Preschool Children and Food in Decorah: Important Connections

Preschool Children and Food in Decorah: Important Connections

by Sam Anderson, Co-op Intern, & Nate Furler, Marketing Specialist

There are many preschools in Decorah – Nisse, Northeast Iowa Montessori, Kinderhaus, Westside, NE Iowa Child Development, St. Benedict’s and Sunflower – all offering different ways of incorporating food into daily school life.

West Side Early Childhood Center is part of the Decorah Community School District.  Working with food is a part of the curriculum, and students are involved in the preparation of snacks at different times during the week.  Lessons include one-on-one or two-on-one activities during “center time.” West Side is hoping to put in a school garden this spring in an effort to enhance the experiences the children have with growing fresh fruits and vegetables.  Class tours of local farms are enjoyed, especially when there is an immediate link with a student and their family farm. Most recently the 4-year-old program was excited to take a tour of Seed Savers Exchange just outside of Decorah.

At Northeast Iowa Montessori School, the children have the opportunity to interact with food and hone their skills in food preparation in a variety of ways. In the Area of Practical Life they are provided with cutting boards, food mats, cook’s tools and a variety of foods to carry out a full cycle of food preparation for themselves or to share with classmates. Children also help on a rotational basis with readying the daily community snack by washing and cutting items and placing them in bowls from which the children serve themselves when they are hungry. Northeast Iowa Montessori also introduces children to the origins of their foods by involving them in the grinding of wheat berries for bread making, the grating of cinnamon and allspice for gingerbread cookies or the blending of spices for curry.  The spring will bring along with it a new collaborative venture with Seed Savers, where they start a “Herman’s Garden.” This project not only connects and educates the children on foods from the ground up, but also it introduces them to horticulture and seed saving practices.  It is a goal of Northeast Iowa Montessori to teach the children as individuals about healthful food practices and also to educate the community through the children.

St. Benedict’s focus involves the child “developing life-long learning skills to create a positive impact in a diverse and ever-changing world.”  In doing so, they focus on the importance of eating healthy foods and incorporating physical activity into the day.  Tami Bohr, a teacher at St. Benedict’s, really enjoys hearing what foods the children like to eat as well as what they dislike. It also piques her interest to hear what they eat at home. Food and meal planning is a great discussion all the children can participate in, including bringing new and healthy dinner ideas home to their families.  St. Ben’s is also one of the organizations in Decorah benefiting from the Northeast Iowa Community Wellness/Healthy Communities Initiative Grant.  (Check out the article by Flannery Cerbin in this publication for more information on the NE Iowa Community Wellness Grant.)

It’s Special Snack Friday at Nisse Preschool when the 4-year-old “friends” get together to prepare their afternoon snack.  Parents are given a shopping list of ingredients to send with the children on Fridays and the students are shown basic food-prepping skills and allowed to participate and learn while enjoying the fruits of their labor.  This past fall, the children were able to take a trip to Apple of My Eye Orchard where they picked apples and helped make apple cider.  Their hot lunches are prepared by the Winneshiek Medical Center which utilizes ingredients from the hospital’s on-site garden.  The children enjoy taking trips to local farms whenever possible and look forward to having their own limited garden this spring.

At Sunflower Child Development Center, murals of farms and hand-drawn pictures of favorite vegetables greet you as you walk in the door. Meal and snack time gets busy with being a full-service center with 135 children.  However, good food along with a good education continues to thrive. Meals and snacks are made fresh in the Center.  Due to the Community Wellness Grant, children are able to get hands-on learning by making butter, cheese, smoothies and other snacks. They have the opportunity to explore foods by other means, including through the alphabet and learning all the foods that start with each letter. Sunflower is also planning to join the growing number of schools in the area with their own garden. This allows them to extend the learning outside of the classroom.

Kinderhaus’ philosophy is to “engage the cognitive, social-emotional, and physical aspects of the child.” They achieve this in many ways, including the snacks the children eat. Kinderhaus has had a garden for the past two years and works to source food locally as much as possible.  Children are closely involved with the preparation and making of meals and snacks.  By sharing the responsibility of preparing snacks and sitting at the table together, children are valued as members of the Kinder household.  Children assist instructors with cutting vegetables and fruit, baking cakes on special occasions like birthdays, and making things like applesauce, granola, popcorn, black bean dip, and their favorite – crispy kale. These children have even learned about something I didn’t try until college – chevre cheese. As they spread the cheese on bread that they helped make, they’ll happily tell you that it is made from goat’s milk and that they will be going to a farm to see goats when spring arrives.