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October 01, 2013 | 03:28 PMGENOA CITY — Jenny Wehmeier said a boy told her he hated blackberries during one of her classes for Nibbles of Nutrition, a preschool program that could signify a new trend at Brookwood Elementary School.
During a Sept. 25 interview before her next class, Wehmeier said she told him that was OK, but he had to at least touch one with his tongue. If he didn’t like them after that, she wouldn’t make him eat the fruit.
Wehmeier said she walked away, so the boy wouldn’t feel pressured, and he’d done what she asked.
The boy left class that day with all the leftover blackberries.
“We’re just about exposing kids to foods multiple times,” she said. “Maybe they don’t like broccoli raw, but they might like it steamed. Maybe they’d like it on a pizza.”
With Nibbles of Nutrition, Wehmeier — a family living educator with the University of Wisconsin Extension — also uses storytelling, crafts and her sense of humor to achieve this goal.
On Sept. 25, she read a book to a group of 3- to 6-year-olds and their mothers, grandmothers or babysitters. The book was about cows using a typewriter to tell a farmer what they’d like to see on the farm. Then, the children pasted spots on cow shapes that Wehmeier provided. This paved the way for exposing the children to dairy products like mozzarella balls and goat cheese.
Before all that, Wehmeier greeted the class with a special announcement — it was a student’s birthday. He was 77, she said, and everyone laughed.
Joking aside, the boy was 5.
“I think it’s awesome that you came to class on your birthday because, on my birthday, I like to sleep in,” Wehmeier said.
Bringing kids in early
Some Brookwood officials, including Principal Jon Schleusner, seem to be excited about Nibbles of Nutrition for a few reasons.
“We don’t have a 4-K program,” Schleusner said. “So one of the things that we wanted to do this year was get some of our younger kids in the area into this building.”
April Fitzsimmons, the school’s guidance counselor, recommended Brookwood try Nibbles of Nutrition.
“My kids, actually, before they went to school, grew up with Miss Jenny,” Fitzsimmons said as she explained how the program was available in Elkhorn.
It also was in Genoa City before, at the public library.
“We decided there was a need to get the children into school,” Wehmeier said.
A need perhaps beyond teaching them about basic nutrition, she said.
That need is to provide preschool-aged children with opportunities for social interaction.
“Not only is (Nibbles of Nutrition) interactive, but it builds basic skills to prepare children for kindergarten,” Wehmeier said.
Without a 4-year-old kindergarten program, Brookwood may be looking to these types of programs to fill that need.
Schleusner said he hopes the program will be a springboard to others, such as a “responsible child class” to help children learn problem-solving techniques and behavior strategies. Wehmeier and Fitzsimmons said offering programs such as Nibbles of Nutrition in a small town such as Genoa City also helps parents, who don’t have to drive their children out of town to participate.
Except, of course, on Oct. 9, which is when the program ends with a “block party” at the UW-Extension office, 100 W. Walworth St., Elkhorn.
“We started with four kids,” Fitzsimmons said.
“Word of mouth is really catching on,” said Wehmeier. But is that just because a program like Nibbles of Nutrition is finally available at Brookwood?
Wehmeier doesn’t just exhibit the right mix of silly and kindness before and during class. Her love of what she does shines through so brightly that it’s no surprise to hear her say she’s been doing Nibbles of Nutrition for eight years.
“For me, it’s all about the kids, but that little boy with the blackberries … to maybe turn children on to something that they haven’t been exposed to, that’s what gets me excited,” she said.