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Curriculum Overview

Curriculum Component

Goal: To create for American Indian children in grades three, four, and five, a culturally appropriate school-based curriculum that promotes healthful eating behaviors and increased physical activity.

Primary Objectives:

  • Emphasize and reinforce traditionally American Indian positive health behaviors for healthful eating and regular physical activity.
  • Introduce American Indian children to a variety of healthful foods through taste-testing demonstration activities.
  • Introduce and reinforce healthful eating behaviors to increase consumption of foods that are lower in fat.
  • Introduce American Indian children to a variety of physical activities.
  • Increase amount of moderate to vigorous physical activity.
  • Identify and reinforce values on total well-being.

Description of Curriculum:

The Pathways curriculum is a health promotion curriculum for American Indian children in grades three, four, and five. The curriculum incorporates American Indian concepts that are culturally appropriate for the seven American Indian nations who participated in the study. Some of these cultural strategies are recognized as a part of many other American Indian societies. The curriculum also recognizes that American Indian values and traditions for culture and gender are not always consistent with those reflected in American society.

Pathways is a program to prevent obesity and related complications therefore the emphasis of the curriculum is designed to promote healthy lifestyles for all children. To achieve this, it is important to understand Pathways as a health promotion and not as an obesity prevention program. Also, Pathways is not to be confused with a weight reduction program. The framework for the Pathways curriculum is based on Social Learning Theory to encourage changes in the child’s environment at home and school. These patterns are introduced by promoting healthful eating and physical activity; by providing opportunities to eat healthful foods; and by creating peer support for selecting healthful foods and doing regular physical activity.

This curriculum is unique among curricula in health education by being behavioral-based rather than being knowledge-based. Lessons in a Teacher’s Guide at each grade level contain activities including storytelling, letter writing, educational games, snack preparations, goal setting and demonstrations that support the promotion of health. All stories have been assessed for a readability level that is appropriate for that grade level. The Teacher’s Guide provides helpful information for the teacher interested in learning basic information on nutrition and physical activity. A description of the American Indian communities involved in the study provides a background for teachers on these nations. Additionally, a collective Pathways Nations Chart compiles a listing of the foods eaten by these nations. There is also a glossary and a pronunciation guide for the native terminology used in the curriculum.

Overall, the American Indian traditions that the curriculum upholds include:

  1. The use of oral history as a way of imparting knowledge.
  2. A holistic view of health and health practices.
  3. Involvement of younger generations in everyday activities.
  4. Concept of community in which everyone contributes to the survival of the group.
  5. Maintenance of respect for individual worth.
  6. Encouragement of physical activity.

The overall organization of the Pathways curriculum is sequential from third grade through grade five and each grade has its own Teacher’s Guide. The scope and sequence includes lessons for the introduction of behaviors as well as skills building for each grade and between grade levels. These lessons average 45-60 minutes to complete. Twenty-four (24) lessons were developed at the third and at the fourth grade levels to be taught in two six-week periods. The fifth grade level has sixteen (16) lessons to be taught over an eight-week period. It is highly important for the lessons to be delivered in sequence to build skills. With some variation, the basic design for each lesson includes:

  • Lesson Overview
  • Student Objectives
  • Lesson Outline (activities, total minutes, student and teacher materials)
  • Theme Music
  • Activities
  • Summary of the Week
  • Family Packs
  • Reminders

The following is a summary description of the thematic approach within each grade level. 

In the third and fourth grades, two American Indian characters who are elementary schoolchildren living in an Indian community model the process of changing behaviors to be more positive. They begin a journey with their grandparents, who impart their personal life experiences to stimulate changed behaviors. Through storytelling and appropriate cultural concepts, this journey becomes an educational adventure as well as a reinforcement of cultural pride and knowledge.

In the fifth grade, young American Indian runners from the seven nations carry the messages of healthy eating and exercising. Knowledge about fats and sugars encourages the planning of specific meals and snacks while applying the knowledge of Everyday Foods and Sometimes Foods. In physical activity, Trailblazers lead teams to complete a series of trails called the Mt. Pathways Challenge.

Modification for Cultural Relevancy

The Pathways Curriculum was designed to be culturally relevant for the seven Indian nations involved in the study. It may be regarded as relevant for those tribes who have a cultural affinity with these seven tribes.

Tribes and other ethnic groups who do not share this cultural affinity may wish to modify the curriculum to include their own cultural knowledge. To achieve this, it is recommended that local resources and individuals who will teach work together to reach concensus. These local resources may include historians, cultural experts, educators and elders who have cultural information to share.

Modification should include an overall review of specific items such as the Pathways Nations Food chart; the Pathways Nations Map, the individual tribal maps, group activities, and the multiple stories that serve as the theme as well as oral and narrated stories. Adding appropriate relevant stories, foods, and games to this curriculum can increase its usefulness and convey the desired cultural knowledge.

It is important to maintain age appropriateness and to allow for information to be sequenced from grade to grade. While it is possible for cultural knowledge to be orally communicated in a school setting. It is encouraged that visual aids, written information, and activity sheets be available in the classroom to foster long-term retention among children.

Download curriculum materials:
Pathways Third Grade Curriculum
Pathways Fourth Grade Curriculum
Pathways Fifth Grade Curriculum

Family Component

The goal of the family component is to increase the involvement and support from families in their children’s learning. Another goal is to introduce and familiarize families with the objectives and healthful behaviors central to Pathways.

The family component consists of Family Fun Nights, Family Events/Workshops, Year End Celebration Events, and Family Packs/Challenge Sheets.

Family Fun Night

  • Introduction of Pathways to the students, families, school staff, and community members.
  • Includes a variety of stations with hands-on and visual activities.
  • Assists in creating an atmosphere for interaction with families, students, and staff.
  • Familiarizes students and their families with Pathways and advocated health behaviors.

Family Events/Workshops

  • A series of interactive family events and workshops.
  • Assist families in gaining specific skills in the areas of food choice, food preparation, and physical activity
  • Family workshops: I - Integrating Physical Activity into Everyday Life and II - Lowfat Cooking and Lowfat Snack Preparation
  • Incorporate interactive booths, printed educational materials and displays.
  • Offer games that involve physical activity such as line dancing.
  • Have knowledge-testers such as a food label reading contest to teach the attendees important things to look for on a food label.
  • Include information on high vs. lowfat food items.

Year-End Celebration Events

  • Allow students to demonstrate knowledge and expertise gained through Pathways and to encourage families to maintain healthful behaviors during the summer.
  • Allow students to demonstrate what they have learned in Pathways throughout the year.

Family Packs/Challenge Sheets

(The Family Packs are described in more detail in the Third Grade Curriculum Procedures Manual and Teacher's Guide).

  • Action Packs
  • Hand out during the curriculum.
  • Written description of the Pathways cultural stories which reiterate an educational healthful message taught in the curriculum that gives the family an opportunity to read together.
  • Snack Packs
  • Healthful tips and lowfat, low sugar food items for student to share with their family.

Download the Family Component materials

Food Service Component

The goal of this component is to work in partnership with school food service personnel to plan, prepare, and serve lower fat school meals to students. The food service component includes nutrient and behavioral guidelines, support materials and activities, training sessions, and school kitchen visits.

Nutrient Guidelines

Nutrient guidelines were established for this intervention based on their impact on reducing the risk of obesity. The primary nutrients effecting obesity are fat and calories. The Pathways Food Service Nutrient Guidelines promote 30% or less of calories from fat over 5 days; maintenance of adequate calories; and consistency with other USDA requirements for school meals.

Behavioral Guidelines

The Pathways Food Service Behavioral Guidelines are specific food purchasing, preparation, and serving activities that can be implemented by the food service personnel to lower the fat in school meals.

Implementation of these guidelines will provide lower fat, tasty menu items as well as an opportunity for nutrition education, role modeling of meal patterns, and support for students in developing healthful food habits.

Materials and Activities

The Pathways Food Service Intervention is very 'hands-on' and visually oriented. Materials include posters, a video, visual aids, and demonstration activities.

Training Sessions

Training all school food service staff supports the goal of the Pathways Food Service component. We recommend providing training two times per year. While the focus of each training session may be different, key components are included in each session.

Kitchen Visits

Visits with school food service personnel also support the goal of the Pathways Food Service component. These visits serve to model and reinforce the implementation of the Behavioral Guidelines.

Download the Food Service Component materials

Physical Activity Component

The goal of this component is to increase physical activity opportunities for children at school. The physical activity component includes the SPARK physical education (PE) curriculum, the Exercise Break box, American Indian games, and ideas for increasing recess.


Teach the SPARK PE curriculum a minimum of 30 minutes a session for 3 to 5 days each week. SPARK is an innovative elementary physical education curriculum and staff development program that offers materials and services to schools, university grants, recreation departments, after school programs, hospital community outreach and health organizations on a non-profit basis. To receive training, materials, and information about SPARK PE, contact Paul Rosengard at 1-800-SPARK-PE (1-800-772-7573) or check out the SPARK PE website.

Exercise Breaks

Incorporate exercise breaks into daily class activities using the Pathways Exercise Break box. This box contains a variety of physical activities that can be done during class and recess times.

American Indian Games

Teach traditional games that can be used during PE or by the teacher in class and during recess. Information is included on the origin of the game, its significance, and how it was traditionally played.


Increase the amount of time children spend in recess each week. Encourage children to play throughout the recess time. Use exercises from the Pathways Exercise Break box and American Indian Games to increase the activity of all children during recess. We suggest you offer recess a minimum of 15 minutes each day.

Download the Physical Activity Component materials