Healthy Habits, Happy Children

When elementary teacher April Dane noticed the cupcakes and brownies piling up week after week, she knew something had to change. “We were having store bought brownies and cupcakes with pink frosting almost every day,” she says, referring to the treats brought in to celebrate the students’ birthdays. While she appreciated that parents were generous enough to bring in treats, she was getting concerned about her students’ health. At the same time, she had noticed her students’ enthusiasm for the outdoor classroom and courtyard gardens, and that some were showing an interest in anatomy.

“I wanted to bring more of an understanding to the children,” she says. “It was about incorporating nutrition lessons and learning about the human body and eating healthy snacks and learning about vitamins and minerals and vegetables and fruits, and maybe using our gardens more. When the children could taste a pepper, or a tomato, and make salsa, they became so excited to see that process happen. I thought it would be great if we could do more — if we could have more choices, and more soil, and have the kids be more involved. I wanted them to be able to pick things from the garden to use in our cooking projects and coordinate that with our curriculum.”

Over the summer, she began reading about Alice Waters’ The Edible Schoolyard Project and doing more research into school gardens and integrating nutrition into school curricula. She went to the PTO with a proposal to expand the gardens in the back and in the front courtyard. Once she got the green light, the next step was to get staff and parents on board. At an August in-service, she invited FMS parent and naturopathic physician, Dr. Maria Cavalle, to speak about the importance of nutrition for growing children. After a couple of garden committee meetings this past month, several FMS Parents have volunteered to help with everything from building planter boxes to teaching cooking classes.

“In the back gardens, we are hoping for something peaceful that incorporates seasonal herbs and flowers, lemons and grapes, and possibly fruit trees. In the front we’ll do vegetables,” April continues. “The next step is to build planters in the front and pull out existing sprinklers so we can start planting.”

Primary, elementary and middle school students are learning about anatomy and the importance of adopting healthy habits. Middle school students recently helped assess and research best planting methods and helped get the courtyard gardens ready for expansion. E3 went to a local farmer’s market and made a Friendship Fruit Salad. And many classrooms are enjoying healthy birthday snacks such as whole wheat muffins, yogurt parfaits, bagels and fruit kebabs.

In E4, children choose a healthy cooking project on their birthday to make and share with their parents and the rest of the class. “Everyone was really excited,” says April. “The difference between last September and this September is amazing.”

Want to help? Email Ms. April at [email protected]. Together we can help our children to grow up healthy and happy!

Foothills Montessori School is a private Montessori school serving families in Henderson, Las Vegas and Southern Nevada.