September is National Hunger Month, as well as National Childhood Obesity Month. The non-profit group Feeding America has released numbers for child hunger and food insecurity in each of the 50 states.
The numbers were a rude awakening for me as an Arizonan. Our state is third in the country for childhood food insecurity, after New Mexico and Washington, D.C. Nearly one third of our state’s children (almost half a million) go to bed hungry each day, with their parents unable to provide enough food for their basic needs.
As both a parent and a charter school administrator, this is tough for me to read––but any teacher has seen this firsthand. Hungry children struggle to learn and concentrate. (Skip dinner, and see you do the next day.) They score lower in reading and math, and often fall behind in class, leading to low motivation and poor outcomes down the line.
This is one reason that we organize school resources to provide breakfast, lunch, and snacks, either free or at reduced cost. First, it is a perfect opportunity to show students how Caring and Citizenship, two of the values we teach in our character-based curriculum, can be practiced every day. But it is also directly related to helping our students stay in the best possible condition to learn.
What are our roles as parents? Financial stress can make us forget that nourishment is as much emotional as it is physical. Beyond three meals a day, it’s not just how much we feed our kids but how. Here is an interesting article from a child researcher on the importance of the family meal. The article is specific to Hispanic culture, but strong families from any culture will be able to relate. The family table is where children learn to share, be considerate of others and eat what you’re given even if it tastes funny – don’t turn that valuable time over to the TV!
How we feed our children says a lot, both about a family and about a community. Let’s make sure there’s enough on the menu.