Pretty Unique Week Pilot Program
What role do educators play in the development
of a child’s body image?
When thinking about a child’s perceptions of their body, many would automatically turn to the home environment as a critical place of influence. And while this is true, it is also increasingly important for educational settings to create a body-positive, supportive environment, particularly as children grow and start to spend more time in schooling.
Children seek positive role models in their lives – and this is where the crucial role of early childhood educators comes into play. Whether it is intentional or not, Educators can influence a child’s body image through the way they model a range of health-related behaviours and attitudes. This can include the way they talk about their own body and appearance and that of others, the eating behaviours they display, as well as the formal and informal learning opportunities they facilitate.
We interviewed several kindergarten teachers involved in Pretty Unique Week who agreed that they play an important role in giving children the foundations for a positive body image, healthy habits, and a healthy relationship to food as well.
“It is crucial that role modeling is consistent though, working hand-in-hand with parents,” said Linda Donaldson from Heatherhill Preschool. “The work we do in education needs to be carried on in the home environment and emphasised regularly.”
The pilot program
Guided by research and evidence on the risk factors for children’s body dissatisfaction and aligned with the Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework, Pretty Foundation designed appropriate Pretty Unique Week activities for use in childcare and kindergarten settings.
These included one core activity and several additional activities.
Core Activity: Reading the book “Charlie’s Tales: Cassia and the Fire Dragons”
Charlie’s Tales: Cassia and the Fire Dragons is a children’s book with the major theme that focuses on how our bodies may be similar in some ways and different in others, but that all bodies are special and can do amazing things.
Celebrating the ways in which each of us are unique and special can help children to be more accepting of differences and less likely to compare themselves to others, which can reduce their risk of developing body dissatisfaction later on. The focus of this activity is to explore the concept of diversity and celebrate uniqueness, like Charlie, the main protagonist of the book.
The learning objectives were to
a) recognise the importance of being different, that identity is unique to each individual and is important for a sense of belonging, inclusion and security in one’s environment, and
b) identify that everyone has different strengths which should be celebrated.
An additional activity was to create a “Unique Web”. Children sat around in a circle and rolled a spool of string to each other, listing something about themselves each time. The children were encouraged to point out similarities and differences between each other as the teachers introduced the concept of diversity and identity. Children were able to demonstrate how they can work together to create something unique and beautiful.
In the second activity, the teachers reiterated that everyone has things about them that make them similar to others and also different to others around them, just like the dragons in Charlie’s Tales Cassia and the Fire Dragons. The children created their own dragons with superpowers or talents that made their dragon unique and special. This began a discussion about the differences between the dragons and the value of diversity.
The last activity was to create a unique Play-Doh person, which sparked a conversation of different body shapes, sizes and colours. The children were encouraged to decorate their Play-Doh person as creatively as they liked, then discuss what made their person unique. The children respectfully appreciated the similarities and differences between their peers and reacted with empathy and respect.
observations after the program
Overall, Pretty Unique Week was a fascinating program to pilot within our kinders and the children were particularly happy that they could take a copy of Charlie’s Tales home and the staff continued to revisit the book weeks after.
The general consensus from educators was that this pilot program was a great introduction to the core concepts of diversity and uniqueness, and served as a foundation to grow the self-esteem of young children.
The research tells us that close to 40% of Australian girls are unhappy with their bodies and 30% of boys want a different body size. So this is a growing problem that educational institutions cannot ignore.
Although the concept of body image as a whole may be too complex to understand for kindergarten children, it was successfully broken down during Pretty Unique Week and translated into children’s language in small bite-sized amounts, so they could relate it to themselves in a positive way.
To learn more about Pretty Foundation, click HERE
To learn more about Bestchance Child Care and Early Learning Centres, click HERE