See Jane Thrive! Lessons for Healthier Early Childhood Development

It’s often said that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ and this is definitely true when we look at creating conditions for healthy early childhood development. On June 24th, BCAHL hosted a webinar to highlight some of the lessons from those who are working to give young children a healthy beginning.

Joseph Dunn, the Provincial Director of Success by 6 started off the webinar. He described the Success by 6 model which is a collaboration between the United Way, Credit Unions of BC, the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD), and Aboriginal and community leaders. Joseph highlighted a few examples of how these collaborations support young children and help to make communities more family-friendly, such as:

  • The ORCA (On the Road with Children’s Activities) bus, which travels from Saltery Bay to Lund, including Texada Island, bringing information, programs, activities and fun to those smaller communities;
  • Children’s Drumming Circles in the Boundary region, which shared traditional songs and Aboriginal stories with the use of personal hand drums as well as a larger children’s community drum; and
  • Hop with Me’, a parent support/education/nutrition/physical activity outdoor program for parents and children – birth to five – which is offered in Courtenay during the summer when most other preschool programs shut down.

The second presenter, Dr. Mariana Brussoni explained her research on risky play and the implications for children’s activity levels and mental wellness. Activities that children describe as thrilling and ‘a bit scary’ such as play involving speed, height, rough and tumble, and the potential to get lost – are the types of play where they are more active for longer periods of time and gain confidence from independence . She showed how the independence enjoyed by earlier generations has been eroded by a preoccupation with preventing injury.

Ironically, her research has shown that risky play results in negligible levels of injury. However, the movement away from outdoor active play does lead to a more sedentary, indoor lifestyle which increases risk for chronic disease.

Dr. PJ Naylor led off the final presentation with the startling fact that only 15% of 3-4 year old Canadian children are meeting both physical activity guidelines and sedentary behavior guidelines. She added that most 4 – 8 year old children (71%) eat less than the recommended servings of vegetables and fruit.

Given the importance of exercise and healthy food to the brain and overall development, Dr. Naylor argues that early learning environments could benefit from the ‘whole of setting’ approach that is applied in comprehensive school health models.

She described some international examples of initiatives to promote healthy eating and activity for preschool children such as: Food Friends® Mighty Moves® Romp & Chomp and Tooty Fruity Veggie, as well as Canadian programs such as Active Living for Early Childhood, Busy Bodies/Eat Right be Active.

Dr. Naylor also used the evaluation of Healthy Beginnings to show how training childcare workers can support the implementation of healthy living programs in preschool settings. Training for this program is available to BC childcare providers.

Childhood is a critical period for healthy development. Our presenters gave us a glimpse of the many activities underway to promote health in the early years but they also underscored that there is much more we could be doing to give our youngest a healthier start in life.

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