Preschool helps children grow taste for vegetables
By Nicki Anderson firstname.lastname@example.org August 20, 2012 2:40PM
Lori Ulrey, operations director, (left) and Kristi Walker, director of Little Shepherd, show off an herb garden at Little Shepherd Preschool. | Submitted
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Learn more about Little Shepherd Preschool in Naperville at www.preschools.net/little-shepherd-day-school/
Updated: September 23, 2012 6:07AM
The more we learn about childhood obesity, it becomes clear how imperative it is to teach kids healthy habits from birth. The sooner they’re educated about healthy foods, the brighter their future. Little Shepherd Preschool in Naperville is doing its part to get kids started off on a healthy foot. With herb and vegetable gardens and environmental awareness, this school is a sound role model for teaching kids how to eat and live well!
Helen Hochstetter opened her first preschool center, Peter Pan Early Learning Center on 75th Street, in 1969. One afternoon, she and her father were visiting The Little Red School House Nature Center in Willow Springs. Helen told her dad how much she loved what they do, and wished she could somehow recreate it. Her father said, “Then do it! You have the acreage. You can make it happen.”
Her father’s encouragement gave Helen the push she needed to create a school where children could learn and develop a deep appreciation and understanding about their natural surroundings. Her dream and philosophy was finally implemented at Little Shepherd Day School in 2001. The two-acre property, along the DuPage River on Jefferson Avenue includes a variety of areas that encourage children to explore and make discoveries about the natural world.
One of the most important pieces of their school philosophy is healthy eating. Little Shepherd provides five learning gardens for children.
“All of our gardens are planted from seed,” said Kristi Walker, the director of Little Shepherd Day School. “These gardens are planted by the children in the early spring. This year, the children planted lettuce, tomatoes, onions, squash, cucumbers, radish, peas and carrots.”
During the course of the summer, each class is responsible for a garden.
They pull weeds, monitor growth progress, water with the watering cans that are prominently displayed on the fence along Jefferson Avenue.
The children are able to experience, through their own work, garden to table. Not common practice for children, especially preschoolers.
During the growing season, the children are able to taste what they and their friends have grown during snack and lunch time.
Studies show that if children participate in the planting and growing process of vegetables, they’re more likely to eat them.
The children are then able to take fresh vegetables home and share them with their family.
“I love watching the children pick the produce and proudly pack it in their backpack to take home,” Walker said.
In addition to the school’s philosophy of healthy eating, there is also an emphasis on integrating nature into learning activities, active play, hands-on learning and respecting the earth.
“The sensory garden includes specially selected plants for learners to touch, smell, taste, hear and see.
We also have a butterfly garden, which contains butterfly host plants such as milkweed and nettle,” said Lori Ulrey, the school’s operations director.
With flowers that attract butterflies, Little Shepherd raises and releases 75 to 80 Monarch and Red Admiral butterflies each summer.
When the gardens are no longer able to produce, there is still attention paid to healthy snacks and meal time.
“We don’t serve juice or junk food,” Walker said.
“Our focus is feeding the children healthy foods, more fruits and vegetables, so they can develop healthy habits that carry on through adulthood.”
As our children become more technologically savvy, the opportunities to sit more and get sucked into a computer screen are far too common.
I sent three of my four children to Little Shepherd, but it was before Hochstetter’s time, unfortunately.
How I would have loved my children to learn, from someone other than their mother, the importance of eating well, and the gift of a garden.
There’s a saying, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
The same holds true for our children: teach them how to use the environment around them, and they too can learn to eat and live healthy for a lifetime!”
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