Healthy Alternatives for Little Ones

Empowering young children to make healthy choices.

Tap into Teaching Substance Abuse Prevention to Preschoolers with “HALO”

Posted January 15, 2014, in Announcements.

Pictured are Morgan and Jaida attending a HALO class at the Nebraska Urban Indian Health Coalition. Morgan is wearing the “HALO Anatomy Apron” and her cousin, Jaida is listening to her heartbeat as they learn how to keep their organs healthy.

Imagine a prevention teacher announcing “HALO Time” and preschool children eagerly gathering to sing songs and perform finger plays. The children learn about healthy or harmful foods and behavior choices, and explore how their organs function while wearing the “HALO Anatomy Organ Apron.”

To share this Healthy Alternatives for Little Ones (HALO) experience, Amy Painter, the public health educator of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, incorporated the HALO prevention curriculum into four Head Start classrooms. After one of Amy’s teachers taught HALO, she gained better classroom management skills and discovered, while sitting down with the children during “HALO circle time,” she engaged more with the children and they were better behaved. Children love being “the experts” on what’s healthy or harmful. They especially like the part during each lesson when they look at the “Healthy vs. Harmful” Picture Recognition Cards and give the thumbs-up sign for positive pictures like nutritious foods and exercise and thumbs-down to pictures of cigarettes, alcohol and drugs.

The HALO curriculum includes HALO Parent Involvement Letters to inform parents/ guardians and family members about the HALO lesson and how they can reinforce it with their children at home. The Nebraska Urban Indian Health Center in Omaha worked with HALO to revise these letters into an easy reader version to engage parents with limited language skills. Through these shared experiences at home, children learn how adults in their lives are caring and supportive.

HALO is a one-of–a-kind evidence-based, developmentally appropriate health education and substance abuse prevention program for 3-6-year-old children and is listed in the National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices. HALO is designed to provide information to help children build skills for growing up in healthy ways so they become, “Bigger, Stronger and Better Able to Think!” Since 1990, the HALO curriculum has reached more than 10,000 children in 16 states and is available in English or Spanish.

According to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, early childhood experiences affect the quality of brain architecture and establish either a sturdy or fragile foundation for all of a child’s learning, health and behavior that follows. Additionally, the basic principles of neuroscience indicate that early preventive intervention will be more efficient and produce more favorable outcomes than remediation later in life.

Research by the Yale Infant Cognition Center has shown that children as young as 6 months are aware of the difference between right and wrong. Through HALO, right and wrong choices are translated into the words “healthy” and “harmful” choices. These terms provide young children a vocabulary to understand the surrounding influences in their daily lives, and the knowledge to say “yes” to healthy choices and “no” to harmful ones, such as alcohol, tobacco and substance abuse. Studies show that attitudes toward the use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs are formed at a very young age—years before a child is ever tempted to try them. Children as young as age 3 can understand discussions about alcohol and tobacco, since most have seen people smoking or drinking either at home or in the media.

Parents have responded positively to the HALO Parent Involvement Letters that are sent home after each HALO lesson. One mom from the Winnebago Tribe, who used to smoke in their family home, began smoking outdoors when she learned about the dangers of second hand smoke from her child. Other HALO parents have reported that their children retained the HALO lessons they learned for years, and several HALO students have convinced their parents to stop smoking.

In HALO, children learn to make healthy choices about drug prevention, stress management, family communication, and feelings. Native American HALO sites (Nebraska Urban Indian Health Coalition in Omaha, the Winnebago Tribe in Nebraska; Snohomish County Alcohol and Drug in Washington, and the Hualapai Human Services in Peach Springs, AZ) that use the HALO curriculum prepare their children with the decision-making skills they will need to say “NO” to unhealthy choices, as they grow and encounter more and stronger negative influences in their world. Some tribal communities have begun to add substance abuse prevention for preschool age children in their Tribal Action Plans (TAPs).

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