In finding ways to teach health literacy to fourth and fifth graders, Schweitzer Fellow and Oklahoma State University College of Osteopathic Medicine student Tim Nissen is relying on what works best with kids: creativity and play. Building on a curriculum developed by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health called Eat Well & Keep Moving, Nissen enjoys leveraging the natural curiosity and creativity of his young charges to teach them healthier ways of living.
For example, a student recently asked Nissen to dedicate class time to creating a new game. The students together decided there should be five corners—one for each food group—and that one student would stand in the middle and call out a food. If that student called out “apples!” then the rest would run across the playground to the “fruit” corner, hoping not to be tagged by the student in the middle.
“Fifteen minutes later we were outside playing their game that reinforced MyPlate healthy eating style concepts and involved physically active play,” Nissen said.
Another lesson had students create their own advertisements for water—which was a creative way to reinforce its health benefits. “Ad campaigns have ranged from celebrity and athlete endorsements of water (which the world could use more of) to assertions that water will give you superpowers (which is mostly true),” Nissen said.
Through health-oriented games, activities, and lessons, Nissen is working not only to impart the knowledge his students need to make healthy choices, but to cultivate in them the desire to make those choices—thus increasing the chance that the healthy habits will stick with them as they grow up.
“Changing preferences and habits only becomes harder as one ages, so I saw childhood as a great time for nutrition education, which has been a pet interest of mine since my days as an undergraduate,” said Nissen. It doesn’t hurt that Nissen has long enjoyed working with his target population, having served as a camp a camp counselor and tutored elementary school students at Crossover Community Impact—now one of his community sites—while he was in college. (Nissen has also partnered with the local YMCA on his project).
Nissen said the support he received from The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship (ASF) has been greater than he anticipated: “ASF really invested in helping me implement the project, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the additional energy put into educating me about my community and equipping me to continue serving it in the future.”
He expressed gratitude for the opportunities the Fellowship is giving him to expand his professional network and broaden his experience working collaboratively across disciplines to improve health.
“My hope as an aspiring physician is to bring effective care to the communities that need it most,” Nissen said. “I think that effective care has to work upstream to creatively address diverse causes of illness, and the Schweitzer Fellowship gives me opportunities to learn from and work with mental health and public health professionals, dietitians, and community workers. I think that one of the necessary evils of graduate medical education is that students spend the vast majority of their time with others in their profession, and I am excited for the role the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship has played—and will play—in introducing me to like-minded colleagues outside of my specific discipline.