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Healthy Habits Begin Early

Every initiative community developers undertake to revitalize a neighborhood can improve the life chances of its youngest residents. Public safety, affordable housing and economic stability all make important contributions. But access to high-quality early childhood education is a proven means for preparing young children for future success, especially when it is coordinated with other social and human services and family supports.

Young children with working parents can spend many waking hours each week in care outside of their home. This makes early childhood programs ideal settings to provide the supports they need. Recognizing this, and responding to the growing numbers of overweight and obese children (now more than 1 in 5 U.S. children between the ages of two and five years old), early childhood centers are increasingly incorporating strategies to improve nutrition and opportunities for physical activity for the children they serve.

Healthy eating in early childhood can lead to lifelong healthy habits for this little one at Wallingford Community Day Care Center in Wallingford, Connecticut

Good nutrition and physical activity are key to the healthy growth and development of young children, and the period from birth to age five is critical to developing and establishing healthy behaviors for life. Improving the early childhood settings and programs where young children spend significant amounts of time can directly impact the type of food children eat and how much exercise they get, and help them develop good lifestyle habits.

A growing number of LISC-supported early childhood centers are finding new ways to implement innovative programming and design or improve their physical space – indoors and outdoors – to promote better nutrition and more exercise for the children they serve.

With support from LISC, Early Learning Indiana increased access to healthy food and improved nutrition for children and parents at its Ruth A. Lilly Center in the Mid-North neighborhood of Indianapolis by introducing gardening, nutrition education, and cooking demonstrations for parents. The center’s cook reduced refined sugars and increased fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains in the center’s meals, and met requirements to achieve the GOLD standard level in the state’s Child and Adult Care Food Program.

An outdoor play space offers many active options at East Bay Head Start in Riverside, Rhode Island

East Bay Head Start in Riverside, Rhode Island received grant funds and technical support from LISC to develop an innovative play space that incorporates many interesting features encouraging young children to be active, creative and engaged in a variety of outdoor activities. Bay Area Community Resources has also focused on increasing physical activity at its early childhood centers in San Pablo and Richmond, Calif., implementing a new Move with Me curriculum that mixes yoga, creative movement and self-regulation exercises with stories and lessons.

Wallingford Community Day Care Center in Connecticut tapped a low-cost loan from LISC to create a state-of-the-art commercial kitchen to provide nutritious meals to enrolled students that meet up to 90% of some of the children’s daily nutritional needs. And Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation is expanding opportunities for Head Start programs to increase access to locally-sourced healthy food and incorporate active living/design principles into the early childhood education settings.

With the recent interest in creating healthier early childhood environments, there is a growing body of resources to guide caregivers and community developers to do it successfully.

LISC’s Community Investment Collaborative for Kids (CICK) created a series of guides that covers many aspects of creating high-quality early childhood facilities, including designing centers and playgrounds, equipping classrooms and greening.

First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Initiative includes a Let’s Move! Child Care component, which offers advice, examples and guidance on increasing activity, reducing screen time and nurturing healthy eaters.

Farm to Preschool has a lengthy list of program models and resources for incorporating healthy eating, nutrition education and gardening into preschools.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides extensive information on obesity prevention in early childhood education settings.

Amy Gillman is a National Program Director for Community Health and Early Childhood Facilities at LISC.

Posted in Child Care Programs & Facilities, Health & Wellness

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