Better child care nutrition sought

by Paul Rignell
Contributing writer

Through the coming year and into 2013, Sherburne County Health and Human Services will continue to assist other agencies in stressing the need for nutrition and exercise through programs made possible by a state grant.

The county’s second grant received through the Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) is to fund ongoing education through June of next year. The first grant covered initiatives from July 2009 through December 2011 after state lawmakers passed SHIP legislation in 2008.

To share ideas with the county’s licensed child care workers on how to incorporate better nutrition in their meals and snacks, and to introduce those workers and also K–12 educators to ways in which they could bring regular movement into their classes, Health and Human Services staff welcomed lead teachers from schools and child-care centers for training sessions. More of those sessions are on the way with the new funding.

Deanna Chiodo and Sondra Dahlberg, both of whom are on the faculty at Ivan Sand Community High School in Elk River, are the teachers that first brought fitness “stability balls” into District 728 classrooms as alternatives to standard chairs. They were also the first Elk River teachers to meet with county staff regarding the SHIP initiatives.

“It became a passion for us. We threw ourselves into it,” Chiodo told the Star News.

For Dahlberg’s students, her physical education classes naturally have been all about exercise for years. But recently she has brought more movement into her health classes as well. She expects the students to get up from where they might be sitting. Her class sessions no longer consist of straight lecturing. “I don’t do much of that anymore at all,” she said.

In a recent unit on HIV, Dahlberg distributed note cards marked with activities that could be described as being either low- or high-risk for contracting HIV. Students were asked to rise from their seats and arrange themselves with their cards to distinguish which noted activities were safer or riskier.

Chiodo teaches social studies, and during a history unit on the Panama Canal she distributed decks of playing cards to students. She explained for them that building the canal was “a monumental undertaking for the U.S.,” and though she didn’t direct the students to build canals from the cards, she asked them to stand and team up with classmates to see which group could build the strongest “house” of cards.

Dahlberg and Chiodo have spread new ideas across all grade levels in the schools by training the other teachers. “There have been more staff wanting the training,” said Dahlberg. “They’re getting the information, and they’re getting the materials to use the next day.”

Those materials, all packaged together in “active learning bins,” have included plastic cones, buckets, masking tape, tennis balls and other items so that teachers of English, math or science may include some activity ideas in their own classes.

For when the time comes that students must stay seated to maintain class order, Chiodo says she gives her students the option of sitting in regular chairs or on stability balls, which help to improve posture and blood flow, she says. Some high school students prefer one over the other.

“In elementary school, if one has one, they all need to have one (to avoid being different),” she said.

New nutrition plan
As a new component of the county’s involvement with SHIP, Health and Human Services staff will meet with leaders from secondary schools to encourage them to include healthful food and drink options wherever students would have access to snacks. Locations could include school stores, vending machines, concession stands and a la carte stations during school lunch periods, said Matt Jackson, community health coordinator with Sherburne County. “We don’t want to take everything out of school (that’s there now),” he said, “but we want to make sure there are healthier options.”

As more child-care center owners and teachers seek advice from the county for better nutrition and activity, today’s youngest students may want nothing but fruits and vegetables for snacking once they reach high school.

Since last July, staff at Tinkertown Station all-day preschool in Zimmerman  introduced at least one new fruit or vegetable each week for a snack. The parade of produce has featured strawberries, snap peas, sweet potatoes, kiwi, broccoli and apricots to name several healthful foods among many others.

As for choices such as broccoli, “that seems mainstream,” said Tinkertown Station owner and lead teacher Mary Rasmussen, “but for many kids, their parents may not like it.”

SHIP initiatives haven’t reached the Zimmerman preschool only through its kitchen. The children at Tinkertown Station are also using props to exercise their arms and legs as well as their minds. Rasmussen said that in one case, the students have moved their arms to spell out their names in the air, tracing each letter by waving a colorful scarf.

“We got a lot of ideas when we went to this class (training through Health and Human Services),” Rasmussen said, “and a lot of these activities were implemented with music involved, which kids love.”

Other child care center directors may learn more about the county’s SHIP opportunities by calling Matt Jackson at 763-765-4115.