Find out why ECE programs need a Wellness Policy and how the Wellness Workbook can help your program improve.
Welcome to Nemours Children’s Health Wellness Workbook for Early Care and Education (ECE). This web-based tool supports ECE professionals to promote best practices for healthy eating and physical activity in their ECE programs. Once registered, you can access assessment tools to understand how your ECE program is already fostering healthy habits and where you could improve. The Wellness Workbook is evidence-informed and builds on Nemours Children’s experience using these materials with ECE programs in Florida through our Florida Prevention Initiative and through our partnership with the American Heart Association from 2013 – 2020, known as Healthy Way to Grow. The latest version of the Wellness Workbook can be used independently by ECE program directors or in collaboration with a Technical Assistance provider, Trainer, or coach.
Why Does an Early Childhood Program Need a Wellness Policy?
A Wellness Policy includes clear statements around the specific practices and policies promoted and supported in your ECE program. Your program’s daily practices play a key role in helping children develop healthy eating and physical activity habits. By stating your program’s commitment to certain practices and policies, staff, families, and community partners have a greater understanding of how they can support these practices too.
A Wellness Policy enhances your ECE program because it:
- Communicates core values and principles regarding healthy habits to ECE providers, to current and potential families and to the community.
- Helps ECE providers and families act as role models for children by practicing healthy habits.
- Sets a standard that is clear and consistent (this avoids future misunderstandings).
- Guides those teaching children about the importance of these healthy habits.
The Wellness Workbook guides you step-by-step to develop written policies for your early childhood program in the areas of nutrition and physical activity, including screen time. While changing practices and policies in your program can seem overwhelming, we encourage you to start small and understand what your program may already be doing well, and which practices you might improve to create a healthier environment. The Wellness Workbook helps you through an intentional process of quality improvement as illustrated below:
The National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education and the Quality Rating Improvement Systems in many states promote wellness policies that reflect nutrition and physical activity standards.
What are the Components of a Wellness Policy?
Your program’s Wellness Policy should be informed by the results of your self-assessments. This helps you focus your time, energy, and resources on the areas where you are not yet meeting best practices. The self-assessments will also highlight the best practices you are already meeting. These practices should be celebrated and included in your program’s Wellness Policy, so everyone knows how your ECE program supports healthy habits.
Your Wellness Policy should include goals and standards that address:
- nutritional practices (how infants and children will be fed at your program) and education
- physical activity practices and education, including screen time
- other program-based activities, including those that promote staff wellness
Your Wellness Policy should also include a few statements about how you will plan on revisit your Wellness Policy on a regular basis to ensure it is effective and meeting the needs of your staff, children, and families.
How to use the Wellness Workbook
Log-in to complete the five self-assessments focused on best practices for supporting healthy eating and physical activity for young children in ECE programs. The five assessments include:
a. Nutrition: Breastfeeding Support, Infant Feeding, and Child Nutrition
b. Physical Activity
c. Screen Time
d. Family Engagement
e. Staff Wellness
Each section provides a summary overview of the content and the available evidence or research that informs the best practices for that section. After the overview, you can complete the self-assessments which will ask you a series of questions about your own program’s current practices and policies. Select the response that best matches what your program is currently doing. Consider having a team of three or more individuals work together to complete the self-assessments. Participants could include the center director, teachers and assistant teachers, parents/caregivers, educators and healthcare providers. Your Wellness Policy will be more successful if you involve staff, families, and community partners as early in the process as possible.
Additionally, while you may be able to complete the assessment and your Wellness Policy without further assistance, we encourage you to seek local Technical Assistance providers, Trainers, or Coaches that can support you in assessing your program’s practices. You can also find additional guidance under the Resources section and the Healthy Kids, Healthy Future website.
Once you have completed a self-assessment, you can access your results under My Account to see how many best practices you are already meeting and the areas in which you can improve. Share the results with your program staff and request their inputs on selecting which areas to address in your Wellness Policy and Action Plan.
Using the results from your self-assessments, go to My Wellness Policy and build a customized Wellness Policy. You may select as many focus areas and policies as you like but we encourage you to start small with a handful of policies under each section, e.g. Nutrition, Physical Activity, Family Engagement. Remember, your Wellness Policy should be revisited regularly so you can always add or revise your policies.
As you develop your Wellness Policy, consider the following questions:
What am I currently doing and how is it being implemented?
What do I want to work on?
What resources do I currently have to help me reach my goal?
Who will be included in making the changes?
When would I like to complete my goal?
Developing your Wellness Policy doesn’t have to be hard. Keep in mind the following tips:
Start small – think about what changes you can make immediately and those that will take more time. You don’t have to make changes all at once.
Write down action steps – What do you need to do in order to reach your goal? Make a plan and write down the steps you need to make.
Include staff and families – having a team of individuals dedicated to help support your changes is important. Talk with your staff about the changes you plan to make and how. Think about how to get families involved in the goal-setting process. Inviting and encouraging families to participate in the development and change process, gives them an opportunity to be involved in increasing the quality of care their child receives.
Identify challenges – Is it working? Continue to monitor your progress and if little to none is being made, think about another goal you would like to reach and begin working on it. This process is ongoing, so you can revisit a goal and continue making changes.
Be sure to share your Wellness Policy by including it in:
Welcome or registration packet for new families
Employee handbook and job description
Bulletin board or posters
Family engagement workshops
An Action Plan is a starting point for ensuring your Wellness Policy translates into actual changes within your program. Developing an action plan means turning ideas raised during the assessment process into reality. An Action Plan guides you in implementing your identified wellness policy goals, evaluate and monitor progress. You can access resources, including example action plan, under the Action Planning section.
Be sure to revisit your Action Plan and Wellness Policy regularly. Consider making it a part of regular staff meetings or family events. Share your successes in supporting healthy habits, such as highlighting children experiencing new foods or engaging in fun movement activities.