Building a Community of Leaders: Promoting Healthy Eating and Physical Activity through Communities of Practice

The Ideas & Solutions blog is intended to provide a forum for the discussion of child care and early education issues and ideas. We hope to provoke thoughtful discussions within the field and to help those outside the field gain a better understanding of priorities and concerns.

By Georgia Thompson, Senior Program & Policy Analyst, Nemours and Rebekah Duchette, Senior State Systems Specialist, Nemours for the Summer 2021 Issue of Kansas Child Magazine.

Just as young children need supportive relationships as they grow and develop, adults also benefit from positive interactions with their peers. Communities of practice offer a model for connecting diverse leaders across organizations. The term refers to groups of people who share a concern or passion and who interact on a regular basis to learn from one another.

In March 2021, Nemours Children’s Health System launched two communities of practice with leaders from 11 states, including Kansas, through the Healthy Kids, Healthy Future Technical Assistance Program. These leaders are coming together to ensure that all children have access to early care and education (ECE) programs that promote healthy eating and physical activity.

This community approach is powerful because it provides participants an opportunity to build meaningful relationships with a network of peers and gain new insights into common challenges. These communities provide a space for learning, exploring, and surfacing new ideas.

What are the communities of practice doing?

Nemours hosts two virtual communities of practice with 15 leaders from state ECE and public health agencies. One community focuses on expanding ECE program participation in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), the federal program that provides reimbursements for nutritious meals and snacks to eligible children. The other community focuses on advancing equity in state efforts to improve healthy eating and physical activity in ECE systems. Members commit to collaborating and supporting each other around these topics.

First, the community members share their own experiences within each focus area. For example, many states want to increase ECE program participation in CACFP. Some states have looked at participation data and created maps highlighting underserved communities. Others have conducted surveys or focus groups to understand why some providers do not participate. These efforts can inform initiatives to engage more ECE programs in CACFP and increase the number of nutritious meals reaching young children.

Second, the communities come together to generate new ideas. For instance, members of the equity community of practice are committed to ensuring quality ECE programs are available for all children in their states. We know that some organizations struggle to make their initiatives more inclusive. With support from Nemours, several states received training on equity, diversity, and inclusion. These leaders are now attempting to apply what they learned to their state’s initiatives, including assessing the impact of policies and programs on equity and expanding their stakeholder committees to include underrepresented groups.

How can the communities contribute to healthier early childhood education?

While the model is simple and low-cost, communities of practice effectively spread information across states, build peer connections, and generate innovations that directly benefit children. Although the Nemours communities of practice are in their early stages, the power of community is needed now more than ever.

Nemours Children’s Health is one of the nation’s largest multistate pediatric health systems, including two free-standing children’s hospitals and a network of nearly 80 primary and specialty care practices across five states. Nemours seeks to transform the health of children by adopting a holistic health model that utilizes innovative, safe, and high-quality care, while also caring for the health of the whole child beyond medicine. Nemours also powers the world’s most-visited website for information on the health of children and teens,

The Nemours Foundation, established through the legacy and philanthropy of Alfred I. duPont, provides pediatric clinical care, research, education, advocacy, and prevention programs to the children, families, and communities it serves.

Nemours is currently funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) under a five-year Cooperative Agreement (6NU38OT000304) to support statewide early care and education (ECE) organizations to integrate best practices and standards for healthy eating, physical activity, breastfeeding support, and reducing screen time in ECE systems and settings. The views expressed in written materials or publications, or by speakers and moderators do not necessarily reflect the official policies of the Department of Health and Human Services, nor does the mention of trade names, commercial practices, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

  • Child Care Aware of Kansas

    Child Care Aware of Kansas connects everyone with a stake in child care — parents, child care providers, businesses, local and state leaders, and community members — to the information and ideas they need to take action. We provide opportunities, connections, and support for Kansans to envision what a better child care system can look like for them. Working within a network of Child Care Resource & Referral agencies, we also connect caregivers and providers to the information and support they need.