After running the ExerScience pilot programme at Beckfoot Heaton Primary School in 2018 and hearing about its engagement with parents and children on how to eat healthy food and become fitter, headteacher, Chris Tolson, at the Academy at St James’ Primary School asked if the programme could be run in their school too.

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ExerScience takes a two-pronged approach to educating families about diet and exercise, teaching parents what to look out for on food labels, and how to shop ‘savvy’ in a world where junk food and unhealthy alternatives are increasingly advertised, and at the same time leading the children in fun, physical activities, designed to prove how important exercise is and that it doesn’t have to be boring.

Research shows that children, on average, need 60 minutes of physical exercise a day; ExerScience is a great way to show parents and children how to incorporate more physical activity into their everyday lives. 

The Academy at St James’ Primary School had identified families with the aim of improving their health and wellbeing, and it was planned that eight weekly sessions would be run for the parents and children to attend.

For eight weeks, starting in February 2019, ExerScience sessions ran after the end of the school day, to make it easier for parents to attend and also not to disrupt the children’s lesson time. Due to false starts with the weather and other issues experienced by the families, the sessions were run very flexibly in order to accommodate families’ needs and encourage as many parents and children to attend as possible.  

David Dyson, Sports Leader for the school, said about the sessions:

“The children really enjoyed the physical activities and games that they played. The coaches were brilliant at adapting the activities to suit the needs of the children. The hardest part was getting the children to go home as they wanted to keep playing!

Whilst the children were playing, the adults were able to get expert advice on nutrition and diet. These sessions were more informal and friendly but very informative. It allowed parents to understand the facts and dismiss any myths about diets and a healthy lifestyle.”

 The programme was developed and run by Little Sports Coaching (LSC), a specialist children’s sports coaching company based in Manchester, and delivered at St James’ by nutrition expert and sports coach Matt Richardson.

“Although most children who attended did not show visible obesity it was obvious some lacked consistent nutritional meals and had bad eating habits which could have negative impacts on them in later years,” said Matt.

“In the first session, there was one child who would regularly be hyperactive and unresponsive to us and parents. Over the weeks the child became more engaged in sessions and the parents said they had been making small changes to the family’s diet.”

“In the nutrition test that we ran at first there was an average score of 61%, but as the weeks went by that increased to 83% and parents showed a greater understanding and confidence about the nutrition-based subjects we were covering.”

Although there were relatively low numbers on the sessions and sporadic attendance, the project was successful in equipping those families who attended with the knowledge of how to improve their health and wellbeing, making small, realistic changes. And there were some key learning points to note for future sessions about how important it is to work together, project and school, in order to more effectively engage parents.

Other recommendations for future ExerScience programmes were:

•      To target more at risk areas and ethnically diverse groups

•      To have an exciting target finish to the end of the programme, perhaps a meal or activity session out, for instance, at a trampoline park.

David Dyson, commented:

“Some parents weren’t always able to make every session, however what was interesting was that they seemed to know what they had missed, which meant that parents were discussing this out of school. Would we do it again? Without a doubt. We were able to see that the children were more active within lessons but also getting more involved in out of school activities such as competitions. And next time, we would know how to make it even better!”