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A healthier life, stamp by stamp

A primary school has hit upon a simple but effective method of encouraging children to put health advice into practice, reports Katrina Tweedie

A South Lanarkshire primary school has issued all its pupils with diaries in which children set realistic health targets and collect rewards if they achieve their goals.

The Health Attack diaries, which have been given to all 300 pupils at Mount Cameron Primary in St Leonard's, East Kilbride, are thought to be the first of their kind in Britain and are based on a prototype from Singapore.

Caroline Reid, the headteacher, says: "Health audit documents mentioned health diaries to show key achievements but no actual diaries existed, so we made our own. I searched the internet to see if there was anything similar and found a health promoting school in Singapore which had a diary for pupils. It was more in terms of advising pupils on health and wasn't exactly what we were looking for, but they sent us a copy, which we adapted to include room for recording health targets and achievements."

The diaries, which were introduced in January, have spaces for noting three targets each month. These can be anything that promotes a healthier lifestyle, such as trying a new vegetable or fruit, drinking water instead of fizzy drinks or swimming regularly.

Each child comes up with realistic targets, which are agreed with a parent or whoever is going to help them achieve their goals. When each target is achieved, the diary is signed by a parent.

At the end of each month, the diaries are brought into school and discussed. If all the monthly targets are met, the child receives a stamp; 10 stamps merit a certificate and four certificates win a reward from the Health Smart cupboard, such as bowling vouchers or activity toys.

The diaries were designed in consultation with the school's Eco School committee of P5-P7 pupils, the pupil council, the school board and the parent-teacher association. "We wanted to create a dialogue with the children and their parents, because they have to sign the book," says Mrs Reid.

"There was a lot of consultation with parents, whether it would be useful, manageable and whether they thought it was a good idea, and the response was fantastic."

The diaries lists possible targets, which were initially drawn up by P7 pupils, and a competition was held for the front page design, which the pupils selected.

"We felt that if the diaries were going to work properly, they would have to be professionally printed and be durable, because they will be going backwards and forwards between teachers and pupils all year," says Mrs Reid.

Each diary costs pound;1.20 to print, but charging pupils was not an option, she says, because the project must be inclusive. So funding was obtained from the local enterprise officer and integrated children's services.

"Our only outlay is the prize cupboard, for which the PTA is helping to find prizes."

One of the school's priorities is that the diaries do not become all consuming, but a routine part of the children's school and home activities.

In these early weeks of the project, most pupils seem engaged by the idea, especially the possible prizes for targets met.

Megan Donaghy, 8, says one of her monthly targets is to eat five pieces of fruit every day (because she doesn't like vegetables) and Eilidh McLoone, 10, has resolved to play more often. Their fellow member on the eco committee, Jack Tait, 9, says he plans to play sport every day, if possible, and Katie Fotheringham, 9, is trying have breakfast every day.

"I would say that 95 per cent of the children are really into it," says Mrs Reid. "One or two of the older children feel they don't need to be because they are involved in so many health promoting things, but they are still doing it, and no parents have refused to sign."

Mary Smith, chair of South Lanarkshire Council's education resources committee, says: "There seems to be a never-ending barrage of stories about how our children are unhealthy and overweight. The health diaries seem a perfect way to help combat this, as well as providing a useful and valuable educational tool.

"Most importantly, there is an element of fun and reward. That is one of the reasons why I am sure it will be extremely successful."

The school has already received an Eco Schools green flag and a bronze award for being a health promoting school. The diaries are part of its bid to achieve a second green flag and a silver award.

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