Minnesota’s Technical Assistance Program Encourages Healthier Policies in ECE
Minnesota’s state training and technical assistance program encourages providers to adopt policies and engage in new practices related to healthy eating and physical activity.
The Minnesota Department of Health trains and supports public health department professionals to deliver training and technical assistance to ECE providers in their specialized areas.
- Train-the-Trainer Model and Success
The train-the-trainer model and technical assistance program includes:
1) assessing the ECE environment using the NAP SACC instrument
2) education on healthy eating for young children
3) education on physical activity for young children
4) implementing nutrition and physical activity best practices
5) adopting new nutrition and physical activity policies
Specifically, the training includes information on improved menus, positive mealtime environments, appropriate serving sizes for young children, adult role modeling, integration of changes into the daily schedule and curriculum, parent engagement and opportunities for children to participate in both structured and unstructured physical activity on a daily basis.
Instead of enacting statewide policies for obesity prevention in ECE settings, Minnesota opted to take a “bottom-up” approach. The MDH encouraged ECE providers to engage in practices and adopt their own policies related to healthy eating and physical activity.
- Curricula Used
For nutrition, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) used the Learning About Nutrition Through Activities (LANA) curriculum developed and tested by MDH staff. Initially, live trainings for local public health department staff (LPH) and ECE providers were provided by MDH staff. Since then, additional public health staff have attended trainings offered by trained State Health Improvement Program (SHIP) grantees or used training tools available to prepare live trainings to ECE providers in their areas. MDH provides print and electronic materials, as well as ongoing technical assistance, to trainers in Minnesota. The full LANA curriculum can be purchased through Learning Zone Express, with a Spanish supplement available.
To date, hundreds of ECE providers have been trained in LANA and made action plans and implemented changes in their programs, and then embedded their new practices in policies. NAP SACC was used before and after LANA implementation to pinpoint practices to be improved and to chart providers’ progress. LPH staff have compiled information about changes in practice and policy, as measured by these pre- and post-assessments, and found improvements in both nutrition and physical activity.
MDH used a similar model for physical activity training based on Head Start’s I Am Moving, I Am Learning (IMIL). MDH hired three certified Head Start trainers to offer a 3-day train-the-trainer workshop to 50 potential trainers from counties around the state. Local public health staff were encouraged to assemble teams to help them train ECE providers. Teams included community partners from ChildCare Aware of America, the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), Head Start, ECE licensing, public schools, special education, Early Childhood Family Education, YMCA and child care centers, among others.
NAP SACC was used for assessment before and after physical activity-related supports, and the process again included training, changes in practice and changes in policy to reflect practice. LANA and IMIL trainings continue to be supported by MDH across the state.
- Lessons Learned
- It is crucial that materials and resources are available to trainers and ECE providers in a variety of formats, including some at low or no cost. In MDH’s case this was accomplished by posting materials online for free download, by arranging for materials to be published for purchase by ECE facilities with multiple classrooms or locations and a larger materials budget, and by supplying trainers with electronic materials, to be printed in color or black and white, in the quantities needed, as budgets allowed.
- Training alone is not sufficient to change practice. It must be accompanied by initial and ongoing support, resources, guidance and facilitation of peer exchange in order to be effective and sustained.
- Using a practice-to-policy approach rather than the reverse is more labor-intensive, but it creates greater buy-in on the part of the ECE providers and minimizes the need for enforcement of policies created on a higher level.