Pioneering Childminding Project Aims to Improve Health of Young Children

A pioneering outdoor activity scheme involving childminders and pre-fives, which could help prevent obesity and ill-health in later life, has earned childminders in the Stirling area a Natural Health Award.  The pilot health improvement project is believed to be the first of its kind in Scotland to be specifically developed for childminders and the only award for under 5’s which aims to improve health and wellbeing through interaction with the natural world.

Twenty childminders from the Stirlingshire area, along with more than 90 children, took part in a range of 15 outdoor activities over the course of several months to gain the award. Activities included visits to parks and wooded areas, along with bug hunts, playing hide and seek, and walking 1,000 steps.

The Natural Health Award is based on best practice, national guidance and recommendations including ‘My World Outdoors’, a report published by the Care Inspectorate. A joint initiative between NHS Forth Valley’s Health Promotion Department and the Scottish Childminding Association, the Award is designed to reflect the health benefits of getting outside into nature at an early age, and the importance of physical activity in leading healthier and happier lives.

Recent statistics published by NHS Scotland reveal that more than a fifth (22.9%) of primary one pupils are at risk of being overweight or obese. Obesity during childhood can also lead to physical and mental health problems in later life, such as heart disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis, back pain, increased risk of certain cancers, low self-esteem and depression. There is also growing evidence that more children are experiencing mental health problems such as anxiety, depression and self-harming at a younger age.

Elaine Cochrane, NHS Forth Valley Health Promotion Officer, said: “Childminders can play an important role in increasing children’s physical and mental wellbeing by developing and nurturing an interest and love of nature. Not only does this improve their health now, but also their future health, as healthy habits learned early on will stay with children in later life. The Natural Health Award also recognises the growing evidence of the beneficial effects which spending time outside has on our overall mental health and wellbeing.”

Lynne Murray, Quality Improvement Officer from Scottish Childminding Association (SCMA) said: “Outdoor play has huge benefits on the learning, development and overall wellbeing of children – and we also know childminders are ideally placed to offer a wide range of outdoor activities.

“The flexible, nurturing home-based nature of childminding allows more quality time to be spent outdoors, which is more important than ever. Children can play with more freedom; learning through play, stimulating their senses, being active and exploring their ever-changing surroundings.

“New environments and encouragement from childminders to explore and be active has a very positive impact on their health, overall wellbeing and their future – helping them be the best they can be.”

Caroline Stuart, a childminder in Stirling, said: “A childminder can offer a child so many different experiences and opportunities in their daily routine. This National Health Award has been a great project to be a part of, giving both the childminder and their minded children something to work towards whilst learning and most importantly having fun outdoors.

“The wellbeing of the children in my care is paramount and this award encompasses their physical and mental wellbeing as well as their development. Involving the families with the award has also promoted a healthy wellbeing for them too and it was very well received.”

The childminders involved in the very first Scottish pilot were recently presented with their awards at a special event in Stirling. The pilot scheme is now being evaluated and organisers hope it can be extended across Forth Valley.