Preschools and other early learning centers are critical settings for obesity prevention efforts. The preschool years are an important time when young children are learning to develop healthy habits. In FY19, Maryland SNAP-Ed partnered with over 213 early education sites and reached 9,561 preschool-aged kids through face-to-face education and multi-level interventions. These partnerships have remained in place during COVID by making practical modifications to program delivery methods and bringing lessons directly to students at home through virtual learning. All of the efforts aimed to promote healthy food choices, physical activity, and improve policies, practices, and physical environments.
Pairing healthy foods with the letters of the alphabet creates life-long connections for preschool aged-youth. In Maryland, preschools, Head Starts, and “Judy Centers” (Judith P. Hoyer Early Learning Hubs) participate in a curriculum called Edible ABC’s. Throughout the year, students learn the alphabet while exploring and tasting healthy foods. When possible these foods are grown locally in Maryland. Students also explore physical activities associated with each letter.
The Edible ABC’s curriculum uses a trained-trainer model where Maryland SNAP-Ed educators train classroom teachers to teach curriculum components to their students. Preschoolers learn about healthy foods associated with letters of the alphabet by learning what the foods look like, how they are grown, and how they are good for their bodies. Students have the opportunity to try the food in the classroom or in their school cafeteria. To support learning, kids can try things like growing the food in the classroom or school garden, reading a related children’s book, trying a hands-on activity, or doing a related exercise. Edible ABC’s also includes parents in their children’s learning through “I tried it” stickers and take-home handouts that spark family conversations around the foods discovered in school. This encourages kids to try these foods at home too!
Edible ABC’s is part of the Healthy Tots, Healthy Families initiative, a multi-layer approach reaching students, families, and teachers to create healthy policies and changes in preschools. SNAP-Ed programs at these sites target not only youth behaviors, but also the parents, teachers and staff. Programs also aim to improve the policies, systems, and environments of preschool sites. SNAP-Ed evaluates these programs and their collective impact on the individual and site level.
Maryland SNAP-Ed's Healthy Pre-K Families survey, which measures individual level impacts pre-to-post school year, indicates numerous healthy behavior changes among participating families.
Site-level impacts are collected from End of Year Reports completed for each early education site that partners with SNAP-Ed.
The majority of early education sites support healthy choices and behaviors by establishing healthy practices and systems, including:
- Ensuring that youth get at least 20 minutes of recess per day (95%).
- Making free, high-quality water easily accessible to youth (91%).
- Providing physical activity breaks to youth (87%).
- Limiting the use of screens for entertainment purposes (72%).
- Using physical activity as a reward opportunity for youth (65%).
- Using healthy and/or non-food/beverage items as rewards (62%).
- Celebrating special occasions with healthy food and/or non-food activities (58%).
During COVID-19, the Edible ABC’s curriculum was adapted for virtual learning. Additional resources were created to provide teachers ways to connect Edible ABC’s foods to the home learning environment and encourage positive behavior change through videos, worksheets, and tasting at home. Example resources include:
A sample Edible ABC’s lesson includes the Edible ABC’s picture card (PDF, 2MB) that teachers would typically use in the classroom to teach the letter/healthy food. These have been updated to include an Edible ABC’s video that highlights the food, how it is grown, how it is good for children’s bodies, and how families can buy the food item. The video also includes a physical activity associated with that letter of the alphabet, a section on trying new foods, and handwashing. To extend students’ learning, teachers can use reinforcement activities that use the healthy food item to count, grow at home or in the classroom, and use their senses to explore the food. Students can complete a student worksheet to practice tracing letters, identifying other foods that start with that letter, and matching healthy foods with the word.
Parents can be actively involved with their child’s learning through the Family Newsletter Tasting at Home (PDF, 466KB), and Edible ABC's Adventures (PDF, 366KB) that explores learning activities for every day of the week. Parents can also choose to receive text messages through Maryland SNAP-Ed’sText4HealthyTots program. This program provide parents with nutrition and physical activity messages for preschool aged children.
Sites using the Edible ABC’s curriculum can expand impacts by incorporating related worksite wellness programs among preschool staff through activities such as eat well at work, move more at work and fuel your body with water (PDF, 2MB).
Educators also train Healthy Tots collaborators to create healthy policies around staff role modeling of healthy behaviors, drinking water, screen time, physical activity, healthy celebrations and rewards.
ST1 - Healthy Eating
ST3 - Physical Activity and Reduced Sedentary Behavior
MT1 - Healthy Eating
MT3 - Physical Activity and Reduced Sedentary Behavior
MT5 - Nutrition Supports
MT6 - Physical Activity and Reduced Sedentary Behavior Supports