Currently, the Orfalea Foundation Early Childhood Education (ECE) team is focused on five measures of whole child quality at local centers: Food Quality, Physical Activity, Hydration, Gardens, and Recycling. While the first three are obviously related to child health and wellness, gardens and recycling may seem like odd choices for evaluating an early education center. In fact, these two elements are components of food and environmental literacy, which makes them essential to both wellness and good citizenship. The Orfalea Foundation’s Whole Child philosophy includes the idea that a well-educated and well-nurtured individual grows able to care for him- or herself, care about family and community, and take care with our society’s future.
Play and time in gardens builds an essential connection between children and the source of their food. Children who understand where food comes from are less suspicious of new foods and more curious. They also develop a taste for healthy fare, and we believe this bodes well for turning the tide on our nation’s juvenile obesity epidemic. Likewise, recycling habits play a role in connecting children to their community and environment.
Centers with rigorous recycling practices and a commitment to durable rather than disposable cups, dishes, and utensils set a good example for parents and children alike. And leading by example is critical. As novelist James Baldwin observed, “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” By presenting recycling, gardening, healthy eating, frequent hydration, and physical activity as normative behaviors, centers with whole child practices help children establish healthy habits that will last a lifetime.