Here at Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery, we believe a healthy eating and a good exercise regimen is vitally important for young children. With that in mind, we have adopted the ‘Startwell’ programme, which has been rolled out across the Birmingham area. The programme is aimed at Early Years settings like ours, health professionals and parents. After all, we should all try to play our part in creating a healthy environment for children to grow up in, whether at home or at nursery or pre-school. We have already achieved levels 1 and 2 in the programme.
The Startwell programme’s 7 key aims:
- To demonstrate good behaviour and be a good role model for children;
- For children to snack just twice a day as part of a healthy eating lifestyle;
- For children to accomplish 3 hours of physical activity every day;
- To give children food portion sizes that are right for them;
- For children to try to avoid sitting still for prolonged periods of time;
- For children to eat 5 portions of fruit and vegetables every day;
- To encourage improvement in children’s movement and motor skills.
We’ll explain each of the 7 aims in more detail …
Demonstrating good behaviour to be a good role model
Children learn by copying what they see around them. As a parent or adult involved in the child’s life, it is therefore vitally important that the behaviours they see and copy are positive. At Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery, for example, we eat fruit and vegetables together at snack time and involve the children in having fun while preparing food. We’d also like to encourage parents to share meal times together when at home with the family. Another example is sharing physical activity together to encourage motor skills and coordination. This can be great fun when it’s made part of a game and it only takes a few small changes to make a difference.
Snacking only twice a day for healthy eating
Our little ones have smaller stomachs than adults, so naturally need less food. However, it’s also important for them to keep up their energy levels during the day. In view of this, the children at the nursery follow the Startwell guidelines on healthy eating. As part of this, they have two snacks a day in addition to their three meals. Importantly, they’re healthy snacks, like fruit, vegetables, rice cakes or toast. There are plenty more healthy snack ideas on the Startwell site — click this link if you need some inspiration at home.
3 hours of physical activity a day
The government recommends roughly 3 hours a day of physical activity for pre-school children. This can be spread throughout the day, though. Physical activity positively impacts not only on physical health but also in the development of a child’s brain. Right from birth, floor based play and water activities are beneficial so long, of course, as they’re done under close supervision in a safe environment. Physical activity can have a positive effect on weight, blood pressure and general well-being. Of course, it is also is beneficial as a way of improving motor and social skills.
Giving children the right sized food portions
It’s important to remember our children’s stomachs are smaller than our own, which is especially important when it comes to portion size. Offering over-large quantities of food can sometimes overwhelm young children, so it’s important to get the portion size correct. You can always offer more if they clean their plates and are still hungry. We often employ this approach at Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery. If it’s not clear when a young child or toddler is full, we’ll look out for certain signs. These include ignoring their plate, shutting their mouth when food is given, or even wanting to spit food out. The Startwell programme offers lots of handy tips on this and meal times in general.
Avoiding sitting still for prolonged periods
Under fives shouldn’t be inactive for more than one hour at a time, with the exception of when they are asleep. Increased inactivity has been linked to weight gain and lower cognitive development. Studies have also shown that increased physical activity during early years encourages greater physical activity once we’re adults. It also encourages physical, social, emotional and intellectual skills to develop. So the Startwell message is clear — sitting positions should be primarily used for the purpose they were designed for. That means only at meal times, during car journeys and at formal lesson time.
5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day
Did you know that getting a variety of 5 portions of fruit and veg’ a day is essential for getting vitamins, minerals and fibre? They may also reduce the risk of illness in later life. By eating 5 portions a day, it helps to maintain a healthy weight, keeps us regular and reduces the risks of some diseases, including type 2 diabetes.
Even young kids can follow the 5-a-day guidelines. 5-a-day can come from a variety of sources — fresh, frozen and even tinned fruit and vegetables all contain essential nutrients. However, if you are buying tinned, stick to fruit in juice or vegetables in water.
But how big is a portion for children under five? When it comes to fruit, a portion is generally a whole piece of fruit e.g. a medium sized apple, banana or orange. If you’re talking about something small like peas or tinned corn, a portion would be roughly what would fit into your hand, or the size of 3 heaped tablespoons. For adults it’s about 80g.
One last clarification is needed: 5 portions a day, doesn’t mean eating 5 portions of fruit and 5 portions of vegetables per day. It usually comprises a combination of the two.
Improving children’s movement and motor skills
Movement and motor skills allow kids to enjoy sports and other physical activities whilst becoming fitter physically. Fundamental movement skills are important for children’s physical development. After perfecting these skills, children can go on to develop sport-specific and more complex movement skills later on.
These activities need not cost any money. Children can engage in physical games, make active stories, dig in the garden and so on. The key is to make such activities fun.
Babies’ brains are incomplete at birth but movement and physical activity play a significant role in creating nerve connections within the brain. These provide the foundations for all future learning, which includes learning at school. Therefore, even before a child can walk or talk, the child needs to begin setting the right foundations. Recent data shows that an increasing number of 3 year olds are behind in developing these skills. In contrast, Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery is keen to get kids on the right track, right from the start. Following the Startwell programme guidelines helps us — and children — towards that aim.
Our extra-curricular classes
We also offer 3 extra-curricular classes:
• Kitsacademy – A fun session, with qualified coaches, that teaches a range of skills including football, teamwork and coordination skills.
• Rhythm Time – Weekly sessions, tailored to each age group, where children learn to develop skills including singing, socialising, speech and coordination.
• Active Adventurers – Achieved through adventure stories, children develop motor skills, including balance and coordination, during multi-sport sessions.
More details of Startwell itself can be found on their website at startwellbirmingham.co.uk. Here at Leaps and bounds, we are pleased to play our part and you can find details of this on our “About us” page. Contact Leaps and Bounds Day Nursery & Pre-school in Edgbaston, near Birmingham, if you’d like more information. That can be about anything including healthy eating, keeping children active and our approach to these. You may also want to discuss a possible place for your child at the nursery and pre-school. Call 0121 246 4922, send us a message here or book a visit here and we’ll be happy to help.
The above information is for guidance are only and does not constitute health advice.
Photo: Patrick Fore