Wonderful water

Issue: Volume 95, Number 9

Posted: 23 May 2016
Reference #: 1H9d21

This year the Ministries of Education and Health are joining forces to encourage schools to become ‘water-only’. Education Gazette takes a closer look at what this means in practice for a range of schools.

The problems caused by excessive sugar consumption during childhood are well known: as well as contributing to obesity and Type 2 diabetes, sugary drinks have a terrible effect on young teeth.

In addition, poor diet and nutrition is associated with problem behaviour and lower academic achievement.

In an effort to minimise these issues and set a good example, many New Zealand schools have banned sugary drinks and some actively encourage a water-only philosophy.

A school survey last year revealed one in 10 schools to be officially ‘water only’.

By discouraging sugar consumption in our schools, we can support the Ministry of Health’s childhood obesity plan that was launched in October 2015. It also supports a World Health Organization recommendation to foster healthy school environments.

While this initiative is specifically aimed at schools, the Ministry also encourages early learning services to continue to provide healthy learning environments, and to promote healthy lifestyles to the children and whānau in their communities.

This includes discussing with them the benefits of drinking water and milk and avoiding sugary drinks.

But what is actually involved in implementing such a plan? Two schools and an early learning centre share their experiences.

Water cooler conversation

When parents enrol their children at Porirua’s Discovery Kindergarten, they are given a welcome brochure that includes information about suggested food and drink, including the kindergarten’s wish to have only water available for children to drink.

There is also a plumbed-in water cooler that the preschoolers are free to use anytime.

“We encourage children to recognise their own needs and to access the water cooler whenever they feel thirsty,” says acting head teacher Amy Robinson.

“This is all about developing responsibility and self-help skills.”

Amy says the older children often help younger ones to fill cups with water to drink, showing them how to use the taps.

“There have also been times when a child may have brought another type of drink and an older child will kindly remind them that we drink water at kindy – this is a great example of tuakana-teina [buddy system] learning.”

In the early learning environment there are times when a child may come to school with juice in their drink bottle or a juice carton in their lunch box.

“In this instance, we remind the children in a kind and positive manner that we only drink water at kindy. We support them to get a drink from the water cooler or we can provide them with a clean drink bottle to fill with water. We haven’t had any issues with parents or the community not agreeing with this policy,” says Amy, who says that communication is the key to keeping whānau informed and on board."

At Discovery, the benefits of having such a policy are wide reaching.

Amy highlights the fact that some children have food allergies, such as to dairy and gluten, and having only water to drink helps to keep them safe and healthy. It also relieves low-income families from any perceived pressure to provide more expensive alternatives such as milk products or fruit smoothies.

An unexpected benefit relates to waste and caring for the environment. Boxes of juice and other sugary drinks are often sold in one-use packaging.

“Water doesn’t require this and bottles and cups can be reused,” says Amy.

“We value and discuss the concept of kaitiakitanga with our children. This is all about being guardians of our natural environment. By reducing waste, such as drink packages, we are being kaitiaki to our environment.”

However, the most obvious benefit is health related, believes Amy.

“We recognise that tap water is the best option for the children. We want to set them up with a healthy start and an understanding of how to keep happy and healthy will help them make healthy choices later in life.”

Guidelines for learning success

At Tauranga Primary School, students are encouraged to drink water at school through a set of procedures or guidelines, rather than any formal policy.

Principal Fiona Hawes says the guidelines encompass various health measures and drinking water is an important part of these.

“We believe that encouraging the drinking of water sets our children up for optimal learning,” she says.

“Sugary drinks have no benefits whatsoever for children’s health, therefore we see no reason to promote or encourage the drinking of sugary drinks on a daily basis."

“Drinking water is free and it definitely contributes to keeping kids healthy so that they can perform better at school.”

Fiona says that educators understand that dehydration leads to a reduction in both mental and physical performance. To this end, water is the only drink offered in the school lunch ordering system and frozen ‘Juicies’ are considered a special treat on occasion, for example at social events and fundraisers.

Only water is allowed in student drink bottles, and the use of these is in turn encouraged in the classroom. Chilled, filtered water is supplied for staff members, and in drinking fountains for students.

“We are slowly refurbishing and modernising the school grounds, and as we do this, we are adding water bottle filling facilities in wet areas,” she says.

As well as encouraging healthy eating habits, Tauranga Primary School students are encouraged to think about how their habits help them prepare for learning.

“We talk to our learners about how they can best prepare for a good day at school, and this includes getting plenty of sleep, good nutrition, hydration and exercise,” says Fiona.

The school also changed its daily routine to include four break times, so that students have more opportunities to run around, have something to eat and drink water.

Mauri Ora

The Far North is also welcoming the Ministries’ encouragement of water-only policies in schools.

The latest New Zealand Health Survey data shows that 17 per cent of Northland children drink soft drinks regularly, with Māori children consuming them at twice the rate of non- Māori.
Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Pukemiro in Kaitaia has implemented a Healthy Choices, Healthy Lifestyles plan to support student and whānau health in their community.

Encouraging their students to drink “wai Māori” is one procedure inherent in the policy that is “the norm” at the kura, according to kaiako Hori Chapman.

“Drinking water is part of accelerated learning and maintaining good levels of hydration, so the policy is critically important,” he says.

Hori says implementing a water-only policy is tied up with supporting whānau to make good eating choices, as well as acknowledging there can often be a conflict between the behaviours promoted at kura and those normalised in the home.

Earlier this year, Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Pukemiro also began to offer a Real Kai programme – a low-cost food delivery service that maximises locally grown, seasonal produce, which has already proven popular with whānau.

Te Tai Tokerau Iwi CE spokesperson and Te Runanga o Te Rarawa chief executive Kevin Robinson says the battle for sugar-free drinks is being won when mokopuna will ask for inu wai (a drink of water) as their first alternative.

“We’ve beaten it when the day comes that we can have a can of fizzy in the fridge – and in six months’ time it’s still sitting there,” he says.

He considers a water-only policy in all schools to be a “great move” and says that Te Tai Tokerau iwi would support the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education in its implementation.

Putting children’s health first

Children’s Commissioner Dr Russell Wills wholeheartedly supports schools making a stand for the health of their students.

“We know that kids who have good, healthy food in their tummies and who drink plenty of water do much better at school. Any teacher will tell you that,” he says.

“I’m a big fan of schools taking on the challenge to be water-only – it shows they are prepared to put the health of their kids first. Plus it has so many knock-on benefits for a child’s education, behaviour and health that it just makes sense."

“For schools wanting to take it one step further, I suggest they take a look at our Guidelines for School Food Programmes we developed a few years ago. The guidelines give schools some really practical ideas for starting up a Food in Schools programme and improving the nutrition of their students."

“A well designed and managed school food programme can bring wider benefits too – like improving connections with families, whānau and the local community and getting kids to take responsibility for their own health.”

The Guidelines for School Food Programmes: Best Practice Guidance for Your School were developed and released by the Children’s Commission in 2014.

The guidelines provide clear advice to schools, whether they are thinking about where to start or wanting to improve an existing food programme. They can be used by primary, intermediate and secondary schools of all deciles and in all communities.

The topics in the five guides are:

  • Assessing your need and deciding the best response: understanding the needs of your children, engaging the school community, and the different models your programme can take
  • Getting started and resourcing the programme: practical ways to set up your programme and partner with the right people
  • A positive food programme that does not stigmatise: tips on how to make sure your programme does not stigmatise children and whānau
  • Healthy nutrition in schools: resources for providing nutritious food and promoting healthy eating
  • Connecting school food programmes to The New Zealand Curriculum: how school food programmes and the curriculum can be mutually reinforcing and make learning about food and nutrition real.

There are also inspiring case studies of schools with successful programmes and sample survey templates for assessing needs of students.

The guidelines can be viewed and downloaded at htttp://healthylifestyles.tki.org.nz(external link)

BY Melissa Wastney
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 6:18 pm, 23 May 2016

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