LEAP for Health
c/o HEEL Project Coordinator, University of Kentucky, 1 Quality St., Suite 692, Lexington, KY 40507, (859) 257-2968
By the time they enter preschool, many American toddlers are already eating a diet thats too high in saturated fat, sugar, and other unhealthy components. But as almost any parent can attest, simply putting a healthier alternative in front of them is not enough. The trick is to get them to actually eat it.
LEAP for Health tackles that challenge with the help of storybooks, crafts, and gentle persuasion. Developed by the University of Kentucky College of Agricultures Cooperative Extension Service, its a 10-part preschool curriculum that teaches children between the ages of 3 and 5 about staying healthy, being physically active, and eating more fruits and vegetables.
Each LEAP (Literacy, Eating and Activity for Preschoolers) lesson begins with the reading of a childrens book that addresses a topic related to food or exercise. Then the kids are encouragednot forced, lest they develop an aversion to carrots or turnips for lifeto taste a food mentioned in the book. The approach is based on research indicating that children are more likely to be willing to try a novel food after hearing a story in which a likable character has a positive experience with the same food.
Each lesson also includes a follow-up activity, which might be anything from a craft project to an exercise session. One day, the young learners may hear Count on Pablo by Barbara Derubertis and then try making their own salsa. On another day, they may follow Anne Rockwells One Bean by conducting a science experiment on beans or making a mosaic out of dried ones. Marc Browns D.W., the Picky Eater reassures them that lots of kids are choosy about what they eat, while the follow-up activity encourages them to have some fun with spinach by tossing a salad with it.
Though health education is the primary focus, the LEAP materials extend the learning into many other curriculum areas. Children learn letters, colors, and shapes; explore the life cycles of plants and butterflies; discover that different groups of people have their own special foods; practice counting and sorting; learn about nutrition; and more. And by basing each lesson on a book, the LEAP materials get children involved with readingone of the most important factors for long-term educational success.
Kids who attend LEAP lessons also take home a family newsletter with ideas for their parents on how to encourage healthier habits at home.
In just the first six months that the LEAP curriculum was in use, more than 140 people were trained to teach the lessons. Sessions have been held in child care centers, libraries, Head Start classrooms, churches, and even homes across the state.
LEAP is part of the larger Health Education through Extension Leadership (HEEL) initiative, which harnesses federal funds and the resources of the Cooperative Extension Service to address a variety of community health issues. HEELs offerings include publications, web sites, seminars, and participatory projects on topics ranging from understanding Medicare prescription drug benefits to fighting the spread of illegal drugs and from increasing your physical activity to improving your mental and emotional health.