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Day-care model in plan to link kids to nature

Published : 15 Oct 2018, 01:51

Updated : 15 Oct 2018, 10:53

  DF Report

Press Release Photo by Kaisa Kuoppala.

A new operating model for the Finnish day-care centres is now being designed to promote children’s healthy relationship with nature and enhance circular economic skills of them as well as their families.

The National Institute for Health and Welfare ( THL), the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE), the Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke), and the Finnish Innovation Fund (Sitra) are chalking out the operating model named ‘Natural steps towards wellbeing (Luontoaskelhyvin-vointiin) for day-care centres,’ said a Luke press release. 

The model, among other things, aims at reducing wastage of food and encouraging children’s exposure to diverse natural environments. Initially, the model will be piloted at some selected day-care centres across the country.

“Through this project, we wish to highlight the importance of circular economy in the daily life of children and day-care centres, too. For example, by increasing the proportion of fruit and vegetables in meals, we can better children’s health as well as promote circular economy at the day-care centres. Circular economy will also be supported by helping the families concerned understand more extensively the significance of wastage of food for the Earth’s capacity to sustain,” said Merja Rehn, specialist in circular economy focus area at Sitra.

A total of 12 day-care centres in Helsinki, Oulu, Jyväskylä, and Lappeenranta will participate in the project. 

The day-care centres that would be actively involved in the experiment will follow the practices of the natural steps model, whereas no changes will take place in the daily lives of the control group.

“The project will help strengthen children’s immune system during the period of early childhood education and care,” said Project Manager Heli Kuusipalo, a senior researcher at THL.

Kuusipalo further said, “Exposure to diverse natural environments and a diet containing plenty of fruit and vegetables will encourage the growth of health-promoting microbiota in the body. This is particularly vital in the childhood years. Among other things, diverse microbiota will reduce the risk of asthma and allergies.”

The project is based on the national core curriculum for pre-primary education and the meal recommendations for early childhood education and care published in last January by the National Nutrition Council.
The natural steps towards wellbeing project will also change children’s daily routine at the day-care centres. The children in the participating day-care centres will be encouraged to be physically more active and to explore, touch and observe nature around them. Children will also practise self-calming skills in nature and be guided in growing different plants, for instance in gardens created in playgrounds, various types of containers, and green walls.

Sustainable circular economy will also be promoted by reducing food losses and teaching children what food losses are and how they can be monitored. The children will eat more fruit and vegetables and less meat at the meals served by their day-care centres. Day-care centre activities will be planned and carried out in close cooperation between the early childhood education and care services, catering service professionals, and homes.

Implementation of the project is scheduled to begin with arranging training courses for day-care centre staff in autumn 2018. The piloting phase will be launched at day-care centres in January 2019. The final step will be producing an assessment of the project implementation, based on which an effort will be made to mainstream the best practices nationally.