Blog contribution by: Abbey S. Eschbach, Wellness & Nutrition Initiative Coordinator , STEP, Inc.
STEP Head Start and Early Head Start offer several program options that range from home-based services to center-based preschool classrooms. STEP’s Early Learning Pathway Programs fully support the integration of Farm to Early Care and Education (ECE) into all classroom settings with a curriculum that is designed to be multifaceted and modular to work within all settings.
STEP Head Start and Early Head Start’s Farm to ECE program is called Harvest of the Month. This is a year-round workbook of activities, ranging from themed books and songs to cooking and snack ideas. Each month highlights a different type of produce, which each of the activities is based on. A monthly newsletter is sent out to teachers to give ideas and inspiration. The workbook and newsletters are available to teachers on the agency’s intranet, allowing access at any time. The idea behind Harvest of the Month is to act as a guide for teachers. They can take the information and tailor its use to what works best for their students. This is an important piece, as classrooms and groups can vary greatly. To ensure the teachers have the support they need, STEP’s Wellness & Nutrition Initiative Coordinator is available to carry out workshops and various activities with the kids. This makes for a fun event with a “special guest” that the kids look forward to.
Beyond the classroom, STEP reaches the home-based families by providing a hands-on cooking workshop once a month for each group. The snacks are based on CACFP guidelines and designed to promote cooking together as a family. The recipes can be a dinner option; sometimes they may be a fun snack idea. The end goal is that the workshops encourage the guardians and children to try something new and have a fun approach to food.
To further address nutrition with families, STEP Head Start, and the Central PA Food Bank have worked together to offer the BackPack program at the STEP Round Hills Campus location. This location includes 13 classrooms and a total of 254 students. The program has been very successful in its first year with over 50% of the families registered to receive a BackPack. Once a month, the children are sent home with a backpack full of nutritious, shelf-stable foods. Occasionally, the backpacks will include flyers for resources in the area or a letter from STEP with recipe ideas and fun cooking projects for the entire family.
STEP’s Farm to ECE programs continue to evolve as teachers and supervisors see fit. The root of the success is that the workshops are accessible, flexible, and fun for everyone involved. Impacts are noticeable as children are becoming excited about trying new vegetables, seeds being planted in a classroom’s garden, and parents boasting about their newfound love for cooking. This is what inspires us to continue developing Farm to ECE!