Color Me Healthy
Perspectives On Line: The Magazine of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

NC State University

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The brightly colored posters, picture cards and sing-along songs of Color Me Healthy have this preschooler totally captivated as she learns about nutrition and healthful activities from the award-winning program, a product of Cooperative Extension and community partnerships. (Photo by Becky Kirkland)












































"Color Me Healthy also delivers
messages to children's families.
Camera-ready newsletters with
healthy nutrition and activity
tips can be photocopied and distributed to parents."































"Color Me Healthy": A Cooperative Extension-partnered program vividly teaches preschoolers good health habits. --- By Natalie Hampton
Learning about nutrition is fun for preschooler Georgia Shore, here sampling the materials of the award-winning program. (Photo by Becky Kirkland)

ornate letter W hat do brightly colored posters, picture cards and sing-along songs have to do with children’s health? The developers of a children’s nutrition and physical activity program — Color Me Healthy — are hoping to encourage children to develop healthy lifestyles that will follow them to adulthood.

They’re off to a good start. Color Me Healthy received the 2003 Education Award from the North Carolina Association of Cooperative Extension Specialists in May. The program also received the Dannon Institute Award for Excellence in Community Nutrition.

The award-winning curriculum was developed through a partnership of North Carolina Cooperative Extension and the Physical Activity and Nutrition Unit, N.C. Division of Public Health. The program targets 4- and 5-year-olds, in hopes of improving their diet and activity levels.

The program grew out of a concern for the health of North Carolina citizens. The state ranks 39th nationally – among the 12 worst states – in the health and well-being of children, and the state’s children are twice as likely as their national counterparts to be obese, according to Dr. Carolyn Dunn, nutrition specialist with N.C. Cooperative Extension.

Dunn was one of three individuals who developed the curriculum, along with Leslie Pegram, Extension associate, and Cathy Thomas, unit head of the Physical Activity and Nutrition Unit.

N.C. Cooperative Extension agents and a community partner, usually the county health department, provide training for the program, which is delivered in day care centers, home day care programs and Head Start classrooms. Currently, Color Me Healthy is offered in 84 counties and on the Cherokee Reservation. More than 5,000 child care providers have been trained to use Color Me Healthy.

“ We saw a need to educate young children on physical activity and healthy eating,” Dunn said. “We wanted to provide high-quality materials and training for child care providers.”

The idea behind the program was to introduce children at an early age to new types of nutritious foods and to help them explore opportunities for physical activity. The program’s developers hope that adopting a healthy lifestyle in childhood will become a habit for life. They also hope that preschoolers can share nutrition and activity messages with those living in their homes, Dunn said.

Before writing the curriculum, Dunn, Thomas and Pegram interviewed child care providers and Extension educators to learn the best ways of communicating with young children. The overwhelming response was that children learn through colors and music and activities that call on their imagination.

The program curriculum includes a teachers’ guide, colorful posters and picture cards, parent newsletters and a CD with seven original songs.

The centerpiece of the curriculum is Circle Time, a series of 14 lessons designed especially for the preschool classroom. Each lesson provides teachers with all the information they need to teach it. It lets them know the materials they will need and the activity level of each lesson.

“ We wanted to make the lessons fun, interactive and simple,” Dunn said. “Teachers are busy, and they need to be able to quickly glance at a lesson to prepare.”

An example of a circle time lesson is “Eat a Rainbow of Colors.” The lesson plan tells teachers that it is a low-level activity, that they need the Color of Foods picture cards and the song “Taste the Colors” from the CD. Each of the Color of Foods cards shows a bright color on one side and foods that match that color on the other. Teachers lead children through naming foods of different colors they have eaten. Then they sing and move to the “Taste the Colors” song.

At a Greensboro childhood development center, children respond enthusiastically to the interactive Color Me Healthy lessons. (Photo courtesy Carolyn Dunn)

Holly Collet, formerly a preschool teacher and now an administrator at a Raleigh KinderCare Learning Center, said she found that both parents and kids in her class really got into the program’s message of healthy eating. She tried to incorporate Color Me Healthy lessons into her classroom daily, often during lunch or snack time and encouraged the children to “eat the rainbow,” starting with their green vegetables.

She added that the students “especially enjoyed the alphabet poster. They acted out things that start with different letters like l-lion or s-snake. Moving their bodies to the Color Me Healthy songs is also fun.”.

Imaginary trips from the curriculum are designed to get children moving by capturing their imagination. For example, on an imaginary trip to the beach, children act out swimming, jumping and running in the waves, walking down the beach to collect seashells, building a sandcastle, swimming like an dolphin and flying like a seagull.

The music provided on both CD and on tape is one of the most popular features of the curriculum. The three curriculum writers discussed educational concepts for the songs with songwriters Linda Dunn and Robert Horne.

Color Me Healthy also seeks to develop teachers as effective role models for the healthy behaviors they teach children. A special section of the teachers’ guide, Color You Healthy, provides teachers with easy ways to eat healthy and move more.

“ Children do as we do, not as we say,” Dunn said. “If the caregiver is not moving and eating healthy foods, the children notice.”

Color Me Healthy also delivers messages to children’s families. Camera-ready newsletters with healthy nutrition and activity tips can be photocopied and distributed to parents.

Each newsletter includes a healthy meal recipe, “Food For Families On The Go,” as well as a “Kids Kitchen” recipe that kids and parents can prepare together. “Color Me Healthy Parent Bulletin Board” provides short tips on how to interest children in new foods and how to encourage them to be active.

One family newsletter features the words to all the Color Me Healthy songs. Parents can send in a newsletter coupon to receive a free copy of a CD or tape of the songs. In addition, colorful posters serve as educational tools in the classroom and help reinforce the Color Me Healthy health messages with parents.

Follow-up surveys of child care providers who participate in the Color Me Healthy training show that 91.2 percent are using the curriculum in their classroom eight weeks later. Nearly all report that the program has increased their children’s physical activity (97.4 percent) and increased kids’ knowledge of healthy eating (98.7 percent).

Color Me Healthy is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Services, N.C. Healthy Weight Initiative and N.C. Start With Your Heart. The program represents a partnership between N.C. Cooperative Extension, N.C. Division of Public Health, N.C. Nutrition Network, USDA, N.C. Healthy Weight Initiative and N.C. Start With Your Heart.

For information on Color Me Healthy, contact Carolyn Dunn, 919.515.9142 or

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