The winner of the Nursery World Award 2019 for health and well-being was George Perkins Day Nursery in Birmingham for its Building Healthy Families initiative. Since its launch, the scheme has boosted children’s energy levels and had a positive impact on their behaviour.
The nursery team developed the initiative following the success of the previous Building Healthy Lives campaign, which focused on children’s health and activity via weekly organised ‘toddles’ – scavenger hunts, bike rides or treasure trails in the park – and sports days.
Setting manager Sarah Presswood decided to extend the initiative to the home environment, on the basis that it would help children and families to have health and well-being built into their routines both in and outside the nursery.
‘We thought it was important to recognise children are part of families, and the messages they receive at nursery are only one part of what they are taking in,’ Ms Presswood explains. ‘To make a sustainable difference, we needed families on board, so Building Healthy Lives became Building Healthy Families.’
A launch event at the setting introduced parents to the three core principles of the project: being active, healthy attitudes to food, and emotional health and well-being.
The priority for staff was then to ensure the project could easily become part of everyday life by making activities fun and easy for parents to enjoy together with other families from the setting.
A weekly Family Physical Challenge, such as a walk, swim or obstacle course, is advertised around the nursery, and families are encouraged to meet up and take part in challenges together. Parents can then upload photos to Tapestry, the setting’s online learning journal.
‘We give prizes to the families who do the most, or approach the challenge in the most creative way,’ explains Ms Presswood. ‘That helps encourage a healthy aspect of competition!’
As a result, staff have reported that children’s energy levels are greater, and they are developing confidence and self-esteem from their physical skills.
‘The higher a level of activity they manage, the higher their levels of energy and concentration,’ says Ms Presswood. ‘Behaviour is better too; increasingly we just don’t really have any challenging behaviour, and we are really seeing the whole child.’
HEALTHY ATTITUDES TO FOOD
Other challenges set for families include food activities based on fruit or vegetables that the children are growing in nursery. Families are encouraged to cook a recipe at home using that ingredient and, again, to report back online on what they have been doing.
For children, this helps embed what they have learned at nursery, where groups will plan a meal, write a shopping list, collect money and walk to the supermarket to buy ingredients, which they prepare and cook for their friends, and discuss healthy choices and balanced diets together.
Ms Presswood says this is vital to helping children take ownership of what they are eating. ‘They enjoy cooking and they eat a wide range of foods quite happily,’ she explains. ‘They are not just doing what they are told but engaging independently with food and building healthy attitudes and skills for life.’
The focus on emotional health at the nursery includes working with an educational psychologist to deepen understanding of attachment and attuned interaction, and using emotion coaching to support children’s self-regulation, behaviour and self-worth. The nursery says it no longer talks about ‘managing behaviour’ as something negative.
‘The educational psychologist we worked with encouraged us to replace behaviour management with focusing on interactions as a way to understand, and help children understand, how they are feeling,’ says Ms Presswood.
‘Often, challenging behaviour is due to a child being unable to cope with their emotions or frustrations, and acknowledging their feelings and recognising they are legitimate can make such a difference.
‘Understanding the children as seeking a connection or attachment makes a difference to how staff feel about the children, and, after a workshop for parents, they reported that this has helped diffuse situations at home as well.’
Staff are working hard to make good choices too, initiating a weekly GP Joggers club in the park after work and ensuring all team-building events are active rather than simply going for a meal – with recent socials including a trip to Go Ape and taking part in a Pretty Muddy obstacle course and a Race for Life.
Meanwhile, in the setting, fruit is always available in the staff room and discussion of healthy options is encouraged.
‘We’re not all saints by any means,’ Ms Presswood acknowledges. ‘It’s not like there’s never any chocolate around, and some have found it harder than others. But we want to come at this from all angles and make it something we can all do, believe in, and acknowledge is good practice. Making it part of the conversation means it becomes normalised, and that gets passed on to the children too, rather than just being imposed on them.’
BUILDING HEALTHY COMMUNITIES
The nursery is now planning a third phase to its health initiative, extending the project to establish Building Healthy Communities.
Links established with a local care home will see children visiting elderly residents for activity sessions, and residents coming to the setting to help with the nursery gardening.
Meanwhile, parents will be invited to the GP Joggers sessions and the nursery hopes to establish a ‘Couch to 5k’ running plan with a local athletics club.
Ms Presswood believes the initiative will help build a sense of community and mutual support. ‘In our local community, lots of people don’t feel happy going out after dark. If a group of us went out together, they might feel more comfortable. It can only be a good thing to open up to our families, friends and neighbours,’ she says. ‘We want to recognise the importance of the ripple effect.’
Above all, the nursery believes that putting health and well-being at the centre of everything it does will help make activity, nutrition and emotional wellness part of everyday life for all adults and children in and around the setting.
Ms Presswood explains, ‘We want others to see you don’t need any fancy programme, equipment or radical change to make healthy, happy lives a reality. You just need to put it at the heart of everything you do, and believe in it.’
KEY POINTS AND MORE INFORMATION
- The Building Healthy Families initiative at George Perkins Day Nursery, Birmingham, builds on its child health programme and has three core principles: being active, healthy attitudes to food, and emotional health and well-being. For more, visit: https://georgeperkinsdaynursery.co.uk/nursery-birmingham-healthy-lives.
- The Nursery World Awards 2020 are now officially open to entries and include a new category, the Eco-Friendly Early Years Award. Find out more about this year’s event at www.nurseryworldawards.com.