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“Is that good?” I asked.

February 14, 2011

I had lunch with Longfellow first-graders on a pizza day, and when we were settled at the table, the first thing I did was pick up my slice, of course.

Then I noticed my granddaughter eating her pear. I’d chosen the cup of canned oranges for dessert, because I’d assumed the pears would be underwhelming.

“Is that good?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

End of discussion. I didn’t have to ask. All around us, kids were eating their pears with great concentration, with more interesting angles of engagement than you’ll see with corn on a cob. There’s nothing like a good pear to focus the mind.

This made me so happy. On every nearby tray, the chocolate milk and pizza were left waiting.

It brought to mind the experiment at a Wisconsin school back in the 1990s in which the lunches were switched to fresh foods with no refined sugar in any part of the meal, including dessert and beverages.

There was a profound change in student behavior. But at my lunch table, I was simply pleased to see that the most excellent food was naturally chosen first.

And me, I chose poorly based on decades of disappointment with grocery store pears and a lifetime of addiction to pizza.

I think Wisconsin is still looking into this on a larger scale. The lunches cost more, but compared to the cost of having students enter the “system” of juvenile corrections and other services, it’s a drop in the bucket.

And that’s exactly the change seen at the Wisconsin test school: problems requiring such referral effectively dropped to zero. Everyone was happier.

These are the kinds of changes that look straightforward but are hard to effect politically. It’s not because of evil or inept politicians. Rather, it’s on the demand side, from existing programs and commitments, existing beneficiaries, existing systems.

Our educational expenses are top-heavy, increasing with student age through college. Decades of research show how much better it would be to reverse that and invest more in the earliest years. But it will take evolution, as well as revolution, to do that.

Colorado has been working toward focusing more on early childhood, and the Chaffee County Early Childhood Council is part of that effort. Its intent is to create a round table of interested parties—individuals and organizations touching on all aspects of early childhood in education, health, mental health, and family life.

The work of the people around the table may be focused entirely on early childhood, as with a parent or child care provider, or it may be part of their work, as with the department of public health.

The main work of the council comes down to communication: understanding each other’s work, communicating needs and successes, and paying attention to see where working together can fill gaps as we try to ensure that every child and family is nurtured and supported.

In case you’re worried, it’s not about increasing a welfare state. It’s about making sure that our current investment in the next generation is most successful.

Our local council has come far in three years establishing the round table and addressing some issues no single partner could face alone, such as programs to improve the quality of child care in the county or to expand the use of assessment aids to catch developmental difficulties in children early, when solutions are simpler.

Most council partners are over-mandated and under-funded, but by staying in touch, we can develop a better system for growing healthy children, even during a time of dwindling dollars. Which is now.

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One Comment
  1. vicky permalink

    Dear Jeff:

    To raise healthy children around whole country is a great investment of next generation, so as a parent, please ask your children to eat more vegetable and fruit, not just meat every day.

    In Taiwan, most of children eat a lot of vegetable and fruit every day; hence, the obese child is rarely seen in street.

    Here I would like to add some plates of fruit poetry to your library —

    Strawberry

    Love me, but no touch
    For longtime life in green house
    Otherwise, black-and-blue

    Atemoya

    Where, where is Buddha?
    Hush up! if you have known it
    Please don’t tell anyone

    Durian

    Look as a rascal
    Inside – soft, sweet, buttery
    Wins me female heart

    Vicky

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