• Staci Hemesath, RDN, LD

2020 Healthiest State Awards: Early Care Provider Finalist Spotlights

Updated: Feb 18, 2020

The 2020 Healthiest State Annual Awards will be held on Thursday, February 6 at the Ron Pearson Center in West Des Moines, IA.

The Healthiest State Initiative wants to reward Iowa workplaces, education providers, communities, and individuals for their efforts to improve the physical, social, and emotional well-being of Iowans.

The public is invited to honor and celebrate the important work that is being done by the finalists in each category, which include: Community, K-12 School, Early Care Provider, Out-of-School Program, Individual, and Workplace (Small, Medium, and Large). Each category winner will be granted a monetary gift to continue their work focused on improving the health and well-being of their employees, students, or citizens. Tickets can be purchased here.

There are four Early Care Provider Finalists making a huge difference in the lives of our youngest Iowans and inspiring others to do the same! Let's learn more about them....

Little Steps & Beyond Daycare

Iowa City, IA

Hi, I'm Anita Schuckert, the owner of Little Steps and Beyond Daycare and After School Program in Iowa City, IA. My program focuses on gardening, cooking, nutrition, outdoor activity, and family involvement . The children and parents LOVE it!! The older children help plan the logistics of the garden, and everyone has a voice in what we plant. All the children help plant the seeds and plants (even the one-year-olds). Each child has their own “garden” to plant their favorite veggie to take home. We do almost all of our gardening in containers and some are quite creative! We have strawberries in a plastic pool, peas in an over-the-door shoe holder and potatoes in laundry baskets. Every year, our garden gets bigger and bigger! This past year, we have been growing up! Literally! We are experimenting with a potato tower and have built risers for more space for our deck boxes. A couple of school-age girls are learning how to clone plants and have been very successful. One of the girls wanted to try some hydroponic gardening. We made a very simple one that is on the kitchen table, and it works! Growing garden goodness, preparing new and yummy food, singing silly songs, and enjoying the great outdoors are what we are all about. My favorite questions…”Do you think we can…?” or “What would happen if we…?” If we don’t allow them to try, they may never find out why.

Tri-County Child and Family Development

Waterloo, IA

Tri-County Head Start serves 892 children throughout Black Hawk, Buchanan, and Grundy County. The agency has been in operation since 1965 providing both center-based preschool and home-based services for families and children ages zero to five years old. The mission of the agency is partnering with the community to prepare children and their families for health, school and life success. Tri-County incorporates Health and Nutrition practices into the daily lesson plans of students, including healthy and nutritious meals, nutrition activities, and service of family-style meals.  The agency highlights a monthly focus food, a new fruit or vegetable, and uses creative ways to serve it to encourage participants to try new healthy options. Education is provided to parents in both face-to-face meetings and monthly newsletters on their child’s personal health and nutrition, as well as information on healthy habits such as food, exercise, and reduced screen time.


Mount Pleasant, IA

TenderCare is owned and operated by Gladys Movall from Mount Pleasant. Gladys started TenderCare in May of 2006 after looking for high quality child care and realizing there were only a couple and they were full. Gladys started taking classes, getting involved with other providers, and learning as much as she could that would help the children, families, community, and her own family. As a Master Gardener through Iowa State University Extension in Henry County, Gladys focuses on science, math, and literature through play and plants. The children grow produce year round with both indoor and outdoor gardening methods.  

Gladys promotes wellness by instilling the importance of a balanced diet and a love of movement, encouraging children to drink lots of water, and taking advantage of teachable moments throughout each day. Gladys regularly uses Team Nutrition materials provided by USDA and the Child and Adult Food Program (CACFP).

Lastly, Gladys networks extensively to encourage other early care providers to maintain a more positive outlook on their businesses. She teaches courses through the Iowa Association for the Education of Young Children (Iowa AEYC), Child Care Resource and Referral (CCR&R), and as a Master Gardener with Iowa State University Extension.  

Children's Center at Children's Square

Council Bluffs, IA

The Children’s Center at Children's Square is a preschool center serving birth through age six in Council Bluffs, Iowa. We provide high scope learning with the philosophy, “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand."

Our healthy eating journey started when we noticed a deficit in the food knowledge of some of our students. We participated in a program called Grow it, Try it, Like it, which introduced new fruits and vegetables to students in a variety of ways. We loved this program so much that when it concluded, we continued to explore various fruits and vegetables as part of our everyday curriculum. Some of our most recent food explorations have been roasting pumpkin seeds the students harvested from the pumpkin themselves, making homemade pumpkin pie and homemade applesauce, and baking sweet potatoes. Last spring, we started to grow our own food in our greenhouse and outdoor garden area and cared for these foods daily until they were ready to harvest and become delicious snacks! Students loved being able to take ownership in their food from seed to plate. Our first harvest included; jalapenos, carrots, tomatoes, honeydew melons, and cantaloupe. The garden project was a HUGE success and we will be expanding the project with new raised garden beds next growing season. We are also trying to be more eco-conscious and have implemented a recycling program and recently secured funds to install a compost bin next spring to reduce our food waste and to provide for our future gardens. This theme has also been incorporated into our field trips. Last fall, we went to a local apple orchard and pumpkin patch to see how food grows and to pick them for ourselves.

One of our passions was bringing STEM forward into our classroom, so that has been a huge focus for our three-year-old preschoolers including the creation of an outdoor STEM shed and indoor mobile STEM cart. We love to be outside whenever possible and love moving our learning activities outside, taking walks to pick up litter around our campus, and observing nature. We also partner with a local nursing program that comes into the classroom to teach students and their families healthy life habits. Throughout the day, we also work on healthy life habits such as exercising, drinking water, and learning the importance of eating balanced meals. Our students have loved the process of exploring and learning about new foods and these experiences have helped them expand their food knowledge and their pallets. We love seeing our children invested in healthy food choices and look forward to the continued growth and implementation of this project!

Good luck to each of these incredible early care providers and thank you for all you do for the children in your care!

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