JCC introduces Discover CATCH Engaging and fun, program promotes healthy lifestyle choices starting in preschool
[by Shiela Steinman Wallace, Editor]
Wherever you turn today people are talking about health and wellness issues – obesity and diabetes are epidemic; people’s food choices often include too much salt, fat and sugar and not enough fresh fruits and vegetables; people are glued to their TV and computer screens and don’t get enough exercise.
For adults, making healthier lifestyle choices is difficult. There’s not enough time to cook, so we grab a frozen dinner or run through the drive-through at a fast food restaurant. Fresh vegetables and fruit? Well, maybe tomorrow.
Exercise? There’s one more task at work, one more thing to do on the computer, one more “must-see” thing on TV, the kids have a little league game and the gym is too far away. These habits are ingrained and hard to break – even with the best of intentions.
Would things be different if we had started making healthy lifestyle choices when we were children? Can we make a difference for today’s children by making the healthy choice the normal choice and building good habits starting in preschool? Nationally, the Jewish Community Centers Association has answered, “yes.” and through the Discover CATCH program has made the resources available to local JCCs. Louisville’s JCC has answered, “yes,” and is adopting the Discover CATCH program this summer. Diane Levine and Shannon Levine Benovitz have said, “yes,” funding the Discover CATCH program through the Jay Levine Youth Fund. It is the perfect way to remember their beloved husband and father on the 10th anniversary of his passing , as it reflects his values and interests.
What is Discover CATCH?
CATCH stands for Coordinated Approach To Child Health, a program developed at the University of California to promote physical activity, healthy food choices and the prevention of tobacco use in children. Discover CATCH takes this comprehensive program and puts a Jewish lens on it. Nationally, the program partners with The Jared Foundation established by Subway® restaurant spokesman Jared Fogle.
If all that sounds stuffy and boring, Discover CATCH is anything but. The Discover CATCH program creates an environment where physical activity, health education, gardening and healthy eating behaviors are valued and taught. Little ones are motivated to walk, run, jump, dance and move their whole bodies while playing and having fun. It is unique because the classroom curriculum includes stories with puppets and activities that really resonate with 3-, 4- and 5-year-old children. Lessons share important nutrition concepts and are crafted so that they can be used in any preschool learning center. Children have fun as they learn about healthy eating; and the PE activities, which come with music, and keep kids and teachers moving and singing.
In March, five JCC staffers, Early Childhood Assistant Director Angie Hiland, Middle School and Assistant Camp Director Rachel Lipkin, Teen Director Mike Steklof, Assistant Director of Membership and Wellness Tara Stone and Early Childhood Teacher Chrissy Verdon traveled to Columbus, OH, to learn how to implement the program in Louisville. They came back excited about the program and could hardly wait to implement it. In talking about the program, they were so enthusiastic, they kept completing each other’s thoughts. “It talked about how Judaism commands us to be happy and healthy,” said Steklof.
“It’s designed to set the stage for cooperation between Fitness and Early Childhood,” Hiland began, “because they told us a lot of JCCs don’t work that way,” Steklof finished her thought.
Our Louisville JCC starts with an advantage, he continued. “With Tara, who taught preschool for a lot of years, we already work together.”
A community garden plays an important role in the program, and on Earth Day, April 22, children in the Early Childhood program planted strawberries, broccoli, cabbage, radishes and lettuce. They also began an herb garden with parsley, thyme, oregano and mint.
By growing their own food, Lipkin explained, children begin to realize where food comes from. This summer, the children in the JCC Summer Camp will also help tend the garden.
While most of the food will be donated to JFCS, Hiland added, the staff will “introduce portions of that food into snacks at preschool and camp.”
Verdon and Steklof pointed out that the program also includes daily programs and activities. “There is parade around,” Verdon said. “The kids line up in a circle and parade around acting like different animals. It provides good classroom management for the teachers and learning experiences for the kids that are fun. And it gets them moving around for fitness.”
“The Discover CATCH program includes a box of 200 activities and the things we need to implement them,” Hiland said, “including combs, scarves, hoola hoops and more. These are tools we will use to incorporate fitness activities into the class.”