Preschoolers try squash in healthy eating program developed by Lycoming College students

Preschoolers try squash in healthy eating program developed by Lycoming College students

Mackenzie Bilger and Professor Rachel Hickoff-Cresko pose with a book about turnips used in one of the kits.

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Peppers, cauliflower, broccoli, squash, and pumpkin were among the selections tested by both the brave and the wary during a new healthy eating program integrated at the STEP Head Start. The Harvest of the Month program introduces preschoolers from three to five years of age to the advantages of eating vegetables and fruits.

As part of the program, 16 Lycoming College students developed classroom kits about a single fruit or vegetable that teachers can use periodically to supplement their regular curriculum. Lycoming students worked in small groups to develop five to six activities for each kit that can be taught over the course of a month. Teachers are encouraged to introduce students to a designated fruit or vegetable every month.

“From the needs assessment we do every three years, we know food and security issues are on the rise in our community,” said Rachelle Abbott, chief operations officer at the STEP, Inc. “We were therefore thrilled to have the Lycoming College students use their research skills and ingenuity to create low-cost, easy-to-employ activities that capture the students’ attention.”

The STEP Head Start program is part of the Early Learning Pathway under STEP, Inc.’s umbrella and has 42 center-based and home-based classrooms. Success Through Engagement and Partnership is a private, non-profit community action agency serving individuals, families and communities in Lycoming and Clinton Counties.

Activities are designed to be seamlessly integrated into various core subjects while developing social, emotional, perceptual and physical skills. The kits contain items like books to build reading skills, recipes to build counting skills, and taste tests that encompass all of the senses. Many kits also include games and activities to teach science through the discussion of plant growth, vitamins and the importance of good nutrition.

The kits were completed over the spring semester and into the summer. STEP teachers and administrators are reviewing each kit to fine tune activities for maximum effectiveness and long-term suitability. More information about how the Harvest of the Month project was developed, can be found at: http://www.stepcorp.org/sites/default/files/Fall-Harvest-Outcomes-Report.pdf.

“Collaborating with STEP Head Start to write this curriculum was an exceptional opportunity for my teacher candidates,” said Rachel Hickoff-Cresko, chair and assistant professor of education at Lycoming. “They gained valuable experience with writing lessons to be used by a variety of teachers and had the opportunity to research and apply developmentally appropriate learning activities. Having their names on published and widely-used curriculum is an excellent experience at this early stage of their teacher preparation.”

The Harvest of the Month Project was made possible by a $5,000 grant from the Food Trust for a “farm to school initiative” to purchase materials including the books, containers and posters.

They plan to roll out 10 to 15 of the kits this year and up to 20 more the following year. Once the kits have been field tested in the classroom, STEP Head Start will provide the curriculum and sample kits to the Food Trust to share with other early learning programs state-wide.

“Out of all the projects I've ever done, I enjoyed this one the most,” said Mackenzie Bilger, a sophomore psychology major with an early education minor from Lewisburg, Pa. “Coming up with different ideas to gain the kids’ interest in a vegetable or fruit that are not normally a ‘go to’ food was a fun challenge.”

Students involved with the project who will have their curriculum reviewed and published for the Head Start Program include:

Mackenzie Bilger
Kelcie Crabb
Baleigh L. Dunkleberger
Emily M. Feld
Carla I. Ferreira
Alyssa Godshall
Jennifer L. Grove
Clara Grube
Perla J. Licona-Vazquez
Sydney Mackey
Thamina Peti
Paisley J. Simmons
Christopher D. Wallace

The STEP Head Start gives children the tools they need to succeed in school and in life, and families the tools they need to maximize their children’s success as well as their own. More about the program is available at: http://www.stepcorp.org/Head_Start.

The Food Trust ensures that everyone, including people in underserved neighborhoods, has access to affordable, nutritious food and information to make healthy decisions to help minimize serious diet-related diseases like obesity. More can be found at: http://thefoodtrust.org/.

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