Spring In-service Training Highlights: Healthy Foods and STEM

13265834_10154145164366192_6151227725721600198_nWe’d like to share with you a few highlights from our spring in-service training. In our first session, Marna Canterbury, Director of Community Health at the Lakeview Health Foundation, discussed some of the hesitations children have about trying new foods (e.g. How will it feel in my mouth and throat? What will happen to me if I eat it? Will it hurt me?) and shared some fun and engaging ways to introduce healthy foods to children.

Children are fascinated by where food comes from and how it grows, so incorporating those lessons into a taste test can make children feel more comfortable. Marna also discussed how the goal is for children to try different foods not necessarily for them to enjoy all foods (they might grow into that later). And trying a food can mean actually eating it, or simply touching it to their tongues or moving it around in their fingers. Some children need to be exposed to foods nine times before they will feel comfortable trying them. Finally, we learned how important our role is as food coaches and that our positive attitudes make a big difference in how children experience new foods.

Our second session was on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) in play-based early childhood education. Patty Born, Faculty Program Coordinator and Assistant Professor of Environmental Education and STEM at Hamline University, described how thinking in terms of STEM can deepen the learning process for young children. STEM helps children develop self-efficacy (i.e. “I have seen that type of problem before and I know how to solve it.”) and allows teachers to add depth to their curriculum.

She emphasized that children in play-based learning programs are already doing a great deal of STEM in their play (e.g. identifying patterns, building block ramps, measuring water, and using materials in new ways) and that the key for teachers is to call out some of the processes that the children are already going through and ask questions that deepen their exploration. “Productive questions” in STEM learning include:

  • Measuring and counting questions
  • Comparison questions
  • Action questions (e.g. what would happen if…)
  • Problem-posing questions
  • Reasoning questions

Just as with the Creative Curriculum, Patty encouraged our teaching staff to follow the lead of the children in their classrooms and focus on their unique interests as they develop new investigations. We can wait to see where our investigations take us this summer!