Gifts for our Tiny Teachers

Roots of Empathy Baby Celebration 2017

On May 29, the Simcoe County District School Board (SCDSB) celebrated our sixth year of Roots of Empathy, a unique program that brings a Tiny Teacher – a baby in their first months of life – into elementary classrooms. The 2016-17 school year saw Roots of Empathy in almost 30 SCDSB schools, led by volunteers, SCDSB staff and Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) Public Health Nurses.

This year we celebrated the remarkable contributions of all of our Roots of Empathy instructors, families and babies with a picnic at the Education Centre. Hope Park, a volunteer instructor who has been facilitating the program in the SCDSB since 2012, was honoured for five years of service with the program. Director of Education Steve Blake and many SCDSB superintendents of education were in attendance to meet and thank our little ones and their families, and acknowledge the power of the program and the work of all of our Roots of Empathy Instructors.


Roots of Empathy is an international evidence-based program that started in Toronto. By observing the growth and development of the baby and the attachment between the baby and their parents, students in Roots programs learn to be more caring and empathic global citizens. Since 2000, the program has been evaluated in numerous independent research studies, which have shown that children who participate in the program demonstrate decreased aggression and increased social and emotional understanding, empathy, knowledge of parenting and pro-social behavior (e.g. sharing, helping and including). This program supports our board’s work to ensure equitable, inclusive, safe and caring schools.

For further information, please contact the Roots of Empathy key point persons for the SCDSB, Stephanie Ross and Denise Cole, at

Everyday superheroes

From June 5-11 2017, communities across Canada will be celebrating Parachute Safe Kids Week. This year’s theme “everyday superhero” encourages children to become leaders in road safety by learning how to keep themselves and others safe when they walk, bike or wheel.

Want to get involved? Here are some ideas to get you started:

At school:
• Take a picture showing your class’ pledge to be an #everydaysuperhero using Parachute’s online poster
• Create a bulletin board or art display to share road safety messages and honour your everyday superheroes
• Lead a walk around the school neighbourhood and have students identify safe or unsafe things they notice, then challenge them to come up with solutions
• Recruit a team of student leaders to organize school-wide activities to promote and celebrate road safety

In the classroom:
• The Ontario Road Safety resource provides complete lessons for teaching age-appropriate road safety information. Cross-curricular lessons are available for Kindergarten through Grade 12.
• The TD Think First for Kids program teaches children how to think first and play safely to prevent brain and spinal cord injuries. The resources (available in both English and French) meet Ontario curriculum requirements and are endorsed by Curriculum Services Canada.
• Create a free account, or log into Ophea teaching tools to access lesson plans, curriculum supplements and activities on a range of health topics

At home:
• Teach your child the importance of wearing a helmet and how to make sure it fits properly
• Be a good example by wearing a helmet too
• Set clear, age appropriate safety rules and supervise closely. Children under 10 should not ride on the road alone. They need to practice building safety skills in a safe environment with adults around to role-model and supervise.

Join us in celebrating Safe Kids Week. Share your ideas and everyday superhero moments on Twitter @SMHealthySchool using the hashtag #everydaysuperhero.
~ Stephanie Ross RN

Have more questions? Visit the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit’s website or call Health Connection at 705-721-7520 or 1-877-721-7520 to speak with a public health nurse.

Collingwood elementary school students become chefs!

It’s never too early for students to start learning about healthy eating and food preparation. This month, Collingwood elementary schools have teamed up to participate in the You’re the Chef initiative. Offered with support of the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit and the Healthy Kids Community Challenge, the program teaches students the importance of eating healthy and the skills needed to safely prepare meals with veggies and fruit as star ingredients.

“We’re excited to give students an opportunity to get hands-on cooking experience, and to develop skills that will last a lifetime,” says Karen Moffitt, vice-principal at Mountain View Elementary School. “Our community partners are incredibly supportive of our efforts to help our students make healthy choices now and for the future.”

The five-week program includes topics such as:

  • the importance of vegetables and fruit
  • food preparation skills
  • safe food handling
  • basic kitchen safety

The students are excited about learning how to cook healthy snacks and meals, and the program is already showing positive outcomes. One parent noted that her child now accompanies her to the grocery store and looks specifically for fruits and vegetables from the recipes learned in You’re the Chef.

Students have learned to make healthy and delicious meals/snacks such as:

  • blueberry grunt
  • veggie pitas
  • cheese and veggie quesadillas
  • cheddar apple yogurt wraps
  • smoothies
  • fresh cucumber and tomato salad
Making healthy lunches…check! Healthy after school snacks…check!
Try some of these recipes from You’re the Chef.

Nottawa ES Hits #1 in BrightBites Hall of Fame!

Bright Bites logo

Looking for ways to improve healthy eating at your school? A new provincial program called BrightBites might be just what you need! That was the advice that the health unit’s Registered Dietitian Jody Dawson shared with Nottawa Elementary School last year when they identified healthy eating as a focus for their school learning plan.

Nottawa ES is top of the list in the Bright Bites Hall of Fame

Nottawa formed a nutrition sub-committee with support from students, staff, parents and the health unit and earned seven BrightBites badges, placing them at #1 on the BrightBites Hall of Fame! They engaged students for support and ideas for the breakfast program (they asked for more veggies!!!), and switched to healthy classroom celebrations, rewards, incentives and healthier fundraising options. They also successfully hosted their fun fair sans candy sales and sold fruit kabobs instead. To top it all off, Nottawa is now an order and pick-up site for the Good Food Box programs to make it easy for families to participate.

BrightBites is a free, easy to use, online program that offers tools and resources to help school leaders create a healthier school nutrition environment. Getting started is easy!

Bright Bites First Bite iconSchools can earn digital badges and compete with other teams for a spot on the BrightBites Hall of Fame. Badges are available on a variety of healthy eating topics, such as: packing healthy lunches, classroom celebrations, rewards and incentives, promoting water and reducing sugar sweetened beverages and making curriculum connections to healthy eating.

Think you’re ready to start earning badges for your school? Check out the website and follow the steps listed for the badge you’re interested in. Engage students and start to transform your school with small steps and share your stories and successes. Share your badges on social media or on your school website and claim your spot on the BrightBites Hall of Fame!

Looking for support? Public Health dietitians and nurses from the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit are available to assist your school with implementing BrightBites. Contact your school public health nurse or visit to get started.

~ Stephanie Ross RN
Follow the Healthy Schools team on Twitter @SMHealthySchool

Dabble: What’s in your lunch bag?

What's in your lunch bag?Children are going back to school next week and that means a return to the daily routine of packing lunches.

To help spark some lunch ideas we asked members of the Communications Team to bring in a lunch that they’d send with their child. There was only one rule: it had to be made with items we had on hand. Here’s what we came up with:

Lunch one:IMG_2387_web

  • yogurt drink
  • ham and cheese
  • crackers
  • grapes
  • carrots
  • popcorn
  • cheese grits tots (learn to make these yummy bites of deliciousness)

Lunch two:IMG_2391_web

  • granola bar
  • apple
  • grapes
  • crackers
  • yogurt
  • bean salad (make this salad by combining a bean mix or chickpeas with tomatoes, cucumbers, salt, pepper and lemon juice)

Lunch three:IMG_2399_web

  • turkey, lettuce, cucumber and mayo wrap
  • crackers and cheese
  • yogurt
  • strawberries
  • carrots and tzatziki dip

Additional tips:

  1. Pack a reusable water bottle. This is a great alternative to sugary drinks.
  2. Pack enough food to last 2 nutrition breaks.
  3. Practice opening and closing food containers.
  4. Label your child’s belongings including lunch bag, water bottle and food containers.
  5. Pack a waste-free lunch by letting nature wrap your food for you! Oranges, bananas, apples and hard-boiled eggs all come in their own handy packaging.

Looking for more inspiration?  Check out 6 healthy school lunch ideas your kids will actually eat, Earth-conscious + health-conscious lunch ideas and tips for packing a waste-free lunch.

~ Jamie Campbell, Communications Officer, SCDSB

Photo of Hillcrest's Girls on the Move

Grade 5 to 8 girls at Hillcrest are ‘on the move’


That is the chant that 33 girls from Grade 5 to 8 at Hillcrest Public School chanted as they gathered twice weekly to train for a five kilometre run, held on June 15. By committing to the run, these Girls on the Move made a decision to push themselves to do something they hadn’t done before. The pushed themselves to run harder and faster, and came out stronger.

Continue reading “Grade 5 to 8 girls at Hillcrest are ‘on the move’”

Students in the Nottawasaga Creemore school garden

School gardens: can you dig it?

By Alison Golding (principal), Juliette Reynolds (parent volunteer), and Emily Worts (parent volunteer)

There is a phenomenon spreading across our country bringing gardens to our schools, inviting our children outside to learn about their connection with their food. No matter where a school is located, one thing every school has is outdoor space. It doesn’t matter if this space is green or asphalt, horizontal or vertical. Any outdoor space is a space where plants can grow and in the process teach students important lessons from the curriculum and beyond. The lessons from a school garden are multiple, from where our food comes from and how it’s grown, to stewardship for our planet and the concerns around mass food production. Students learn that the soil is alive and how to care for it. Gardens are also living laboratories from which interdisciplinary lessons can be drawn. A school garden is a dynamic classroom where children engage in a whole new way, they encourage children to be active participants!

Thanks to parent volunteers, the enthusiasm of school staff and students, a generous start up donation from Jerrico Industrial Maintenance as well as other community donations, we have been able to offer the rich experience of a school garden to our children in Creemore!  

It all began a year ago, when the vision of a school garden began coming to life as students voted on naming the garden. The result of the naming process, “The Great Garden of Thunder” (the school’s logo is “Creemore Thunder”). The grade 8 class then class built our 9 raised beds and each class in the schools works with volunteers through the year to tend the vegetables, herbs and flowers!  

Curriculum Connections

School gardens are inherently cross-curricular and can facilitate engaging and meaningful learning opportunities for students. The ideas are truly endless, but below are but a few ideas related to how school gardens connect to different areas of the elementary curriculum.

  • Math: Students can solve real life math problems related to measurement, volume and fractions, both through measuring plant growth and through the creation of recipes with the food that they grow.
  • Science: Lessons can include topics of soil structure, photosynthesis, compost and waste management, plant and animal life cycles through integration of bat houses, butterfly gardens, “bee hotels”, insect explorations and bird feeders. The use of indoor vertical gardens are another opportunity that can create year long opportunities for learning in colder climates.
  • Health and Physical Education:  Gardens can contribute to daily physical activity through weeding, tilling, planting and harvesting which get children moving, bending, stretching and outside. Health lessons are a natural link to gardening related to healthy lifestyle choices, spending more time active in the outdoors and choosing healthy foods over junk food. Another timely trend in education is the idea of “mindfulness” and the garden creates an amazing backdrop for the practice of activities such as mindful breathing, an activity that helps students gain focus for subsequent learning.
  • Arts: This year, we have had some “Art in the garden days” where students paint the garden beds, decorate rocks, garden signs, bird feeders and picnic tables. On nice days, music classes can also take advantage of using the garden as a backdrop for playing Orff Instruments, recorders or ukuleles.  
  • Language: The garden is a great method to engage students in procedural writing, whether it is through the creation of a “how to” guide for planting and harvesting or through the development of a recipe. Students can also participate in journal writing and non-fiction research. Lastly, there are many amazing literacy links to children’s’ books, both fiction and non-fiction, that can be included garden lessons.  
  • Social studies, History and Geography:  Our spring planting for next year’s harvest included planning for a Grade 3 “Pioneer” garden box in keeping with the curriculum expectations from that grade. As part of the pioneer garden, students are growing plants that can be used for food, medicine and dye.  What an amazing way to make the curriculum come alive! There are also links to curriculum around the concepts of communities, community partners, the idea of local vs. imported, and land use.  

Additional Benefits of School Gardens

  • Lessons learned in the garden can span from Kindergarten all the way through high school.
  • School gardens provide authentic, engaging and immersive learning experiences that help students make real world connections to curriculum expectations.
  • School gardens beautify the school yard and also help students to develop a sense of pride, respect and ownership for their school.
  • Researchers Graham, Beall, Lussier, McLaughlin & Zidenberg-Cherr (2005), found the following when studying school gardens, “These programs use a multidisciplinary approach to educating students and have been shown to increase test performance, attention and enthusiasm for learning and to decrease discipline issues in the classroom.” (p. 150)
  • The school garden supports positive mental health promotion through the encouragement of a healthy lifestyle and access to spending time outdoors. At our school, there have also been more than a handful of instances where a student has been upset or sad and after a walk in the garden to pick some veggies and talk with a caring adult, the student is able to return to class focused and ready to learn. Students also gain self-confidence and a develop the sense of competence that comes along with the acquisition of new skills.
  • School gardens not only strengthen the school environment, by providing a collective space where students work side by side, but they can strengthen community bonds as they require support and knowledge from the broader community. Taking advantage of some of these opportunities can be particularly useful during winter months when there isn’t much actual “gardening” going on. In our community, there are partners eager to teach about topics such as  biodynamic gardening, stewardship, food related to healing and nutrition, pollination, soil, worm composting, organic farming and making local food widely accessible. We also have a number of parent volunteers who are amazingly engaged in working with students on garden related activities. In terms of cross grade partnerships, we are fortunate to be able to partner with our local high school, Stayner Collegiate, which has an amazing greenhouse and has kindly started our seeds for us the past two years. Some of the students at our school have had opportunities to visit the high school and there are certainly a wealth of opportunities for cross-grade partnering both within our own school and for special activities in partnership with the high school. Lastly, we are extremely proud of our “Community Resource” shelf at the school where parents can sign out resources related to subjects including gardening so that activities that can be carried over from school to their home gardens.  
  • Garden-based learning activities naturally embed the development of character, learning skills, work habits and 21st century skills, helping students to develop traits such as focus, patience, collaborative skills, creativity, responsibility, teamwork, communication skills, citizenship and perseverance through solving problems. School gardens can even nurture traits such as compassion and empathy through growing and donating produce to local food banks or charitable causes.
  • School gardens not only cover multiple curriculum areas, but they also appeal to multiple learning styles.  Looking at design and layout may appeal to students with strong visual spatial skills. Verbal-linguistic learners may be interested in documenting learning in the garden or promoting it within the community. Mathematical thinkers may enjoy the costing component. Planting, maintenance and harvest would appeal to the kinesthetic learners. Like the curriculum connections that can be made through school gardens,  connections to multiple intelligences are also endless.

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” – Audrey Hepburn