Pre-service early childhood educators’ perceived barriers and supports to nutrition education


Source: Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 42:4, 345-361

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The purpose of this study was to identify pre-service early childhood teachers’ perceived barriers and supports regarding nutrition education.
In the study, pre-service teachers were early childhood students in their senior year (Senior IIs) who began their full-time internship in a classroom setting during the spring semester.

To recruit participants, purposive sampling was done within two public universities in the state of North Carolina.
One university was located in the east and the other was located in the western region of the state to make the sample more representative in nature of the state.
Students were invited to participate in the study if they were Senior II students in Birth through Kindergarten education who were completing their internship in a classroom setting in the spring 2018 semester.
In this sample, all Senior II students were completing their internship in a public school Pre-K or Kindergarten setting.
Recruitment was done via e-mail and in-person at both universities.
Phenomenological methodology was used in this study to guide data collection and analysis.
Phenomenology is useful when seeking to understand a phenomenon, or a certain experience, of a particular group (Creswell, Hanson, Clark Plano, & Morales, 2007).
It is intended to describe commonalities of a certain lived experience (Creswell, 2007).
The final sample (N = 11) consisted of seven participants from University A and four from University B. Six participants (four from University A and two from University B) explicitly planned to include nutrition related activities/lessons during student-teaching.
Through their programs’ placements or prior work experience, participants had experience in a variety of settings including private childcare, Head Start, and public schools.
Participants were not required to take a nutrition course in either teacher education program.
Data collection consisted of an online demographic questionnaire and in-depth semi structured interviews.
Demographic information was self-reported in Qualtrics prior to the interview.
Interviews lasted between 30–45 minutes and were conducted over the phone.
A standardized interview guide was created for this study with nine main questions.
During the review section, the interviewer would summarize what the participants said and give them a chance to change or add to their thoughts.
Interview questions were developed after Cooke, Ash, Goodell, and Wilson (2015) interview guide for pre-healthcare undergraduate students. Interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim.
Eleven in-depth telephone interviews were conducted.
Data analysis included reading the transcripts, extracting significant statements in preliminary coding, giving meaning to the preliminary codes, clustering the codes and meanings into themes, and finally creating an essence (Colaizzi, 1978).
In this study, themes were developed from the codebook by grouping similar codes into larger concepts that described the participants’ experience with the phenomenon.
Identified themes were supported with quotations from the participants’ interviews.
The themes were incorporated into an in-depth written description of the experiences, called an essence.
An essence summarizes the themes by presenting the essential structure and components of the phenomenon (Dahlberg, 2009).

Analysis revealed three major themes with regards to pre-service teachers’ perceptions of barriers and supports to nutrition education in the early childhood field:
(1) identification of barriers and supports,
(2) individual perceptions of nutrition education and the potential influence of barriers and supports, and
(3) educational background and training.

Theme 1: identification of barriers and supports
Participants were asked to identify barriers and supports to nutrition education in the early childhood classroom.
Pre-service teachers identified a range of barriers and supports that could be classified either as barriers or supports depending on their personal perception.
Three subthemes were human resources (colleagues, collaborators, school administrators), availability of resources (materials for activities, time), policies regarding curriculum and food.
These subthemes were the most commonly discussed barriers and supports.

Theme 2: individual perceptions of nutrition education and the potential influence of barriers and supports
Individual perceptions of nutrition education influenced how pre-service teachers viewed potential barriers and supports and their potential impact on their ability to implement nutrition education in the classroom. Understanding where pre-service teachers stand on nutrition education personally may reflect more about the deeper issue of nutrition education’s barriers and supports.

Theme 3: educational background and training
Participants reported that they were not previously exposed to in-depth classes or training that focused on nutrition education lessons for the early childhood classroom.
Pre-service teachers were asked about the state of nutrition education in the early childhood field and their own undergraduate program.
There was a consensus that the field and their teacher education programs do stress the importance of nutrition education although they may not prepare pre-service teachers to implement lessons on the subject.
This means that the pre-service teachers largely only heard about nutrition education as it related to guidelines and restrictions instead of the subject being concretely incorporated into early childhood curricula.
Participants were able to describe what they think nutrition education should be like and if they would like to take more nutrition courses during their undergraduate program.
All participants understood and articulated that nutrition can be integrated in creative ways into various subjects for children.
In general, participants wanted to “incorporate it really into anything that just helps give them more hands on (experiences) to help them learn better.”
When asked about taking more courses that covered nutrition, participants said they were interested but may not necessarily go out of their way to add it.
Pre-service teachers were also interested in the information for themselves, which would trickle into their teaching.
Some participants were interested in courses that focused specifically on children.

Even with limited classroom experiences, pre-service teachers were well aware of barriers and support that they will face when implementing nutrition education in the classroom.
Human resources, availability of resources, and policy all served as barriers or supports, but it is clear that perceptions of these barriers and supports appear to influence how teachers perceive their ability to successfully implement nutrition education in their future classrooms.
For example, how pre-service teachers perceived their access to these resources and their constraints by policy impacted their view of barriers and supports.
Their educational background and training impacted how they see barriers and supports in the field.
While more classes or trainings are needed for nutrition education for preservice teachers, participants could only base their discussion on what they already know.
The pre-service teachers generally had an optimistic yet cautious view of what barriers and support they plan to encounter when they enter service.

Conclusion and recommendations
In this phenomenological study, eleven early childhood pre-service teachers from two public universities were interviewed to identify their perceived barriers and supports to nutrition education in the early childhood classroom.
Participants identified a range of barriers and supports similar to those reported by in-service teachers (Lisson et al., 2016; Shor & Friedman, 2009; Wallace et al., 2017).
This study has implications for both the early childhood education field as a whole and individual teacher education programs that prepare early childhood educators.
Pre-service teachers mentioned that the early childhood education field does draw attention to nutrition education as a priority, but it may not take sufficient action to support teachers in implementing nutrition lessons.
While large recommendations may be premature without more research in this area, the authors offer a few targeted recommendations.
Providing more pre-service trainings aimed specifically on nutrition education lessons are needed.
Pre-service trainings provide the opportunity to prepare new student-teachers to integrate nutrition lessons before they enter the classroom full-time as a career.
It may also help new teachers to develop their teacher self efficacy before they are established in their own center or school classroom.
Teacher education programs are already developing this quality in their students, but being mindful that teacher educations programs cannot prepare teachers for all situations is important.
Teacher education programs instead can provide new teachers with the skills to navigate barriers and supports successfully in the classroom.
Furthermore, integrating nutrition education lessons into other subjects and being more intentional when teaching about nutrition are possibilities.
While these possibilities exist, they have not been fully explored and it may require larger changes to curricula and teacher education programs.
By understanding pre-service teachers’ perceptions of barriers and supports to nutrition education and by developing teacher self-efficacy early in their careers, these new teachers may be better prepared to navigate the barriers and supports they will encounter and need during their career.

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Updated: Apr. 11, 2022