A swarm of school children raised their hands while they tried to sit calmly on the yellow and green coloured benches that stretched before the stage. They all had an answer to nutritionist Judy Scott Welden’s question.
“What are some activities that you and I can do to stay healthy?” Welden asked the energetic children as her hand reached for a prize inside her strawberry-patterned bag.
Each child who was selected to give an example of a form of physical exercise received a small red ball. At the end of her 15-minute show “The Big Crunch” Welden gave her audience free apples.
These children were at the fourth day of the 86th annual Royal Winter Fair held at the Exhibition grounds last week. Each year around 25,000 children attend the event including kids who visit with their parents or during a school trip. While a visit to the fair can be an educational experience, engaging children in learning about the importance of nutrition and agriculture continues to be a challenge that presenters tackle by trying to make their displays more creative each year.
“I remember always having a good time when I went to the fair as a kid—I especially loved the horses,” Welden said. “But I don’t remember any booths or shows that were geared towards helping kids learn more about the importance of nutrition.”
Welden is now a professional nutritionist who has worked with non-government agencies and commercial food companies on nutrition development projects. This is her
fourth time presenting at the Royal Winter Fair. This year she hosted several 15-minute segments that the Ontario Federation of Agriculture organized to be performed on a stage for children shows. Another part of her segment was to get four children to bite apples and four children to bite carrots while having the audience cheer for the team with the food that made the louder biting noise.
“The objective is to make learning fun for kids,” Welden said. “These activities are important in reinforcing the importance of healthy eating. It’s rewarding to see their willingness to learn about nutrition.”
This year the Ontario Federation of Agriculture hired a group of performing arts students of Sheridan College to do a 15-minute medley of pop songs which lyrics were altered to encourage healthy eating.
The High School Musical parody on supporting the local agricultural economy was a big hit, Welden said.
Another way that children can learn about topics related to health and agriculture is through tactile experience. School children who passed by the Saskatchewan Canola Development Commission booth were encouraged to use a roller to crush canola seeds between tissue paper to see the principle behind making canola oil.
“As a former teacher I found that there are different ways to reach out to kids and some learn best by doing something with their hands,” said Leslie Sanders, communications consultant for the commission.
This is Sanders’ second year in the fair. She grew up in a Saskatchewan farm and moved to Saskatoon in search of better job opportunities.
Along with the demonstration for kids, she designed the booth to include a video on canola processing, information flyers and free cookies. The booth’s panels depict a field of canola seeds with one sack resting under a flat-screen TV.
“Children are spoiled these days, with the rise of technology you need to catch their interest by getting them involved,” Sanders said. “The more creative your booth is, the greater chance you’ll catch their attention. For example, the farmers in the northern Ontario booth combined under one booth to have an affordable and more impressive presentation as opposed to going by themselves.”
Compared to the animal exhibits only a handful of children pass by Sanders’ booth. For exhibitors who try to engage children in different aspects of health and agriculture, creativity is by far the best ingredient.