raising healthy eaters - kids eating healthy
Raising Healthy Eaters – Tips to Help Parents and Educators

How to raise healthy eaters

Tips and strategies to get our children excited about healthy eating and easy way to instil healthy eating habits in kids

It’s a common topic of discussion among parents – what their kids do and don’t eat.  Picky eaters are not due to poor parenting; many good parents have children who prefer junk food.  What can be done to help our children grow up as healthy eaters?

Serve Healthy Food

Sounds obvious right?  But when a child doesn’t like a food, it’s often easier to just not serve it to them.  Make a point of always providing fruit, vegetables and healthy proteins with their meals at home and lunches for school.  Encourage them to try “just a bite”.

A study done in 2010 showed that kids who tried a vegetable that they didn’t like 8 or 9 times began to then like it more.  It takes time to develop a taste for food – but with each try, they’ll get closer to liking it more. MyPlate Food Guide and  Canada’s Food Guide provide direction for having healthy and balanced food intake.

Improve Nutrition

According to Dr. Claire McCarthy of Harvard Health Publishing, “Make sure half their calories are from “good” carbohydrates, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.  Healthy eaters need to limit highly processed carbohydrates, such as cookies, cakes, sodas, and chips.  Keep healthy snacks, such as yoghurt, fruits, and vegetables, on hand instead of high-fat, high-sodium foods.”

Control unhealthy amounts of unnecessary calorie intake.  Eat minimal fast food.  Provide water and low-fat milk for beverages and limit sodas and other drinks that are high in sugar.  Be mindful when you’re shopping – if junk food is not in the house, they (and you!) can’t snack on it.

Be aware of how you talk about food

We tend to talk about “good food” and “bad food”.  But then when we eat “bad” food, what does that say about us?  Treats and junk food will always be a part of special events, celebrations or holidays.  Having a “good” or “bad” association with food doesn’t help us with our feelings around food.  Of course, the goal is to have an overall healthy diet, but try changing the focus of your conversations around food. It would be encouraging and helpful for the young healthy eaters to hear more about healthy choices and reasonable amounts instead of good and bad.

Involve your children with food

Take your children grocery shopping and include them in making healthy selections.  Of course, they’ll want every treat in the store, but let them select apples that they think look nice or pick out a new vegetable to try with dinner.  Have your healthy eaters help in the kitchen with food preparation.

It’s a way to spend and enjoy time together, they’ll learn important cooking skills and they’ll have a better understanding of the food they eat.  You can even grow food together!  Have them pick out seeds to plant in the garden and then enjoy the harvest.  All of these things can make healthy eating an enjoyable and shared experience.

Start Early

A study presented at the annual meeting of The Obesity Society showed that the obesity epidemic is ingrained with poor eating habits that began between the ages of 12 and 24 months.  Babies need to learn to listen to their own hunger cues and parents forcing them to finish a bottle can confuse that.

Early eaters who are given vegetables and fruits regularly will think of them as normal foods rather than ones they’re forced to eat.  Be mindful of how those early meals set them up to eat for years to come.

Avoid using food as a reward or punishment

Food has three key roles: nutrition, social engagement and emotional input.  We eat to survive by consuming nutrients.  We eat while we engage socially with others, during holidays and for special occasions.  We also eat because it provides pleasure.

Using food to reward good behaviour or punish poor behaviour creates confusion around food.  It might work to alter behaviour in the short term, but in the long term, it creates a function around food that is unhealthy.

It’s not just about food

Eating healthy is important, but health is also about exercise, rest, less screen time and more family time.  School-aged kids should be getting a minimum of 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity on most days.  Be a role model and get moving regularly yourself.  Help your child get enough rest but enforcing set bed and wakeup times, cutting caffeine intake and ensuring they get 8-9 hours of sleep per night.

TV, computers, tablets and videos games contribute to a sedentary lifestyle.  When at a screen, children’s metabolism slows while their appetites increase.  Eat together as a family, interact and engage with one another over the meal.  This provides an opportunity to demonstrate healthy eating yourself while maintaining positive relationships among the family members.

Get Support

Sometimes creative methods may be needed and advice from a professional can help.  Speak with your family doctor if, despite your best efforts, your child’s diet needs expanding.  If you personally have an unhealthy relationship with food, get support so you can feel confident in fostering your child’s relationship with eating.

For more suggestions and guidance around nutrition and healthy eating, visit the government of Canada’s webpage for Food and Nutrition.

Check out Little Food Lovers, a free e-book series dedicated to family-friendly recipes and snack and meal ideas, as well as lifestyle tips and strategies designed to get your kids excited about healthy eating!

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children and screen time
Children and screen time: 5 things kids miss out while glued to their screens

TV, cell phones, video games, computers, tablets.  Technology is everywhere and for many parents and educators, it is a challenge to figure out how to limit their child’s screen time and create healthy boundaries.  It’s a subject affecting children of all ages. Parents use phones and tablets to keep their toddlers in one spot for a few minutes. When kids become teenagers, they are glued to their phones constantly chatting, messaging, and connecting with friends on social media.

AAP Guidelines for children’s use of technology

In 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics released guidelines for children’s use of technology.  The AAP recommends:

  • Babies younger than 18 months: no screen with the exception of video-chats
  • Kids 18 to 24 months: high-quality programming if parents want to introduce digital media; parents should watch with kids
  • Kids 2 to 5 years: limited screen time to one hour a day of high-quality programs; parents should view with kids
  • Kids 6 and older: consistent limits on screen time; limits on types of media; and making sure screen use does not interfere with kids getting enough exercise and sleep
  • Parents should establish screen-free times (ex. During dinner) and no-screen areas in the home (ex. In bedrooms).
  • Parents should talk to kids about online safety and being respectful to others online.

It takes time and effort to establish healthy boundaries and make sure that our children can use technology beneficially and safely, but it is really worth it. Here is a reminder of the important things kids miss out on while they are glued to their screens.

5 things kids miss out while glued to their screens

What are some alternatives to screen time?

  1. Connecting with Family

Family time suffers when parents and kids permit technology to dominate their time.  Time spent looking at the screen is missed opportunities to connect with each other. Dedicating times throughout the day and areas of the home that are screen-free will promote time without devices.  Then you’ll be able to truly engage with one another and foster positive relationships.

  1. Creative Play

Entertainment delivered from a screen is most often passive.  According to the Brain Performance Center, “when you watch TV, brain activity switches from the left side of your brain responsible for logical thought and critical analysis) to the right side.  This is significant because the right side of the brain tends not to analyze incoming information.”

When the screens are off and a child is left to play, they then have the time and space to use their imagination.  They can build, create, draw, and paint.  Have materials for creative play in places that are accessible to your children and ask them questions about the things they create.  Imaginative play is essential for children’s development.

  1. Outdoor Play

Physical activity is essential for children’s health and getting them outside will allow them to run, throw a ball and play sports.  Fresh air and sunshine also improve health.  Time spent outside allows them to develop an interest and appreciation for the natural world.  Unplugging and going outdoors benefits kids physically, emotionally and mentally.

  1. Reading

Screen time is missed opportunity to pick up a book.  Watching screens puts children in a passive state of only intaking information.  Meanwhile, reading is mentally stimulating.  It is also beneficial for vocabulary expansion, improved memory, building strong analytical thinking skills and improving focus and concentration.  Encourage a love for books by reading with your child and set an example by reading yourself.  Build reading into the bedtime routine you have with your child and have them spend as much time with a book as with a screen.

  1. Building Friendships

Due to the constant connectedness of technology, the way that children interact is very different than the way their parents did growing up.  Friends get together and play video games or stream movies.  Teenagers communicate through social media and text rather than engage in face-to-face conversations.  When we get our children to socialize without the screens, they can participate in imaginative play, outdoor spots, traditional board games and undistracted conversation with their peers.  They can then create memories and bonds with others.

It’s not just a matter of what kids miss out on while they’re on a device.  Limiting screen time will let them gain in their overall health.

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Indoor Games and Activities for Kids
7 Indoor Games and Activities for Kids to Burn Energy (Home or Classroom)

Winter is long.  At long last, spring is upon us and we are all aching for summer sunshine.  But as we all await the arrival of warm sunny days, we first need to weather through the remaining winter snowstorms and spring showers.  Are you finding yourself gazing out the rain-covered window while the children at home or in your classroom are bouncing off the walls?  Looking for indoor games and activities to keep high-energy children entertained and engaged while stuck inside?

Try one of these indoor games and activities!

Have A Dance Party

Everybody loves an occasion for a dance party. Open your Spotify or iTunes playlists and turn up the volume!  Thanks to sources like YouTube, your children can make any song requests and you’ll be able to find it. This is also a great way to combine pure fun with an opportunity to encourage learning through the arts.

YouTube also has great how-to videos you can pull up to try to learn some new moves.  You can also pull up oldie (but goodie) line dances and have the children follow along as you do all those dances you’ve done at every wedding you’ve attended over the years.

Or play Freeze Dance, one of the most popular indoor games and activities used in UGOT Active Kids classes. When the music plays, everyone dances.  When the music stops, each dancer must freeze immediately and hold that position until the music begins.  To keep the children moving, avoid having players get “out”.  If a player does not freeze immediately, have them do 10 jumping jacks at the start of the next round before dancing again.

Stuffed Animal Toss

Kids love going to the carnival and playing games and you can create a similar fun challenge with minimal setup.  Simply take the stuffed toys from around the classroom or their bedroom at home and grab a laundry basket or empty box and let the fun begin.  Keep them challenged by having them back farther away from the target. You can also have multiple containers to aim for, or create a low-stakes competition.

Balloon Volleyball

Remember how fun this was at your childhood birthday parties?  Blow up a coloured balloon and let the fun begin!  Use just a single balloon and have everyone involved need to work together to not let it touch the ground.  Or if you have multiple balloons, blow them all up and keeping them all off the ground is even more challenging.

Play in small teams and bat one balloon back and forth across the room.  Designate specific colours to different teams and make contests out of it.  There are many versions of this you can try (or create together!). It will keep the children laughing and moving while minimizing the potential damage that ball play indoors can cause.

Play Grocery Store

Your house or classroom will have lots of items that can be used to create your store.  Try empty cereal boxes, empty egg cartons, jars of loose change, reusable shopping bags. Just a quick look around and you’ll have plenty of options!

Set up the “store” and have the children “shop”.  Or you can switch roles and have them ring up your purchases.  With a group of children, they can take turns playing different parts and really let their imaginations loose!

Reading Workout

Storytime doesn’t have to be sit-still time!  Choose a word that will be repeated in the story. Example: “Ham” if you’re reading “Green Eggs and Ham”, and assign a physical activity to it (such as a jumping jack).  Then every time that word is said, your child has to do a jumping jack!

Play Animals

Indoor games and activities are all about using your imagination. Have the children be creative and active by pretending to be different animals.  Do animal walks around the classroom or home (think bunny hops, crab walks or slithering like a snake).  With a group of children, they can even race each other! You can easily incorporate some simple animal-inspired yoga poses into this game.

Get even more creative by having the children make a zoo or farm of different animals that they can take turns visiting and playing with.  They can even take turns being the farmer/zoo keeper and make wheelbarrows together to clean up after the animals.  The creative options are endless but will keep the energy burning!

Snowball Fight

Yes, we are eager for summer, but a snowball fight is fun all year long and it can be done indoors too!  Simply grab a stack of white paper, that pile of scrap paper that’s accumulating behind your desk, or even newspapers from the recycling bin.

Crumple the paper into balls – the more you have, the more epic the battle will be.  Put the paper snowballs in the middle of an open room and let the snowball fight begin.  To up the ante, create some obstacles for children to hide behind.  You’ll have them giggling and burning that energy in no time.

We hope that this article will give you some ideas and inspiration on how to use indoor games and activities to entertain children during cold months or rainy days and incorporate physical activity into their day. If you are interested to learn more about the benefits of physical activity for young children, please check out this excellent free resource from participACTION, 24-hour movement guidelines for the early year.

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Bryanna Dean - UGOT Active Kids Dance Teacher in New York
Featured Instructor – Bryanna Dean

Bryanna’s love for dance was sparked as a child living in Virginia.  “I wanted to be a soccer player,” she says with a laugh.  But then a woman at her school nagged her to try dance.  “I was about 10 or 11, uncoordinated, lanky kid.  I tried it, loved it and stuck with it.  I haven’t found anything else I’m more passionate about.”  That first class she took was creative movement, much like the classes she now leads as a part of UGOT Active Kid’s Active Toddlers program.

That love of dance led her to earning a B.F.A. as a major in dance at Florida State University, in Tallahassee, Florida.  Her studies focused primarily on ballet and modern.  During her fourth year in the program, she took a semester to study in New York City and she decided to stay.

Now based in Queens, Bryanna leads Dance and Good Sport programs for UGOT Active Kids and does some prospecting work for the office.  She also teaches for the non-profit, Dances for a Variable Population, and is involved with The Movement Studio, on Coney Island Avenue.  Outside of dance, she loves painting, photography and reading.  She is also actively choreographing and performing in New York City.  So far her works have been part of various showcases and have served as prequels to the projects she’s hoping to perform “hopefully in the future.  I’m excited about that.  It feeds my soul.”

Where else does she find inspiration?  “Kids. There’s really something amazing they have and can grow into.  A sense of imagination and creativity that’s inactive in adults.”  Bryanna discovered her love for teaching when she started subbing at the age of 16 for her teacher in her home studio.  Now teaching with UGOT Active Kids, she gets to explore that source of inspiration regularly.  “I love when kids have free space to be whoever they want to be.  I love teaching them and learning from them.”

And what makes UGOT’s programming specifically great?  “With UGOT Active Kids, I get an array for kids: no experience with dance, lots of experience with dance, kids with special needs . . . It’s great it’s not limited.”  She also points out that the UGOT Active Kids instructors “Meet the school at the time and place they need.  It makes it accessible, especially when funding for arts and programs that gets kids creative isn’t there.”

Bryanna enjoys the journey she gets to go on along with her students in the classes she leads.  Each day “it’s open to how they want to go.  We’ll go to the zoo or under the sea.  We explore places and lifestyles they may not see in New York City.  I try to run with it, keep them active and having fun.  I love the journey of it all.”

Bryanna Dean Quote

Pop Quiz:

  1. What would people be surprised to learn about you?  I am a tea enthusiast!
  2. If you could travel anywhere right now, where would it be? Ireland
  3. If you could live anyplace, where would that be? Here, NYC of course!
  4. What languages do you speak? Unfortunately just English, but I am currently learning some Russian for a primarily Russian speaking studio I teach for.
  5. What your favourite thing about teaching dance to kids? The places there imagination takes them! I love exploring and nurturing there sometimes outrageous ideas!
  6. Who or what inspires you? Everyday people, I have my dance figure inspirations, but mostly the kids I teach and the everyday life that turns around me.
  7. What’s your favourite food? Sweet potatoes – thrilled that we are almost in November!
  8. What is your least favourite exercise? Ugh, to run.
  9. What is your favourite thing to do in your free time?  Journal, drink tea, paint, being silly with friends and family.
  10. Does dancing run in your family? For lack of a better way to say it, I get my moves from my mama! Although, I would encourage the idea that people are capable of dancing no matter their background.

Interview and Article by Jeanette Hedley

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presenting a brand new dance program Storytime Adventure Club
New Program! Storytime Adventure Club

UGOT Active Kids presents an exciting brand new program – Storytime Adventure Club!

Designed for pre-school and kindergarten children!

Exploring Beloved Characters from Children’s TV Series & Movies through Dance, Musical Theatre, and Drama.

Musical Theatre at any age can stimulate a lifelong love for performance, fun-filled storytelling, and character-building. Now you can tell the same stories as those you see on screen, with 10 lessons devoted to the most popular characters of children’s’ TV shows today!

Introducing Storytime Adventure Club, where “Chase is On the Case”, and so are you!  Featuring a wide variety of weekly themes inspired by Peppa Pig, Frozen, Aladdin and Paw Patrol! Children will explore the story behind their favourite theme songs and participate in a wide range of activities like dancing, acting, imaginative play, and storytelling while developing confidence, concentration, memory, and presentation skills.

Contact us today to learn more or book your program!




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Instructor Spotlight Headshot of Mariam Baklytska
Instructor Spotlight! Mariam Baklytska

Introducing Mariam Baklytska – amazingly versatile and talented dance teacher based in New York!

Mariam is a former Ukrainian gymnast and professional dancer based in NYC, specializing in a variety of styles like hip-hop, street/commercial jazz, broadway jazz, and dancehall.

Back home Mariam had a privilege of working with TODES, one of the most famous and prestigious dance companies in Russia. Mariam participated in international tours, TV shows, performances for music awards and other special events.

Since moving to New York, Mariam got certified at Broadway Dance Center, with the Professional 2-year Program and received her Pilates Teacher certification.

Mariam is currently fully submerged in NYC dance and teaching scene by being active in several areas of the industry: working as a teacher assistant at Broadway Dance Center, teaching elementary and middle school programs, as well as being a dance instructor with ASPIRA of New York and UGOT Active kids.

Performance Photo of Mariam Baklytska

“Being a dance teacher, it is really important to focus on making each class a joyful experience so my students can really step out of their comfort zone, explore new moves and be comfortable to share their own freestyle moments. Dancing is supposed to be fun, it should make dancers and everyone around them happy. I love gathering kids together and letting them do a little dance-off in front of the audience. It always creates an incredible experience for my students. I usually prefer to complete my teaching season with a unique showcase. This encourages children to learn about performing, stage presence, teamwork, and explore a story behind each dance piece.”

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Headshot of Sarah Robertson, UGOT Active Kids Dance and Yoga Teacher
Sarah Robertson – Featured UGOT Active Kids Instructor

Introducing Sarah Robertson – Our Featured UGOT Active Kids Instructor!

While Sarah currently teaches Dance, Yoga and Active Toddler programs for UGOT Active Kids in Toronto, she grew up in Vancouver.  While her formal dance studies didn’t start until she was 16, she was always dancing around the house and at her church.  She looked up to older teenagers who danced and admired their expression and passion.  “I have to do what they’re doing,” she found herself thinking.  Sarah had always had interest in theatre and had wanted to be an actor, but soon found herself drawn to dance.  She studied tap, jazz, ballet, hip-hop and contemporary dance and then completed a 4-year semi-professional program called Mirror Dance Program which focused on dance and choreography.  Sarah continued her artistic education by studying theatre with Rosebud School of the Arts in Alberta.  After 6 years there, she continued heading East, moved to Toronto last year and had the experience of being a Governor General Performing Arts Protégé, under the mentorship of Tom Jackson.

After moving to Toronto is when Sarah started with UGOT Active Kids.  When speaking about the work she does with UGOT, Sarah says she appreciates that the programming is recreational.  Because of the non-competitive programming, as an instructor, she has the freedom to customize her classes to what each individual group needs.  “I know many dancers who left dance because comparison broke down their self-esteem,” she explains.  “Because UGOT focuses more on play and expression, rather than competition, I was drawn to it right away.  I love encouraging playfulness or silliness.  In structured days at school, there is so much ‘Pay attention and focus’.  But I get to have them move their bodies and express themselves.”

Sarah’s interest and passion in play and the importance of it is something she has pursued for years.  Over the last year, she has been researching the subject in more depth, looking at studies on the health benefits of play, and how both children and adults learn better through it.  She is putting her passion and knowledge towards a new theatre piece that she is producing – a playful and experimental piece about birthdays.

In her spare time, Sarah enjoys reading books, especially biographies of artists.  She names “Born To Run” by Bruce Springsteen as one she particularly enjoyed.  “I felt like I need what [he has] to say about life, success and sustainability of an artistic career.”  Another artist who Sarah draws inspiration from is Roberto Benigni, the director and star of “Life is Beautiful”.  She admires that he is playful and child-like.  “He’s always talking about ‘Chase down happiness.  Find it wherever you are.’”  And naturally, because of the playful nature of children, she gets inspiration from the young people she works with.  “I love kids so much,” Sarah gushes.  “They inspire me every time I see them.”

Sarah Robertson - UGOT Active Kids Dance and Yoga Teacher

Pop Quiz

  1. What would people be surprised to learn about you? I once did a vow of silence for 31 days!
  2. If you could travel anywhere right now, where would it be? Scotland. Those are my roots and I haven’t yet been.
  3. If you could live anyplace, where would that be? East coast of Canada for SURE! Newfoundland or Nova Scotia. I love the laid-back vibe, the story-telling culture, the kitchen parties and hospitality.
  4. What languages do you speak? English and Gibberish (I love playing around with language and speaking nonsense for fun!)
  5. What is your favourite thing about teaching dance to kids? I love kids so much and how much room there is for playing. They’re so ready to be silly and creative and express themselves. All I want to do is encourage that spirit and see it come out through whatever program I’m running.
  6. Who or what inspires you? Roberto Benigni (the actor from Life is Beautiful – if you haven’t seen it, I insist you do at some point!). He is so playful, so full of life, so free from lots of cultural/societal limitations. He is a very bright soul and speaks of chasing down happiness, looking for it everywhere until we find it, of falling in love NOW because that’s what we’re here on earth for! And children. Children inspire me EVERY TIME I interact with them. They’re so free, like Roberto. 🙂
  7. What’s your favourite food? Hagen Daas Coffee Ice Cream, good pink lemonade, my mom’s lasagna and spaghetti, and grapes!
  8. What is your favourite thing to do in your free time? I love really settling into a good book. Getting cozy, wrapped in a blanket or out in a park, and reading away the day. I also love spontaneous adventures, like exploring a new part of the city.
  9. Does dancing run in your family? Dancing doesn’t really run in my family, though my mom was a cheerleader like I was when she was young!

Interview and Article by Jeanette Hedley

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AJ Sharp – Featured UGOT Active Kids Instructor

Introducing AJ Sharp – Our Featured UGOT Active Kids Instructor!

For AJ Sharp, dance is her passion and her profession. “When I’m not dancing or teaching, what do I do with myself?” she says with a laugh.

When she was 11 years old, a friend of her mother’s – who owned a studio – got AJ started in Jazz and Hip-Hop. She didn’t look back. She started studying ballet and was a competitive dancer throughout high school. She first started teaching as a student teacher at her home studio, then eventually took on her own classes. She attended Oakland University in Michigan, on scholarship, and majored in dance. “There was no minoring in anything else, there was always just dance,” AJ states. After graduation, she moved to New York and started performing.

Inspiration comes easily to AJ through other art forms, be it a film or piece of music. In her last year of school, she watched a film that was selected by being “the most random title on Netflix” -then found herself creating her senior project inspired by the movie. But it was doing a choreographic mentorship with Doug Verone and Dancers that had the greatest impact on AJ’s artistic work and life. “[Working with Doug and Company], I knew I wanted to move to New York,” said AJ, “They were my biggest inspiration”.

AJ Sharp UGOT Active Kids Dance and Yoga Teacher in New York      AJ Sharp Headshot - UGOT Active Kids Dance and Yoga Teacher      AJ Sharp photo - UGOT Active Kids Dance and Yoga Teacher in New York

AJ continues to perform and create, happily living in NYC. Recently she has started her own company: Sharp Dance Company, a modern/contemporary focused company that works on experimental dance theatre in New York City (check it out on social media: Facebook @SHARPDanceCo and Instagram @sharp_danceco). Her passion and inspiration for dance is passed on to the students that she works with through UGOT Active Kids. “Introducing dance, music, meditation at a young age is important,” she says. “It becomes part of their lives from the start and helps them cope as they grow.”

Having taught with UGOT Active Kids since 2013, many young people in New York have been fortunate to discover a love for movement through their time with AJ. She leads classes and workshops in dance, yoga and rhythm. “I love that that I get to teach very young children. Nothing holds them back. They have no inhibitions. They hear the music, they dance and it feels good.”

She too, feels fortunate for the opportunities given to her through working with the company. “UGOT Active Kids really helped launch my teaching career in New York. It was the first teaching job I got in the city. It allowed me to connect with kids and day care centers. It made me love connecting with young kids and teaching.”

10-Question Pop Quiz

  1. What would people be surprised to learn about you? I LOVE junk reality tv! I know way too much about reality tv shows.
  2. If you could travel anywhere right now, where would it be? Anywhere tropical! 
  3. If you could live anyplace, where would that be? I love living in NYC, but if I could have a second home it would be somewhere on the beach.
  4. What languages do you speak? English. I took Spanish all throughout high school, but it stopped there.
  5. What is your favourite thing about teaching dance to kids? I love teaching dance to kids because they are not afraid to move their bodies! Especially the younger kids. I love seeing their smiles and knowing they are having so much fun.
  6. Who or what inspires you? Doug Varone and Dancers are a big dance inspiration for me. They are a big reason why I moved to NYC.
  7. What’s your favourite food? I have to try so hard to resist French fries!
  8. What is your least favourite exercise? I hate running, but I’m starting to work that into my gym routine so I can hopefully hate it less.
  9. What is your favourite thing to do in your free time? I enjoy reading and learning about astrology. A hobby of mine is to read tarot cards.
  10. Does dancing run in your family? I’m the only “dancer” in my family!

Interview and Article by Jeanette Hedley

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happy and active kids doing yoga and dance
Dance & Yoga Programs for Kids – Celebrating 10th Anniversary

“C’mon guys! It’s dance time!” – UGOT Active Kids celebrates 10th Anniversary

How it all started…

In 2007, after reading a number of articles in daily newspapers about the importance and absence of physical activity programs for young children, an established entrepreneur and publisher G. Randall Munger saw an opportunity to develop programming for schools and childcare facilities in Toronto, that would center around dance and yoga. In 10 years that vision has turned into a flourishing company and has changed the lives of thousands of children.

Before launching UGOT Active Kids, Munger had possessed an extensive business experience – he started Homemakers Magazine at the age of 19, which has been one of the leading women’s service magazines in Canada for over 40 years. Then it was Marcom Systems, Canadian House and Home Magazine and Advantex Marketing, a pioneer in the loyalty marketing field. Having such a wide-ranging background in developing start-up businesses and turning them into successful companies, Munger arranged a team of dedicated and creative people who manage the company from an office in Toronto. The founder mentions that finding and putting the right management team together was the most challenging part of growing the business, but today he is pleased to say that UGOT has got a very good team in place.

Our awesome teachers

According to Alena Tuchina, program director and instructor manager of UGOT, teachers are the most valuable asset of the company thus the hiring process is taken very seriously. Some of the main qualifications for the instructors include formal education in dance, experience teaching in a group setting, and extensive experience working with young children. “We look for teachers who are passionate about sharing their knowledge and using their talent to inspire young generations, – Alena says. – People who radiate positive energy, charisma, and bring a sense of excitement and fun with them everywhere they go”.

The positive energy proves to be a key element in the work of UGOT Active kids. The excitement and love for dance of the teachers is very contagious to young kids, who might be reluctant in the beginning or feel shy about joining a group. Business manager Leslie Irwin adds, “Our instructors are keen and energetic, the kids love them and they get great reviews from the teachers and directors at the schools and daycare centers”.

It’s all about discovering a new passion and joy…

Ugot has a roster of 75 teachers across North America, including Jeanette Hedley, who has been with the company for 5 years. With her outgoing positive energy and enthusiasm for teaching dance and yoga, she confesses that the most satisfying part of the job is witnessing students discover a new passion and joy of a new activity, especially when an initially reluctant child announces that ”signing up for yoga was the best decision I ever made.”

So who is responsible for the programs that kids participate in?  Although the teachers are provided lesson plans, videos of activities and choreography by UGOT management, there is a lot of room for teachers’ own creativity. “We always encourage our teachers to incorporate their own style while using the tools as a guideline”, says Alena Tuchina. Dance and yoga teacher Regina Ferrara shares that she “really loves” to have that freedom to create and develop her own plans, based on the UGOT Active Kids guidelines.

“Since day one it has always been about the kids!”

So how different are the programs between schools and daycares and how individual is the approach to the needs of kids? “We like to customize our programs for each school or childcare organization based on their goals and expectations, – shares Tuchina – If one of the schools wants to do something special for their graduation, we will make sure that our program is geared towards a performance. In other cases, we could be designing programs geared towards introducing certain concepts and topics to complement curriculum, or just making it as athletic and active as possible to provide an outlet for all that energy that children need to burn after sitting at their desks all day.”

As Leslie Irwin mentions, “since day one it has always been about the kids!’’. Dancing and activities are not only crucial for creativity and burning extra energy in children, but it is a way of liberation and confidence growth for shy children. Regina Ferrara shared a touching story about a great kid, who was deeply shy and was not participating in the beginning. “Little by little, with encouragement and inclusion, he participated more and you could visibly see his confidence grow, not only in our dance sessions but through his interaction with his peers. Now each week he is excited to participate, has a blast and keeps his peers in line when they lose focus “C’mon guys! It’s dance time!”

What does the future look like?

Fun fact – both client account manager Alanna Budhoo and program director Alena Tuchina started their journey with UGOT Active Kids as dance instructors. This might be the reason why the management is very accommodating and flexible in working with the teachers and capable of organizing all the processes so smoothly. Regina Ferrara shares that one of the best parts of working with UGOT Active Kids is the flexibility and choice of opportunities that the company provides in terms of locations and times that work well around teacher’s schedule. “UGOT Active Kids management being wonderful, professional and flexible is a huge bonus. They are well-organized and outstanding in their planning of same-day sessions within the same region, making it possible to transit from one location to the other allowing me to take the full day block of lessons”, shares Ferrara.

Currently, the company is looking at ways to make the systems more automated and to utilize technology to help with behind the scenes tasks of running this business.  Business manager Leslie Irwin notes, “Part of having a new system will be the ability to get better reporting as well so we will have a better pulse on how the company is performing in different areas”, which today include Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver, New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia.

What does the future look like for UGOT Active Kids?  Unstoppable, G. Randall Munger shares that they have lots of exciting ideas on the drawing board, which include expanding geographically and bringing programs to adults and seniors as well.

Article by Darina Granik

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17 Secrets To Finding – and Keeping – Great Teachers

17 Secrets To Finding – and Keeping – Great Teachers

By Jennifer Carsen, Childcare of Choice

Although child care has gained a reputation as a low-paying, high-turnover industry, there are secrets to finding the best talent and retaining it at your program. And these secrets will work for you even if you don’t have extremely deep payroll pockets.

Remember: Nobody goes into early childhood education for the money! It’s always great if you can pay even a little more than the center down the street, but ultimately money is not going to be the deciding factor in who wants to work for you, and who stays for a long time.

A successful hiring process starts long before that first applicant ever walks through your door. Here are 17 smart hiring and retention-boosting strategies to use at your center. They work best as a unified system, but implementing even a few of them separately will help your staffing efforts immensely:


1. Remember that great teachers are attracted to great programs.

This should go without saying, but it’s a key point whose importance can’t be overstated: If you have problems at your center with staff morale or gossip, or high family turnover, or an ill-maintained facility that is literally falling apart, you will have difficulty attracting the best teacher talent.

It may be your hope that getting a few great teachers on board will turn your program around – but the reality is that you need to address the other problems first, in order to become an attractive destination for the teachers you want.

2. Sit down and decide what you’re really looking for.

Saying you’re looking for “great teachers” isn’t much more helpful than saying you’re looking for a “great spouse”! What specific characteristics are you looking to add to your team?

A teacher who’s a wiz at curriculum development? Someone who has experience with autism spectrum disorders? A fantastic communicator who can effectively serve as a staffparent liaison?

Alas, no single teacher can bring you the whole package, so it’s important to figure out your most pressing needs right now and focus on those.

3. Get the word out.

Now that you’ve figured out precisely who you’re looking for, get the word out – to
everyone in your network. That means parents and staff (both current and former), personal
friends, LinkedIn, Facebook, and so on.
Just because someone isn’t directly part of your professional life doesn’t mean he or she
won’t be able to lead you to the person you’re looking for. In our increasingly connected world,
everyone is just a few virtual steps away from everyone else. You may not even need to post an
official job ad at all. But if you do…

Applications & Interviews

4. Write a good job ad.

And by “good,” I mean specific, accurate, and above all: Not boring! Run-of-the-mill ads attract run-of-the-mill applicants. So by all means let your personality, and that of your center, shine through in the ad itself.

5. Consider pay-per-click (PPC) advertising.

Most child care centers don’t use pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, and those that do tend to use it to bring in new families rather than teachers. But a well-written, geographically targeted ad on either Google AdWords or Facebook can be a great way to attract new teachers to your center (particularly younger, web-savvy teachers who are frequently online).

You pay only for the times that someone clicks on your ad – and because you’ll be focusing on a narrow geographic area, these clicks won’t cost you much money.

6. Request a detailed cover letter.

Cover letters are remarkably revealing and often tell you more about a candidate than the resume does – as well as how effectively he or she is able to communicate in writing.

7. Set up a dedicated email address.

Set up a new email address specifically for the purpose of receiving applications for this particular position. This will reduce the risk of attracting spam to your primary email address. You can also disable the new email address when you are no longer accepting applications.

8. Create some hoops for applicants to jump through.

Make a few specific requests of your applicants. For example:

• “Include the names and email addresses of three professional references.”

• “Describe the best job you ever had, and why you liked it so much.”

• “Email your application to [email address] with ‘teacher job posting’ in the subject line.”

• “Our deadline for receiving applications is 6 pm Eastern time on [date].”

Your requests should be designed to elicit valuable information about the applicant, and/or make your life administratively easier, but their primary purpose is to serve as a screening device to eliminate, right off the bat, applicants who can’t follow directions.

Yes, eliminate them – period. Anyone who doesn’t follow your directions to the letter should be eliminated from contention for the job, regardless of how great he or she may seem otherwise. If an applicant can’t or won’t follow the specific directions you set out in a job ad, chances are good that the person will be similarly lax – or more so – on the job itself.

9. Listen both to what the applicant says – and doesn’t say.

The best applicants are those who focus on what they can bring to you and your center, rather than why the job would be a good thing for them. They will also have done some research on your center and will have good questions for you.

Also, if the applicant has gaps on her resume that she can’t satisfactorily explain, or is unable to provide references upon request, these are generally very bad signs.

10. Ask probing questions.

I’m a big fan of, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” There is no single right or wrong answer to this one, but the answer is always highly revealing.

11. Check references.

Always, always, always check references. Even if a former employer isn’t willing to tell you much of anything, you can (and should) still confirm that an applicant is telling the truth about his or her employment history.

Also, it’s a good idea to ask whether or not the reference would be willing to re-hire the applicant. Even if the answer is “yes,” any kind of hesitation or delay before answering is very telling. Post-Hire

12. Plan an orientation.

“Employee orientation” can be an intimidating phrase, but all it means is having a specific plan in place to help new hires feel welcome, and not completely clueless, as they start work.

This can be as simple as having the person come in 30-60 minutes early on the first day for a cup of coffee, a center tour, and a chance to hammer out details like keys, break times, paycheck procedures, and so on. The very worst thing you can do for a teacher’s first day? Nothing.

13. Have a handbook.

A staff handbook clearly spells out the “3 Ps” at your center: Philosophy, Policies, and Procedures. It’s an essential part of making sure that all of your employees are on the same page, so to speak, with how your center conducts its business.

It’s also a great one-stop resource for questions new employees have about things like sick days, dress codes, emergency procedures, and so on.

14. Assign a mentor.

Depending on the size and ethos of your center, one or more mentoring relationships may develop naturally over time. However, it’s a good idea to help the process along by specifically assigning a willing teacher to look out for the newbie and answer any questions he or she may have. Make a point of introducing them bright and early on the new teacher’s first day.

Mentors don’t have to be long-time employees at your center, but they should be knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and eager to help the new hire get acclimated and feel welcome.

15. Conduct performance appraisals at least twice a year.

It would be a stretch to say that anyone eagerly looks forward to performance appraisals (whether on the giving or receiving end), but they are an important part of any employee’s career growth and development – as well as an opportunity to formally discuss goals and objectives for the upcoming six months.

16. Make employee appreciation an integral part of your job.

In the day-to-day crush of child care, it’s easy to overlook the efforts, both big and small, of your dedicated teachers. Find a system for expressing appreciation that works for you – whether it’s a quick chat in the hallway or a short note on an employee’s paycheck – and deploy your thanks often.

17. Loop teachers in on your big vision.

Your employees were attracted to ECE because they wanted to make a difference – and people absolutely love being part of something bigger than themselves.

So keep your staff looped in on your big vision for your center: the programs you hope to launch, the increasing numbers of children you hope to serve, the new improvements you’re planning, and so on. The more you can excite and inspire your teachers, the more they’ll want to stay an integral part of what you’re doing.

The great thing about employee retention in this field is that it’s a “virtuous cycle” – the better you become at keeping great teachers around and engaged, the more great teachers your program will attract.

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