A unique child health and well-being: Family ties

Promoting healthy eating to the children and families in a diverse community is part of a project engineered by Alison Tonkin, Cath Alderson and Gill Roberts.

Working in partnership with parents and carers has always been seen as good practice, but in recent years, there has been a growing body of evidence of the importance of engaging parents as partners in the care and education of their children and raising the chances of achieving their full potential.

Earlier this year, the DfES published Every Parent Matters, which expressed the Government's desire to help parents 'get information, and feel happy to use any support or advice they need'.

The provision of services and information that enable parents and carers to participate is perhaps the biggest challenge when trying to engage them as active partners in their child's development (Desforges & Abouchaar, 2003).

Every Parent Matters also highlighted how the benefits of parental involvement go beyond academic success and achievement. It contributes to enhanced social skills in children, reduces their vulnerability to stress and promotes better health. Bandura (1986) also emphasises the importance of parents and significant others as role models for improving health outcomes, as health-related behaviours established in the early years will often be carried on into adulthood (Sure Start, 2003).

Positive steps

When planning the delivery of the 'Healthy children are better learners' project, we followed the lead of the Healthy Schools programme (DfES, 2005), which promotes a whole-setting approach to the promotion of health through the active engagement of the school, the children and their parents. Positive steps were taken to ensure parents were factored into the planning and implementation of the audit tool that each setting completed as part of the project.

South Harrow Nursery reflects the community it serves, catering for a rich diversity of children and families from a range of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. The nursery believed that health issues and the PSED of children were well established, but welcomed the opportunity of using the audit undertaken as part of the course, to reflect on their practice.

The nursery team decided to focus on healthy eating by re-energising existing work and to use this as an opportunity to increase links with parents. They thought that 'food' was a topic common to all communities and therefore a good way to celebrate cultural diversity. Staff prepared a questionnaire for parents and were pleased with the response, particularly from those who had previously been difficult to engage.

The nursery created new information displays for parents on healthy eating, bedtime and safety. They worked on a number of aspects of healthy eating and decided to have a focus week on this every half-term, which has been contained beyond the completion of the programme. Activities included:

- a fruit of the day that was celebrated in different languages

- making different breads

- shopping at the local greengrocer

- cooking the food they had bought using a variety of methods.

One boy created a healthy eating collage at home with his mother, and actually refused chips for supper because they were not healthy.

After completing the project, the group translated their Healthy Eating programme into the Tamil language to reach that local community. They also employed a bilingual member of staff from the Tamil community, and through her they intend to give a questionnaire to parents using a personal approach and an explanation of its importance.

This approach demonstrates the importance of providing appropriate opportunities for parents to be active partners and the benefits to all concerned when this can be achieved.

Cath Alderson is early years advisory teacher for Harrow Early Years Childcare and Parenting Services. Gill Roberts is curriculum leader for Harrow Access and Inclusion Division People First. Alison Tonkin is NVQ manager for early years care and education at Stanmore College.

FURTHER INFORMATION

- Desforges, C and Abouchaar, A (2003). The impact of parental Involvement, parental support and family education on pupil achievement and adjustment. Available at http://www.dfes.gov.uk/research/data/uploadfiles/RR433.pdf

- Bandura, A (1986). Social Foundations of Thought and Action: A social cognitive theory. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall

- www.healthyschools.gov.uk.

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