented in the 2020–2021 school year.

Curriculum Development Process

Over the past two years, teachers and administrators at Wellan have been working together to consider the gargantuan topic of health and wellness education and what it means, or should mean, to us here at our school. We have taught many lessons about health and wellness—for example, demonstrating to our students how to use a tissue to aid a runny nose, how and why to wash their hands before lunch, and the importance of covering their mouths when they sneeze or cough to prevent the spread of germs. We’ve even addressed exciting topics, like why and when to use deodorant, with our oldest students. These lessons always lead to animated conversations with our inquisitive students who are full of questions and hungry for knowledge. All that being said, we have reached a point in our school’s maturity where we are now formalizing curriculum for the teaching of these topics, one that reaches all the way from toileting in Beginners to puberty education and sexual decision making in Upper Elementary and Voyager.

To begin this process, we connected with other schools and researched a variety of existing health curricula. We then considered our own school values and priorities and began to create a scope and sequence for our own curricula. We determined five areas of focus: Safety Practices, Healthy Body, Healthy Mind, Healthy Relationships, and Human Sexuality. This structure has given us a guide to use as we begin to develop a curriculum that meets our individual school needs.

At a staff meeting, Ruth presents curricular resources and a sorting activity to start conversations about what Health, Safety, and Wellness topics are appropriate at each stage of development.

During a Professional Development day last year, all of the teachers came together to plan lessons from our first two strands: Safety Practices and Healthy Body. We developed lessons about topics such as fire safety, washing hands, personal space, and disease prevention that we are implementing and teaching to our students this year. Beginner and Primary classes have implemented health lessons during their morning circle times. During the months of September and October, they have focused on topics including fire safety, staying with the group, washing hands, and using tissues. Faculty will continue to teach similar lessons throughout the school year, with different topics of focus each month.

Elementary students have had Health and Wellness class as an afternoon special. This special will meet for ⅓ of the year and will focus on different themes. So far, Lower Elementary has learned about fire safety and disease prevention, and will explore nutrition and exercise later this winter and spring. Upper Elementary learned about several aspects of personal hygiene, in addition to disease prevention, and will also learn about nutrition and different types of wellness practices, including stress management and the importance of sleep.

While teaching these lessons this year, we will begin to consider some of the larger (and in some ways scarier, and also vitally important) topics such as human sexuality, puberty, and gender. We are consulting with Deborah Roffman as we delve into these topics and best practices for teaching them to students. As we do in all areas of our teaching, we are approaching the area of human sexuality with the whole child in mind. We intend to normalize conversations around sexuality in a developmentally appropriate way so that children feel empowered and have the information that they need to feel confident and prepared as they grow up.

We are excited about the work we have done and the progress we are making with this all-school project!

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