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Teaching Health Education 1

Holistic Learning
Health Literacy
Inquiry for Healthy Decision Making
Questions for Deeper Understanding

An Effective Health Education Program

An effective health education program supports children’s achievement of curriculum outcomes through:

  • embracing a comprehensive school health approach
  • educating the ‘whole child’ through holistic learning
  • focusing on achieving health literacy
  • building inquiring habits of mind.

Comprehensive School Health (CSH)

Schools can make a substantial contribution to a child’s health and well-being. This has been increasingly recognised by many international agencies including the World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), International Union for Health Promotion and Education (IUHPE), and others. International and national organizations have developed healthy school approaches called Health Promoting Schools, Comprehensive School Health, or Healthy School Programs. These approaches share the connecting thread of a whole school approach and recognition that all aspects of the life of the school community are potentially important in the promotion of health. A comprehensive school health approach includes a wide range of school personnel and community members collaborating to enhance the well-being of all children.

The purposes of a comprehensive school health approach are to collaboratively:

  • promote health and wellness
  • prevent specific diseases, disorders, and injury
  • intervene to assist children and youth who are in need or at risk
  • support children and youth who are already experiencing poor health
  • provide an equitable playing field that addresses disparities and contributes to academic success.

Four Components of Comprehensive School Health

This curriculum invites and challenges educators to think about health education in relation to the needs and interests of their students. How can learning about health education be more purposeful, engaging, and authentic? How can it help students become more competent and confident in making healthy choices, more knowledgeable about a healthy self, family, community, and environment, and more engaged in identifying and addressing health opportunities and challenges?

Comprehensive School Health (CSH) is an integrated approach to health education and promotion that aims to consistently reinforce health on many levels and in many ways.

Figure 2. The Four Integrated Components of CSH

Table 1. Effective/Ineffective Health Education Programs

What an Effective Health Education Program Is What an Effective Health Education Program Is Not

High Quality Teaching and Learning

Health Education Program

The teacher is:

  • Teaching health education for the required amount of time (i.e., 80 minutes/week).
  • Focusing on all the outcomes in the provincial health education curriculum.
  • Addressing all dimensions of health (i.e., physical, mental, emotional, spiritual).
  • Establishing cross-curricular learning opportunities, where possible, to strengthen health understandings and skills.
  • Supporting informal learning opportunities and connections to children’s lives.
  • Using anti-oppressive and developmentally appropriate learning strategies to allow all children to see “themselves” and their families.

Teaching and Learning

Health Education

The teacher is:

  • Treating health education as less important than other Required Areas of Study.
  • Teaching health education that does not adequately focus on all provincial health education outcomes.
  • Focusing solely/primarily on one dimension (i.e., physical) of health.
  • Teaching health education in isolation, without connections to children’s daily lives.
  • Promoting only one way of knowing (e.g., ethnocentrism).

Deep Understanding of Health Information

The children are:

  • Engaging in opportunities to develop life skills such as health literacy, problem solving, self-efficacy, and social responsibility.
  • Creating and critiquing knowledge, not just “having” it.
  • Applying health-related understandings.
  • Engaging in inquiry-based decision making.
  • Reflecting on learning.
  • Questioning personal assumptions about the world and one’s place in it.

Isolated Health Knowledge and Comprehension

The children are:

  • Answering literal recall questions.
  • Memorizing a series of health-related facts.
  • Doing a series of isolated health activities.
  • Completing low level thinking tasks or factual worksheets.
  • Lacking authentic opportunities to apply health-related understandings, skills, and confidences.
  • Accepting a eurocentric view of the world.

Authentic Assessment

The teacher is:

  • Knowing and negotiating what, why, and how children are learning and how children will know when they have achieved outcomes.
  • Involving children in the planning and criteria for assessment.
  • Demonstrating and documenting proof of children’s learning.
  • Being guided by assessment for learning and supporting assessment as learning.


The teacher is:

  • Having only teacher awareness of the outcomes and reasons for learning or doing something.
  • Not supporting children’s recognition of how they or other people learn.
  • Using written quizzes and tests that assess solely basic knowledge of health facts.
  • Using assessment criteria determined solely by the teacher.

Resource-based Learning

The teacher is:

  • Accessing and using a variety of appropriate media and health resources.
  • Arranging for guest speakers to align presentations with provincial health education curriculum outcomes to be achieved.
  • Using current and appropriate Saskatchewan and Canadian data and information in relation to curriculum outcomes.
  • Using contemporary technologies and processes to learn and to document understanding.
  • Providing anti-oppressive and developmentally appropriate resources that allow all children to see “themselves”.
  • Accessing resources that help children make informed personal choices.


The teacher is:

  • Using only one or two resource(s) as the basis for health education.
  • Having a guest speaker present the same information to numerous grade levels rather than targeting grade level curriculum outcomes.
  • Using a ‘packaged or canned’ resource as a primary resource with no perceived relation to the provincial health education curriculum.
  • Inviting ‘one-shot wonders’ to present with no pre- or post-learning connected to grade level curriculum outcomes.
  • Accessing and accepting isolated information at face value.
  • Using resources aimed at persuading children that they must live a certain way regardless of current research or life situations.

Community Engagement and Partnerships

  • School is an important access point for children and families for early identification and intervention (e.g., screenings, referrals, counseling, mental health promotion, recreation services).

Community Partnerships

  • Limited early identification or treatment services provided for children.
  • Intervention efforts are not supported by prevention efforts necessary for identified children.

Supportive Social Environment

  • Participating, contributing, and making connections to family, community, and society.
  • Informal (i.e., peers, families, school staff, community norms) and formal (i.e., school policies) supports promote health and well-being both in and out of the school (e.g., role modeling, school discipline policies, parent participation, peer support groups).
  • Healthy behaviours are expected and supported by the school community.

Social Environment

  • Parental participation is limited to fundraising efforts.
  • Absence of development, implementation, and/or evaluation of school discipline policies.
  • School staff behaviours contradict the expected behaviours of children.
  • Children and other community members are unaware of behaviour expectations within the school.

Healthy Physical Environment

  • A clean, safe, health-promoting environment helps prevent injuries and diseases, and enables healthier choices.
  • Safety procedures are communicated and practised.
  • Hygiene standards are communicated and monitored.
  • Healthy eating policies are developed, implemented, and evaluated.
  • Smoke-free school policies are developed, implemented, and evaluated.
  • Opportunities and support exist for daily physical activity.
  • Environments are free from bullying and harassment.

Physical Environment

  • Absence of development, implementation, and/or evaluation of nutrition and physical activity policies.
  • Safety procedures (e.g., fire drills, tornado drills) are not communicated or practised.
  • Facilities and equipment for physical activity are not available during less structured times (e.g., recess, noon hour).
  • Inadequate student supervision before, between, and after classes.

Holistic Learning Back to top

Holistic learning is based on the principle of interconnectedness; a child is viewed as a whole person with body, mind, and spirit connections. The health education outcomes invite and challenge educators to think about and plan for a holistic health education program. Educating the whole child supports the development of a learner who is healthy, knowledgeable, motivated, and engaged.

Circle with three

Holistic learning provides opportunities for children to learn how to build relationships, to share and celebrate successes, to support and be supported, and to become responsible for their thoughts and actions. Children need to negotiate their way through an increasingly complex and sometimes uncertain world, with little control over challenges such as poverty, violence, racism, divorce, and ill health.

Health Literacy Back to top

Health literacy refers to individuals’ abilities to access and interpret information, develop understanding related to their physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health, and strengthen the capacity to make well-informed, healthy decisions. This can include the knowledge, skills, and abilities to read and act upon health information, the proper skills to communicate health needs and challenges, or sufficient listening and cognitive skills to understand the information and the instructions received (Adapted from the Canadian Council on Learning, 2007).

Studies over the years have repeatedly demonstrated a strong link among literacy, level of education, and level of health. Health and learning are closely intertwined and the interaction between them is evident at all ages, from early childhood through to the later stages in life. The equation is a simple one:

Higher education status and ability to learn about health = Better health.

Inquiry for Healthy Decision Making Back to top

Making decisions is a part of all children’s daily lives. Whether they know it or not, Grade 1 students are already making decisions. The intent of Inquiry for Healthy Decision Making is to build on children’s inherent sense of curiosity and wonder, and draw on their diverse backgrounds, interests, and experiences for the purpose of making informed decisions.

Examples of concrete strategies to help students develop decision-making skills include:

  • providing children with opportunities to practise and rehearse decision-making skills (Elias, Branden-Muller, & Sayette, 1991)
  • having children work in pairs or small groups on relevant decision problems (Campbell & Laskey, 1991)
  • utilizing concrete situations and decision problems that reflect children’s interests and have relevance to their daily lives (Campbell & Laskey, 1991; Graumlich & Baron, 1991)
  • encouraging children to search for new information when making decisions and helping them to avoid overestimating their knowledge and capabilities (Fischhoff, Crowell, & Kipke, 1999)
  • helping children understand how personal choices affect others (Kuther & Higgins-D’Alessandro, 2000)
  • teaching children about how personal emotions may influence one’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviour (Fischhoff et al., 1999)
  • assisting children to recognize personal biases (Baron & Brown, 1991; Campbell & Laskey, 1991).

Inquiry learning provides children with opportunities to build knowledge, abilities, and inquiring habits of mind that lead to deeper understanding of their world and human experience. The inquiry process focuses on the development of compelling questions, formulated by teachers and students, to motivate and guide inquiries into topics, issues, and challenges related to curriculum outcomes and children’s interests.

The inquiry process provides opportunities for children to become active participants while in a collaborative search for meaning and understanding. While knowing facts and information may be necessary, it is not sufficient. What is important is the understanding of how to gather/access and make sense of the mass of health-related information. Children need to go beyond information accumulation and move toward the generation of useful and applicable knowledge and the skills to address health opportunities and challenges – a process supported by inquiry learning.

Through the process of inquiry, individuals generate much of their understanding of the natural and constructed worlds. Inquiry implies a “need or want to know” premise. Inquiry is not so much seeking the right answer – because often there is not one answer – but rather seeking appropriate resolutions to questions and issues. For educators, inquiry implies emphasis on the development of inquiry skills and the nurturing of inquiring attitudes or habits of mind that will enable children to continue the quest for knowledge beyond the classroom and throughout life.

Health education is taught, learned, and evaluated using an inquiry approach to healthy decision making (see Figure 3). Children who are engaged in inquiry:

  • construct deep knowledge and deep understanding rather than passively receive information
  • are directly involved and engaged in the discovery of new knowledge
  • encounter alternative perspectives and differing ideas that transform prior knowledge and experience into deep understandings
  • transfer new knowledge and skills to new circumstances
  • take ownership and responsibility for their ongoing learning and mastery of curriculum content and skills.

(Adapted from Kuhlthau, Maniotes, & Caspari, 2007)

In Grade 1, inquiry for healthy decision making is represented as a traffic light (see Figure 3).

  • The red light indicates that students and teachers should STOP to wonder and question about knowledge within and beyond the classroom. This involves asking compelling questions, reflecting on what is known, and imagining how things might be different.
  • The yellow light suggests that students and teachers THINK deeply about what they are seeing, hearing, and feeling. This involves gathering knowledge from a wide range of sources for the purpose of comparing ideas, making connections, and shaping new thoughts.
  • The green light represents the ‘doing’ part of learning. Students DO by making choices that enhance personal health and safety with what they know and understand.

As children explore, wonder, and inquire in Grade 1, there will be opportunities for them to make healthy decisions. The traffic light (Figure 3. Inquiry for Healthy Decision Making) can be used by either an individual or group of children as a visual reminder of healthy decision making.

Figure 3. Inquiry for Healthy Decision Making

Questions for Deeper Understanding Back to top

Questions provide children the initial direction for developing deeper understanding. Guiding questions may help children grasp the important disciplinary ideas surrounding a health focus or context and related themes or topics. Questions provide a framework, purpose, and direction for learning and a connection to children’s experiences and life beyond the school. They also invite and encourage children to pose personal questions for deeper understanding.

When overarching questions anchor the curriculum, it becomes more obvious that addressing topics/issues in isolation is a mistake. Further, how will Grade 1 students gain a deep understanding of complex ideas (e.g., What makes me healthy?) if they encounter them only once? Providing opportunities for students to think again about ideas promotes critical and creative thinking.

Building on what children already know is important when asking questions and discovering possible answers. Examples of questions to support deeper understanding in Grade 1 Health Education include:

  • What makes me healthy?
  • What do I know/want to know about being healthy?
  • How am I similar to and different from other people?

Children develop their capacity for judging what is responsible and respectful, just as they come to appreciate the meaning of responsibility and respectful behaviour, through practice. Especially when they are young, children need to experience and decipher moral questions in terms that are meaningful to them.

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