Every year the teachers at Learning Circle Preschool identify areas of the program that we would like to focus on in more depth, improve, or refresh. This year one of those areas was our implementation of the Early Sprouts Curriculum.
As described on the webpage of the Early Sprouts Institute (http://www.earlysprouts.org/curriculum):
Early Sprouts is a research-based nutrition curriculum that encourages preschoolers to eat more vegetables by growing, harvesting, and preparing organically grown foods. It was developed as a collaboration between the Health Science and Early Childhood Education departments of Keene State College, New Hampshire. Over a course of 24 weeks, the curriculum cultivates healthy change by:
•Increasing young children’s preferences for wholesome foods
• Promoting healthy eating at school and home
• Reducing the risks and issues associated with childhood obesity
• Six target vegetables are the focus of the exploration and discovery in each of four components.
1. Organic gardening
2. Sensory exploration
3. Cooking and recipe development
4. Family involvement
A central theme of this curriculum is that we all benefit from repeated exposure to healthy foods. In the curriculum, exposures happen through sensory exploration of the vegetables, cooking the recipe, and packing ingredients to take home.
This year we decided to rush less, make sure as many children as possible have opportunities to engage with the early sprouts curriculum, and try to make it easier for parents to participate as well. We decided to be more intentional in assuring there is time for sensory exploration, separate from cooking.
On a day we aren’t cooking, we have designed small group opportunities for children to investigate the featured vegetable for that week. We may ask children to think about how they can open a pepper and then try. We may ask children to look for seeds as they snap green beans. We may tear chard, compare the colors and textures of chard stalks, and perhaps use crayons to do a rubbing so that we can feel the parts of the leaf as we work. We save the parts of the plants we won’t eat so that we can add it to our playground composter, to help keep our gardens healthy. These small group opportunities include a teacher to model, encourage children to use magnifiers and look for details, and to talk with children about comparative colors, sizes, textures, or smells of the vegetables. Follow up investigation might be included on the classroom science tables, where children freely use magnifiers, and where children are encouraged to draw or paint something about what they discover (document their findings).
On a different day later in the week when we cook, many children are involved in the process of preparing the recipe together, and then tasting the results at snack time. This is a time to share tastes (some will like it and some won’t like it yet), and think about the ingredients that went into the recipe. We’ve found conversations often include other family times children have tasted the featured vegetable, planted it, seen it growing at a local farm, or perhaps seen it at the market. And children often continue to talk about their investigations – finding the seeds, talking about the stems or leafy parts, etc.
Towards the end of the week, children pack a brown bag with as many of the ingredients as we can supply, along with a recipe, so that families have an easy way to try the recipe at home. We’ve found many children enjoy cooking with their families, even if they don’t like the recipe in question yet!
We’re only a few weeks into our school year, and we can already see that giving children more time to engage with the vegetables is making a huge difference. The enthusiasm with which recipes are shared with family members is clear, and many children are excited to bring their graph of family tastes back to school so that we can talk about their experience together. We’ve seen exposures to the foods, with no pressure to eat them, makes a difference. And we are hearing children recognize that their tastes may change over time. For example:
One child, who was in the class last year, when cooking with peppers said to a teacher, “Do you remember last year when I didn’t want to eat any peppers at lunch if they were in my lunch box? I didn’t like peppers yet. But then later I tried them, and I found out that now I really like peppers. My tastes changed – I didn’t like it yet but now I love them!”
Another child was eager to cut into tomatoes when we had child safe knives available to cut into them, look for seeds, and compare varieties. She insisted she would not eat any tomatoes as she did not like them. When a teacher gave her a spoon to scoop through the tomato to find seeds, she could not resist trying the juice, and found she liked it.
Here are some photos of the first few weeks of our early sprouts investigations. We look forward to a year filled with engaging investigations, healthy gardens, and good recipes to share!