A playful approach towards a healthier lifestyle for toddlers

Preschools in Amsterdam Nieuw-West use AUAS toolkit to help parents who are difficult to reach make healthy lifestyle choices for their children in a playful way.

At the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (AUAS), we work with organisations and companies on the major social issues of today and tomorrow: sustainability, digitalisation and diversity. As good as that sounds, what exactly does it mean?

video over project OK-Gezond

Childhood obesity is a growing problem, especially in the Netherlands’ four major cities. An important reason for this is that large cities are home to a relatively large number of families with a migration background and/or low socio-economic status. In Amsterdam’s Nieuw-West district, childcare organisation Impuls actively supports parents with the healthy (weight) development in their children. They do this using a toolkit designed by the AUAS Centre of Expertise Urban Vitality.

Healthy diet, exercise, sleeping well

The toolkit contains ten parent-child activities, including related materials to help create a healthy lifestyle for toddlers. Parents can do these activities with their children at home or during the walk-in play hour at the preschool, and so address important topics such as diet, exercise and sleep in a playful manner. The parent-child activities are short, fun, easy to do and available in several languages, and can therefore be used for parents and children from various socio-economic and socio-cultural backgrounds.

Sandra Mul is a researcher/coordinator of the Children research line of the Nutrition and Exercise research group. “The OK-Gezond project is a follow up of the PreSchool@HealthyWeight project that ran from 2016 to 2019. In that project, we provided Impuls’ childcare workers with specific training on supporting children with regard to a healthy lifestyle. This involved only giving them water, tea or milk to drink, offering only healthy snacks, etc. When we assessed the project, we found that the childcare workers were happy with the results in the group, but stated that it is often difficult to get the parents on board. They asked us to develop a practical tool to help them improve this situation”

student Furkan Goktas

Furkan Göktaş

Enjoy your food, but don’t overdo it

Fourth-year Nutrition & Dietetics student Furkan Göktaş is completing his studies in the OK-Gezond project. “The vacancy for this position sparked my interested right away. This is because I see the problems that migrant families face with regard to nutrition and lifestyle in my own environment. I’m of Turkish origin and in my culture – as in other migrant cultures - eating together is very important. Parents like it when children enjoy their food and will tell them to ‘eat as much as you like!’ They also receive information from many difference sources and don’t always know what to believe.” Good information and practical assistance helps, because, as he knows: “These parents do want their children to grow up without an increased risk of all sorts of diseases later in life, and are increasingly aware that a healthy lifestyle from an early age plays an important role in this.”

Jessica Bouhuys

I can cut my own fruit!

Jessica Bouhuys, childcare worker at Het Groeipark preschool in the Nieuw Sloten district, tested the toolkit in her class during the coronavirus pandemic. “Because of the coronavirus, parents were not allowed to come in for a long time, so there was no walk-in playtime. We were only able to do the activities with the children ourselves.” The preschool tried out six activities; one every week over a six-week period. “The children really enjoyed the activities, and so did we. For ‘Eating vegetables and helping in the kitchen’, the children were allowed to peel and cut fruit themselves – with little blunt knives, obviously. A bit messy of course, but the children loved it.” Other activities were playing the ‘snack memory game’, for example, or devising sleep rituals together with the children. In an attempt to involve the parents, the children were given an envelope for their parents with the week’s activity and small assignments to do together with their children. However: “when we asked the parents for photos of the activities they had done with their children, only a few responded.”

Nicole Toussaint

Attention for the homefront, especially during lockdowns

Nicole Toussaint, researcher in the Nutrition and Exercise research group and doctoral student in OK-Gezond, isn’t surprised. “We know from all sorts of studies on the subject that asking people to carry out activities at home produces few real results. But: the toolkit was ready, and the childcare staff wanted to do something extra for the parents during the lockdowns. So we decided to use a modified form, without expecting much from it”.

Now that parents have been able to attend walk-in playtime again since 25 September, the toolkit can be tested properly at the preschools, starting with Impuls and later also at the preschools of Partou and Swazoom. Furkan: “The developers want to know whether parents find the information and activities easy to understand and carry out, and if they find it useful. I will be researching this with a fellow student.”

Feasibility and valuation

A lot of valuable time was lost because of the lockdowns. Will this have an impact on the effect measurement? Toussaint: “Yes, but fortunately, we were given a one-year extension. The extra time will enable us to measure the effect of the toolkit with the childcare staff. Unfortunately, the parents were engaged in the project at too late a stage for a solid scientific measurement. But the research to be carried out by Furkan and his fellow student will still give us valuable information from this group of parents about how the toolkit is received. This will then enable us to draw conclusions about the feasibility and appreciation of the activities and materials.”

Impact on practice

Despite the challenges posed by corona, all parties involved are positive about the project and the toolkit. Therefore, the project partners have taken the initiative to add a digital version of the toolkit to the project. This is now being developed by project partners BoinK (Association of Parents in Childcare) and Gezonde Kinderopvang (Healthy Childcare) in collaboration with the AUAS.

Published by  Communication 21 January 2022