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Kindergarten Initiative

Implementation

How it works

The Kindergarten Initiative (KI) relies heavily on communication and collaboration among teachers, parents, farmers, and local businesses to promote experiential learning opportunities for kindergarten students in primarily low income areas. 

Recruit schools: The first task in setting up a KI program is to choose schools that would benefit from the program.  Whoever is in charge should consider giving preference to schools located in areas where a high percentage of children are eligible for free and reduced-price school meals. Program organizers should work to ensure the commitment and enthusiasm of administrators and teachers. If multiple schools are selected for the program, the proximity of schools to one another is an important factor to consider when planning for snack delivery.

Obtain funding: For start-up funding, look to private foundations, apply for grants, or contact local businesses that might want to “adopt“ a school(s). Long-term sustainability of the program is an important consideration.  In Pennsylvania, the initial years of the Kindergarten Initiative demonstrated a model program resulting in passage of legislation that authorized the state Department of Agriculture to establish a program to award KI grants to public school districts, charter schools and private schools. A program like the Kindergarten Initiative has a natural appeal to state departments of agriculture, education, and health.

Recruit farmers and community partners: Check with your state Department of Agriculture and/or state farmers market association to identify farmers for the program. Recruit local fruit and vegetable farmer(s) who already conduct farm tours (have the necessary insurance, etc.) and are willing to tailor their tours to the needs of the program (to what students are learning in the classroom).  If necessary, recruit multiple farmers to provide the local produce for the snacks and farm stores. To shape your tentative snack menu, determine what farmers will have growing throughout the season. Having a network of farmers may come in handy when you need larger quantities of produce than one farmer can provide. Ideally, to enhance the connection between food and its source, the farm where students visit for their trips should supply some of the local produce for snacks or the farm store.

Plan logistics for delivery, processing, and storing snacks: Determine a system for getting produce from farms to the schools and for processing individual snacks from the produce. Snacks consist primarily of fresh fruits and vegetables that need to be cleaned, cut up and put on trays for each classroom. If the schools cannot clean and make the snacks, ask local chefs and caterers to take on this responsibility. If this is the case, determine whether the produce will be delivered to them or they will pick it up. Teachers are extremely busy and appreciate when they have little or no prep work for snacks. Once snacks are delivered, determine where they will be stored at the school, and get “buy-in” from cafeteria staff by keeping them in the communication loop. Talk to partners about the importance of the snacks’ presentation and its eye appeal for young children.

Adapt curriculum alignment plan and sequential, comprehensive, standards-based framework for teaching nutritional and local farming concepts to kindergarteners. The curriculum alignment plan integrates nutrition and agriculture education into regular core-curriculum lessons. Work with district administrators/school board/teachers to adapt the curriculum as needed.

Train kindergarten teachers

  • Hold pre-program in-service, interactive training to generate excitement, explain the program and help teachers integrate nutrition, agriculture and physical activity concepts into existing subject-based curricula. In addition to reviewing program materials with teachers, include demonstrations of snack time and physical activities. This training, which helps teachers understand the scope of the program, provides a good time to troubleshoot any issues that they have (e.g., time needed to implement the program).

  • Provide teachers with educational materials to implement the program. The Kindergarten Initiative curriculum is shared in the Intervention Materials section of the template.

  • Offer continuous support to educators and show them how valuable they are by encouraging regular feedback and monthly collaboration. Highlight individual teachers and encourage sharing of best practices. (The Food Trust set up an online “wikispace” where teachers could post photos, share ideas and get program information and updates.)

Educational components

  • Curriculum alignment plan and framework: Work with school administrators or the school board to adapt curriculum alignment as necessary. The curriculum alignment plan in Intervention Materials section is based on Pennsylvania standards.

  • Kindergarten Farm Store: The farm store works like a book club and enables parents to purchase fresh, local produce. Ideally, produce for sale are items that students have tasted as snacks, thus reinforcing healthy choices in the home.  Determine how often to hold a farm store event (Monthly? Seasonally?) and contact farmers to determine what produce will be available and the cost. Decide how many items you want to offer, create a parent flier, and have envelopes printed, if desired. Decide on a timeline for orders to be placed and select the pickup date. Have teachers send order forms and envelopes home to parents; teachers will collect orders and money. Order produce from farmers and determine delivery logistics. Consider delivering the produce to the schools and having the students sort out the orders (great way to incorporate math).  Parents can pick up orders at school.

  • Back to School Night: This can be a great opportunity to talk to parents about the program, encourage them to be healthy role models and ask them to provide plenty of fruits and vegetables at home to reinforce healthy choices.

  • Cooking in the Classroom: Recruit local chefs to do cooking demonstrations in classrooms for the children and invite parents and caregivers. Students get excited to try foods that they have helped to prepare, and when parents see their children eating fruits and vegetables, they will be more likely to buy them for the home. The Pennsylvania KI program held cooking demos in the fall and spring, but they can be done as often as is feasible or desired. Consider providing teachers with cutting boards, kid-friendly knives and other cooking supplies with recipes to do “cooking” on their own, without outside staff support.

  • Healthy New Year: This is a great time for teachers to discuss healthy New Year’s resolutions with their students and to include caregivers in pledging to eat healthy with their children. At assemblies, teachers can have students perform plays, skits, or sing songs about healthy foods, and be sure to invite parents. Some events have included healthy food parties.

  • Physical Activity Education: In 2009, a physical activity component was added to the program, which includes supplemental lessons and activity ideas, and physical activity materials for classrooms. 

Keys to Success

  • Ensure that teachers know how valued and respected they are by providing continual support and communicating with them regularly.

  • Bring the principal on board as an active and visible supporter both inside and outside the classroom.

  • For children to want to try healthy snack foods, the snacks will need to have visual appeal.

  • Regularly reinforce farm trip experiences in the classroom to make a lasting impression.

  • In the classroom, compare fall and spring produce as well as local and non-local produce to demonstrate seasonality and a variety of produce.

  • Encourage and praise children for trying new healthy foods. By making healthy choices, they can act as role models for other children.

  • Work with farmers who are interested in both selling produce to schools and participating in the educational activities.

  • Local produce can be frozen/canned in the fall and spring to be used during the winter months.

  • Involve parents by giving them sample snacks and inviting them to classroom events. Teachers can help keep parents informed through bulletin boards and other classroom aids.

  • Create visually appealing nutrition-related materials to send home to parents.

  • Help teachers and principals deliver consistent health-promoting messages to children by encouraging schools to complete a healthy environment assessment such as the School Health Index http://www.cdc.gov/HealthyYouth/SHI/

    Assessment results can point out conflicts between current school and classroom practices and what is being taught in the KI program.  You can best reach teachers during their annual back to school training.

  • Since parents tend to participate more in events that are held at school during school hours, connect with them during times that coincide with existing school programs. For example, plan KI events during Back to School Night, parent conferences, or other times when parents are already at the school.  Parents love to see their kids perform and to perform activities with their kids (like cooking in the classroom).

Barriers to Success

  • Attitudes and perceptions in the school community about what children will accept and about the importance of good nutrition can interfere with efforts to promote fruits and vegetables and nutrition education.

  • Parents may not have access to local, healthy foods, thus making change in the home environment difficult.

  • Teachers have very busy schedules and may not initially feel that they have the time to complete components of the program.

  • Depending on existing local food infrastructure, setting up the procurement and delivery system for local snacks will require an investment of time to develop a sustainable system.