Children learn best when they are actively engaged through observation, participation and exploration of their environment, people, things, places, and events.
Effective childhood nutrition initiatives focus on children as they learn and grow in order to develop healthy attitudes and behaviors towards food. Experience based learning is all about self-discovery supported by the social learning theory. The social learning theory states that social behaviors, such as nutritional habits, are learned through observation and imitation of the actions of others. My approach to education (and the book series) is built on the principle that experiential learning helps mold and shape children’s opinions to develop healthy eating habits that can impact their current and future health.
I was first exposed to educating through experience in 2004 when I began teaching a nutrition education program that went into 2nd, 4th, and 6th grade classrooms talking about food and physical activity. Each class we did experiments, taste testing’s, and games that made learning about nutrition fun. Week after week the kids were excited for the next lesson. Conducting experiments with taste buds and physical activity was fun and engaging. Encouraging taste testing and giving children the tools to articulate what they like and don’t like about foods was empowering. Teaching facts and the impact a food has on the body is fascinating as kids can relate the information to their own growing bodies.
- Ask a kid why they should drink their milk and you’ll be rewarded with a big smile and a muscle with their arm! They will tell you that milk will help them build strong bones. However, one cup of kale actually has more calcium than milk, so kale is good for strong bones too and a child would love to teach you that!
- Show a child how to pick out a perfectly ripe mango and have them squeeze the fruit to test if it’s ripe. They will gladly assist and take pride in enjoying the fruit knowing they helped with the selection.
- Share a fact about a fruit such as an individual banana is called a finger and a bunch of bananas are called a hand, and watch them share that information with their friends.
A 2010 study revealed that children increased their vegetable consumption after watching Popeye cartoons. Popeye is a role model for healthy eating because he ate spinach to increase his strength (though the thought that spinach could increase strength due to its iron content was based on a transcription error), children who watch Popeye often correlate spinach with strength. Knowledge and engagement with food empowers and motivates children to try new things and that is what experience based learning is all about.
There are numerous children’s nutrition books on the market but the target audience is not for children to learn, experience, and explore. Most children’s nutrition books are geared towards educating parents and teachers for use in classrooms, introductory picture or touch books of fruits and vegetables that do not provide information about the food itself, or are built on the premise that parents and caregivers should hide fruits and vegetables from picky eaters rather than identifying dislikes and finding new favorites.
My approach is simple: create an environment for kids to learn about and discover new foods they love through empowering experiences.
Find more in the hashtag #nutritiontidbids