Former First Lady Michelle Obama has been out of the White House for nearly a year, but her legacy of promoting youth fitness and a healthy diet lives on at 16 Colorado preschools whose parent company was recently named the 2017 Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) Partner of the Year.
La Petite Academy – part of that group of 16 schools run by The Learning Care Group – adheres to a five-point program called Grow Fit that is based on Obama’s Let’sMove! Child Care goals. La Petite Academy just celebrated the Nov. 1 anniversary of its Grow Fit program, and earlier this year Learning Care Group renewed its agreement with PHA for three more years.
“When forming the partnership with Learning Care Group, we at PHA recognized the outstanding work already underway throughout its schools to encourage healthier habits in children and saw tremendous potential for an even greater impact,” said Stacy Molander, Chief Operating Officer, Partnership for a Healthier America. “We are now seeing the profound results of LCG’s efforts – and we are proud to recognize them as PHA’s 2017 Partner of the Year.”
LCG, which operates 900 preschools nationwide under several different brands, was selected from among 200 companies vying for the PHA award. In Colorado, operating under the La Petite Academy and Children’s Courtyard brand, there are 16 Front Range schools from Frederick in the north to Colorado Springs in the south – all with between 150 and 250 students per school.
Dee Long, a district manager for 10 of those Colorado preschools, says the five key goals of the Grow Fit program have had a profound impact on the health and happiness of the students.
The first goal is one to two hours of physical activity every day, from mandatory stretching (led by teachers who stretch too) to recess to movement activities in the classroom to breaking out for dance parties.
The second goal is limiting screen time to 30 minutes or less per week and absolutely no screen time for children under the age of two. The effects of limiting screen time can be dramatic, Long says, with children engaging more with each other and adults.
“It’s hard because it’s so opposite of so much of what everybody is doing these days with technology,” Long said, adding the impacts of too much screen time are noticeable. “Children don’t know how to hold a conversation, and they’re attention spans are shorter.”
The third goal is to serve fruits and vegetables at every meal and to eat family-style so that everybody, including teachers, is sitting down, passing food, talking and sharing.
“We want our teachers sitting with the children so that they can be role-modeling,” Long said. “We don’t do any fried foods at any of our schools, and in the summer, we try to grow a lot of our own food with the kids doing a lot of the gardening.”
La Petite Academy has dramatically reduced fat and sugar intake by eliminating fried foods and sugar-sweetened juices and enhanced its daily menus to include more than 50 fruits and vegetables and more than 30 multi-cultural offerings.
The fourth goal is that elimination of sugar-sweetened beverages, which means kids are basically drinking only water or milk throughout the day.
Finally, the fifth goal centers on infant feeding and the support of breast feeding.
“Making sure that moms supply their milk and that we have places for them if they want to come breast feed during the school day,” Long said. “We have a lot of parents who will come in on their lunch break. They’ll stop by, so we make sure that we have a place for them. Some are very comfortable right there in the classroom, but if they’re not, there’s somewhere they can go and be with their baby.”
All formula, breakfast, lunch and snack items are all included in the cost of tuition, and La Petite Academy looks to supplement its dietary offerings during summer months through its gardening program that emphasizes hands-on STEM and STEAM learning. The new Grow Fit Gardening Program will offer scalable options for creating outdoor and indoor gardens at its schools.
Diet and fitness go hand in hand, with The Learning Care Group’s exclusive and personalized curricular approach designed to ensure school readiness. The company is currently augmenting its fitness curriculum with new, guided activities for indoor and outdoor play.
Long says it’s all about keeping young bodies in motion.
“Everyday teachers do a three-minute stretch a couple times a day with the children, and teachers do it as well,” Long said. “Everybody stops and they all do stretches and it’s all the same stretches. They also stop and do dance parties throughout the day. A teacher or a director of a school might just call a dance party, and everybody’s got to dance for a couple of minutes.”
For more information on The Learning Care Group, visit www.learningcaregroup.com and follow Learning Care Group on Twitter @TheLearningCare . For more information about Partnership for a Healthier American, visit www.ahealthieramerica.org and follow PHA on Twitter @PHAnews.