How the project started…
Back in April 2009, our research identified that hydration of Pre-school age children plays a crucial role in reducing the likelihood of obesity in later years* as well as enhancing concentration, changing behaviours and reducing fatigue and headaches. However, although there were specific legal requirements by OFSTED for fresh drinking water to be available at all times, a huge challenge for Pre-school groups was and still is, the provision of this – in facilities that are often used for a number of other purposes, such as village halls, community centres, etc.
Tackling this challenge was an exciting new initiative that echoed the efforts of Jamie Oliver’s School Dinners campaign, focusing on hydration in Pre-school groups. And so Wellbeing People’s ‘We love Water’ initiative was born.
Working with Kent based theatre, Hazlitt Arts Centre, local Early Years groups and Kent County Council Children’s Services Partnership, the development of interactive learning sessions came about and the character ‘Eddie the Elephant’ emerged.
Eddie the Elephant
Eddie, a loveable cuddly elephant (life-size!) educated groups of Pre-school children about the importance of hydration and healthy eating. Working with the theme of ‘an elephant never forgets’, our friend Eddie needed the help of his young crowd to help him remember to drink water and eat healthily.
It was clear from an early stage that the life-size Eddie – an actor dressed in a costume, was both cumbersome and occasionally a little scary to some! Eddie quickly resized, and became a hand puppet controlled by the same actors.
The story worked and the children loved him, talking about him for weeks and making the connection with drinking more water straight away.
As part of the ‘We Love Water’ Pilot Project, every participating Pre-school was also given drinking water bottles for each child, wee charts to help the children understand about their adequate hydration and stickers – providing a visible means of monitoring the water intake and a motivation for drinking the water.
The research and feedback
Almost all the pre-schools began to see the benefits – both in terms of children’s behaviour and the convenience of the water bottles for the children accessing drinking water. An amazing 73% saw positive effects on the children, particularly with many of them drinking more water as a result of the project.
Practitioners told us the children enjoyed having their own water, giving them independence and responsibility for their bottle. Parents have also noticed children using their bottles to drink more, illustrating positive changes at home as well as in the Pre-school groups.
The programme also offered support to the Practitioners running the Pre-school group by providing education packs for the staff. 71% of practitioners described the education packs as good, with a further 16% finding them excellent.
*Beverage Intake Amount Pre-school Children and Its Effect on Weight Status, Paediatrics, 2006,118, e1010-e1018