Category: Child Care Centers, Early Childhood Health Promotion, Featured

To have a real, long-term impact on the health and well-being of our state, it’s important that we educate and inspire our youngest generation.

No one knows this better than the educators at the LSU Early Childhood Lab Preschool (ECELP) in Baton Rouge. For years, Kamille Watson, Director of ECELP, and her talented team have engaged in innovative programs and learning initiatives aimed at teaching their young students the importance of practicing healthy habits – especially when it comes to eating.

Just recently, ECELP was awarded a Let’s Be Healthy grant through Well-Ahead Louisiana. This funding opportunity provides up to $2,500 to child care center owners to purchase materials to install an edible garden in their center’s outdoor learning environment. This grant opportunity is available to centers located in food deserts—areas with limited access to grocery stores or supermarkets.

ECELP leveraged this opportunity to build two edible gardens on their campus. For their infants, they planted an herb garden. Infants learn through sensory experiences, so this was the perfect opportunity for them to dig into the soil and explore the unique smells and textures each herb had to offer. For toddlers on campus, ECELP planted a cherry tomato garden. Now, they have plans to build a pollinator garden.

“ECELP follows the Reggio Emilia philosophy, which believes that the environment is a third teacher,” Kamille said. “Our gardens serve as a third teacher because they involve our students in hands-on learning opportunities and offer rich learning experiences. Healthy eating is just the start – our gardens allow our little ones to develop their fine motor skills, practice language and communication, and engage with other students in cooperative learning. And, best of all, our gardens are a lot of fun! What child doesn’t like to get their hands dirty?”

ECELP’s new gardens are just the latest educational tools they’ve added to their campus. Earlier this year, the school launched a new initiative called Tasty Tuesday. Now, every Tuesday, students are exposed to and encouraged to try interesting new fruits and vegetables. ECELP also launched professional development sessions on cooking in the classroom.

“After hearing about Well-Ahead Louisiana’s Let’s Be Healthy grant, we knew that this funding opportunity aligned perfectly with some of our other programs and our goal to improve ECELP’s nutrition education,” Kamille said. “We are grateful for Well-Ahead Louisiana and the support they offered us through this entire process. Their team provided professional development sessions on building a school garden and provided a site coach to assist us with online training and budgeting. As a bonus, through Well-Ahead Louisiana’s support, we were also able to raise our WellSpot designation from a Level 1 to a Level 3.”

As for any advice Kamille might offer other child care centers considering their own gardens, she says they’ll find success if they identify the right staff member(s) to lead the project.

“We have found that these gardens have meant just as much to our educators as they have to our students. For other child care centers considering their own gardens, start by finding educators who have a passion for gardening. Their skills will help to drive the project forward. And, you’ll find their enthusiasm will get the entire school excited!”

Let’s Be Healthy

Is your child care center interested in the Let’s Be Healthy grant? This funding opportunity is just one of many ways you can take the lead in improving the health of your community. Your child care center can model healthy behaviors, geaux tobacco-free, get kids active, champion oral health and provide staff training. The Well-Ahead Louisiana team is available and ready to help! Together, we can create a healthier future for our state.