USDA for Kids: The Healthy New Look of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Web Site

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) continues to play a vital role in nutritional programs and education for students. For most adults who grew up in the 1970s or earlier, USDA nutritional information conjures up associations with the four food groups and tasteless school lunches. Publications from the USDA in the ’70s touted canned meat, as well as recipes for peanut butter cake, pie and cookies — with plenty of fat for cooking — as good choices for thrifty families. Today, however, the USDA has revamped its image for children with USDA for Kids, a Web site that features the latest information about health, nutrition and cutting-edge science related to agriculture.

In 1997, former President Bill Clinton sent a memorandum to the heads of executive departments and agencies on “Expanding Access to Internet-based Educational Resources for Children, Teachers and Parents.” The memorandum urged them to launch Web sites and “ensure that the agency-created material is of high quality, is easily accessible and promotes awareness of Internet-based educational resources among teachers, parents and students.” It prompted government agencies to consider a wide range of educational resources for their Web sites, including multimedia publications, archives of primary documents, networked scientific instruments, and employees willing to answer student and teacher questions.

The memorandum also encouraged agencies to develop “high-quality educational resources that promote high standards of teaching and learning in core subjects.” In addition, the initiative envisioned a series of partnerships between agencies, scientific societies and universities to expand access to Internet resources for children. In response, many government departments have launched Web sites for children, including the departments of Treasury, Energy and Justice. The USDA added its name to this growing list when USDA for Kids first went online in 1998.

Multimedia Publications

The USDA for Kids site (www.usda.gov/news/usdakids) features several links that lead to USDA publications for general readership; though the majority of pages offer a wide array of exciting information and publications designed specifically for children and teachers. These sites include:

The National Agricultural Library (NAL) “Kids’ Science Page” (www.nal.usda.gov/Kids) allows visitors to explore subjects related to animals, the environment, food and nutrition, general science, and plants. Subject categories contain lists of books and articles, Internet links, as well as annotated lists of educator resources with links to full-text publications for teachers. The NAL Web site presents basic information on beginning a science fair project, including a checklist for project ideas and a list of suppliers for science projects. The Kids’ Science Page features an annotated list of science videos available through interlibrary loan from NAL. In addition, an NAL database allows children to search for annotated lists of Web sites limited by category, audience level, age and content type (i.e., sites featuring journals, museums or activities for children). The Kids’ Science Page also contains links leading to information relating to careers in science and biographies of scientists.

The Natural Inquirer (www.naturalinquirer.usda.gov), a science journal published by the USDA Forest Service, is available online with issues in both English and Spanish. The journal features articles that have been reformatted to meet the needs of an audience new to science. The Natural Inquirer contains articles from Forest Service scientists specifically abridged and reformatted for children in grades 5 and up. The journal can be searched by topic, National Science Education Standards and region. Students can also download entire issues of the journal. The site includes a “Teachers’ Place” that offers suggestions for using the online publication. It also contains sample lesson plans, a teachers’ manual and a list of Web sites to explore along with the Natural Inquirer. In addition, the site features a “Kids’ Corner” that includes a list of related sites, games and crossword puzzles.

Sci4Kids (www.ars.usda.gov/is/kids) features full-text articles — targeted to children ages 8 to 13, and appearing in both English and Spanish — about the research conducted by the Agricultural Research Service scientists. The Sci4Kids home page features a welcoming image of Dr.Watts set amid a bucolic backdrop of images for children to click on and explore. For example, children can click on high-tech images like a satellite or a futuristic car, which lead to articles on agricultural applications for space and transportation, respectively. Sci4Kids’ stories feature photographs, moving graphics and animation. A “Teachers’ Desk” features ready-made “Research AG-tivities” designed to complement the scientific information available on Sci4Kids. Teachers can also download “Whiz Kid Activities,” which include quizzes with answer keys, to enhance their science curriculum. A number of agricultural science projects, with a nice outline of the scientific process, round out the site.

Food for Thought

Children’s health is the dominating theme throughout the USDA for Kids site. TEAM Nutrition (www.fns.usda.gov/tn) presents information for teachers who wish to promote physical activity and educate students about nutritional food choices. It includes games, fun links, resources for students to learn about nutrition, and information training grants for healthy school meals. The site also features a “Parent Place” with educational information and activities for parents to share with their children.

The Food Guide Pyramids site (www.usda.gov/news/usdakids/food_pyr.html) offers two food pyramids: a traditional pyramid and one for young children. The “Food Guide Pyramid for Young Children” cautions students to follow a low-fat diet, as well as to eat large amounts of fruits and vegetables. A color poster of the food guide pyramid is also available for download. In addition, USDA for Kids includes links to information on preventing foodborne illness (www.fightbac.org) and food safety. Overall, the USDA for Kids Web site contains a delicious variety of food for thought that is waiting to be harvested by educators and children alike.

By Paul Kelsey (pkelsey@lsu.edu), Agriculture Librarian, Louisiana State University Libraries

About USDA for Kids

The USDA Office of Communications (OC) designed and built the USDA for Kids Web site to target children in grades K-8. As new mulitmedia publications produced by USDA agencies for children become available, they will be posted on the site. Content is produced by subject experts in the various agencies and departments represented on the site. In addition, all of the sites posted on USDA for Kids are reviewed for appropriateness by the OC Webmaster before being linked. USDA Webmaster Vic Powell says, “The site was created to bring information about agriculture to children, to expand their knowledge and awareness of the many facets of agriculture, and to inform them of career opportunities in agriculture.” He adds that the OC receives feedback about the site from children, parents and teachers all the time, expressing their appreciation for availability of the material.

This article originally appeared in the 12/01/2002 issue of THE Journal.

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