What’s new on the Day Care scene? Nutrition and wellness education for the very young!

Integrating health, fitness and overall wellness education in everyday learning

As a leader in early childhood education, Bright Horizons is paving the way in nutritional and wellness instruction for children at a very early age through its Well Aware program. To learn more about what inspired Well Aware and how it works, we spoke to Melissa Myers, Communications Specialist for Bright Horizons.

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What is Well Aware and how is it integrated in everyday learning?

Well Aware is the Bright Horizons approach to health, fitness and overall wellness for young children. More than a set of policies and practices, it is a part of our curriculum that teaches children healthy habits and fosters positive attitudes toward healthy living.

Because young children are forming attitudes and behaviors that will influence them throughout their lives, it is important to expose them to experiences that foster their ability to make good health decisions, develop a positive self-image, make healthy nutrition choices, and show respect for their bodies.

Well Aware enables children as young as infants to gain an understanding and awareness of how their bodies work, what their bodies need, and how to protect them. Daily activities include things like gardening, helping to prepare healthy snacks, practicing family-style dining, following safety rules and exploring fitness through structured and unstructured movement activities.

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How did the Well Aware program come about and evolve?

We have always set high expectations for creating healthy and safe places to develop and learn. Beyond practices and policies designed to keep children safe, we have long recognized the significant role that early educators have in influencing the behaviors that children adopt at an early age. Well Aware was introduced to our curriculum in 2010 to ensure fitness, nutrition and wellness were a part of a child’s daily experience at Bright Horizons.

We continue to evolve our programs to make them stronger and address the changing needs of children and families. In addition to Well Aware, we have implemented Movement Matters and GardenWorks to provide structured programs for physical fitness and gardening. Our teachers do incredible work integrating Well Aware with other curriculum areas to create really rich learning experiences. Some centers even have ‘farm-to-table’ programs where the children plant and grow vegetables in their classroom gardens that are then harvested and prepared for lunch/snack. Some have even grown enough to sell at a community farm stand and donated the proceeds to our Bright Horizons Foundation.

In some centers, we have been able to create Movement Matters zones that provide ample space for indoor gross-motor play year-round. With features like rock-climbing walls, ballet bars and yoga equipment, the children have freedom to explore fitness in a lot of different and exciting ways. It’s important to keep children interested so show them that physical activity is fun!

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Do you find that parents are concerned with the rate of childhood obesity? How does Bright Horizons help its community of parents with this issue?

As parents and educators, we all feel a sense of responsibility and concern about tackling the issue of childhood obesity. It’s important for us to continue improving our menus, our programs and our practices to ensure we are giving children the best education possible to help them build the foundation for a healthy life. As part of our ongoing efforts, we have joined First Lady Michelle Obama and the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) to make a commitment and serve as an open model for other child care providers nationwide. Our commitment has included limiting screen time and continuing to advance our nutritional and physical activity practices at our nearly 600 centers.

Families look to their child’s teachers for support and guidance. Whether related to potty training, nap routines or meal times with a picky eater, family partnerships are integral to our ability to help children build healthy habits. We know that families are the primary influence on children’s attitudes and behaviors, so they play an important part of the Well Aware program. Teachers and parents work together to build children’s awareness of healthy lifestyles and develop ways for families to extend the Well Aware curriculum at home. We also provide opportunities for parents to gain additional support through our Online Community, weekly newsletter and parent webinar series.

We recently collaborated with our friends at PHA to create a webinar about children’s nutrition called ‘Food for Thought: Nutrition Tips & Strategies for Growing a Healthy Eater’. We get a lot of questions about picky eaters—both at our centers and through our social media communities. This webinar was a great way to connect with parents about how to handle picky eaters, child nutrition facts, kid-friendly recipes, how and when to introduce new foods, and how to create healthy meals that fit into a working parent lifestyle.

Can you tell us more about your webinars? What topics do you cover? Are the webinars open to the general public?

We started the Parent Webinar Series to provide additional resources for families about parenting topics that are important to them. We try to combine the knowledge of Bright Horizons educators with that of other content-area experts to answer questions many families have about common parenting issues. We’ve covered potty training, raising a socially-responsible child, breastfeeding, raising a healthy eater, sleep issues, discipline and more. All of our webinars are open to the public and are recorded for on-demand viewing on our Family Resources page.

Our next webinar is on May 7 at 8:00 p.m. EST. We’ll be presenting with Ellen Galinsky about the 7 Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs.

Bright Horizons is conducting Well Aware Open Houses across all of its centers this Month. What is the objective of the event and what types of activities are planned for the children?

Our Well Aware Open Houses are designed to provide families with an opportunity to experience the Well Aware curriculum in action. It’s a celebration of our commitment to children’s health and an invitation for families to join us in that effort. We are really striving to show parents how we are building healthy habits in young children and educating them on why it is so important to develop these behaviors at a young age. It is an important part of children’s growth and development and even has implications on school readiness. We want to share that passion and excitement with as many families as possible!

The events will include various activity stations for each age group that highlight the Well Aware curriculum in addition to other learning areas. One of my favorites is a science experiment for preschoolers that uses soda and eggs to illustrate the importance of brushing our teeth. There will also be healthy snacks and Movement Matters challenges where families can win prizes.

All of our centers will be participating this spring, so families that are interested can contact a center nearest them for event information.

Yumbox is participating in Bright Horizons Well Aware events in May 2013

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