Veldacademie has spent three years investigating ways to improve the lifestyle of children and the people in their households in Rotterdam IJsselmonde. We approach this as an action investigation; we use a variety of methods to attempt to improve skills for health, and in the interim we test whether those methods are working. We begin with children aged 9–10, and we follow the children and their households until the end of the final year of primary school, when they are aged 11–12.
Nuts Ohra Fund
Studies have shown that families with a low socioeconomic status tend to live less healthily, making them more vulnerable. The Nuts Ohra Fund uses the ‘Gezonde Toekomst Dichterbij’ programme (‘Getting Closer to a Healthy Future’) to fund projects that improve the health of children and parents in disadvantaged situations. We know from research that health problems are often paired with other difficulties: families with a low socioeconomic status are often less healthy and therefore more vulnerable than other families. ‘A healthy life in Beverwaard’ is one of 20 projects focused on this target group.
Unique action investigation
This remarkable project brings research and education together and keeps track children and their families, as well as supporting them, over three years. Curriculums are taught on an almost weekly basis; these curriculums are devised and taught in collaboration with the Building Arts Foundation and with students in a variety of different fields. In these lessons, children learn more about health and its many aspects and data is gathered for the investigation.
An unusual feature of these lessons is that health is approached as a very broad concept: the lessons cover nutrition, home situations, exercise, achievements at school, social circles, etc. The study has both a quantitative and a qualitative aspect: for example, BMI and the ‘Norm Gezond Bewegen’ (‘Healthy Movement Standard’) are measured, while the investigation also involves surveying and analysing factors that can influence people’s health and their experienced health – because a person’s experience of health and their objective health are not always the same thing.
The project’s underlying ambition is to structurally improve both the children’s health and their experienced health. That means not just hearing about a healthy lifestyle at school, but actually incorporating what they learn into their lives, which is why there is such a strong emphasis on involving parents in the project. A health coach makes house calls and, both independently and with the help of professionals in the field, helps families make a positive impact on their chances of living a healthy life.
Taking control of your health
The collected data is hung on a ‘coat stand’, according to Machteld Huber’s model for Positive Health. This model sees health as ‘the ability to adapt and to take control of your own actions, in light of the social, physical and emotional challenges of life’ (see www.ipositivehealth.com). The quantitative and qualitative data build profiles which are maintained and monitored over three years.
The curriculums for 9- and 10-year-olds were designed by students of Urban Planning at TU Delft, Gamification at Willem de Kooning Academy, Criminology at Erasmus University Rotterdam and Care Management, also at Erasmus University Rotterdam. In these lessons, the children were challenged to really think about healthy food, they worked together to design better outdoor spaces and they came up with solutions to live safer, healthier lives.
In the next school year the children received film lessons in collaboration with the Building Arts Foundation. When they make a film, the children gain ownership of the project; they can develop their talents in the role that suits them best, and they can take active control of their own health, both literally and figuratively. Students of Educational Sciences supervised the children throughout the process, and the parents got to watch the films at the première.
The curriculum for the final year of primary school, when the children are aged 11–12, focuses on the transition to secondary school. The children conduct research into their own identity, their personal qualities and the careers that match those aspects of their personality. Guest lessons and field trips to visit businesses help the children gain a clearer idea of the options open to them. Role models are important to this development. Film is also being used to present the results in this year’s curriculum.
There are regular opportunities to give a special lesson, for instance at the start and end of each topic. Children have had lessons in self defence, a community police officer has come to visit, the children went on a guided tour of the Maasstad Hospital and they experienced the International Film Festival Rotterdam. This year, in the wake of an initiative from the project, a partnership has been set up between the primary school and Feyenoord football club with a trip to De Kuip stadium planned for the spring.
All the programmes involve close cooperation with the class teachers to embed the lessons in the curriculum.
Coach for parents
The lessons focus primarily on the children, but coaches have also been appointed to act as a bridge between schools, parents and support services in the district: after all, health is closely linked to the family’s socioeconomic position. The coaches are approachable for both parents and children and they support the parents in areas such as raising children, improving their home situation and initiating suitable activities to develop talents. In the final year of primary school they are also available to offer advice on the choice of appropriate secondary education.
Medical students have also attended the home visits and related the results to the literature. On the basis of meetings with parents, lessons in theatre skills and resilience have also been organised during PE lessons. In this way, the investigation has already brought about a greater focus on the children’s welfare.