Pre-schoolers to get more time for physical activities: NurtureSG taskforce

Chan Luo Er, Channel NewsAsia 23 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE: Children will get to participate in more physical activities in and outside school, as part of recommendations by the NurtureSG taskforce, which was set up in April last year to look into how young Singaporeans can be encouraged to adopt healthy habits.

Its proposals, which were released on Thursday (Feb 23), also include better nutrition as well as a stronger emphasis on mental health and good sleeping habits, from the pre-school to tertiary level.

At pre-schools, the minimum amount of time that children should spend on physical activities will be increased, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Ministry of Education (MOE) in a joint news release on Thursday.

For children on full-day programmes, they will get at least one hour of physical activities daily, up from 30 minutes currently. Half of the one hour will be spent outdoors, under a new framework by the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA). Pre-school teachers will be given educational resources on conducting outdoor lessons.

Students in mainstream schools already had their time for Physical Education (PE) classes increased as announced in 2010. They will now get more opportunities to be involved in "unstructured play beyond the formal curriculum time". During recess time or after-school hours, schools will make available facilities and sports equipment, said the joint release.

In addition, the Health Promotion Board's (HPB) healthier meals programme will be stepped up not only in pre-schools but also schools at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels.

By this year, the Healthier Meals in Schools Programme will be rolled out to all mainstream schools, where canteens will provide healthier food and drink options. A total of 319 of the 359 primary schools, secondary schools and junior colleges are already on the programme. And the plan is for canteens in all institutes of higher learning to serve healthier meals by 2019, said MOE and MOH.

SUPPORTING MENTAL WELL-BEING

There is also an emphasis on students' mental well-being, to help them manage stress and seek help from their peers if needed.

"The taskforce recognises that students experiencing mental stress may not always approach their parents or teachers for help," said the joint release, so peer support structures will be set up in mainstream schools and institutes of higher learning, "to equip students to look out for signs of mental stress among their peers".

An inter-agency research workgroup to study suicides, suicidal and self-harm behaviours in children and youths will also be set-up. The workgroup, led by Associate Professor Daniel Fung from the Institute of Mental Health, will provide an interim report at the end of a year.

The Tote Board has also set aside up to S$10 million to look at ideas from the community on how to achieve better mental well-being and resilience in the young. It will also fund the Institute of Mental Health to support the training of service providers such as voluntary welfare organisations to collect and evaluate data for research purposes.

The NurtureSG taskforce submitted the recommendations earlier this month and they have been accepted by MOH and MOE.

- CNA/gs

Parents, wanting better lifestyle for their kids, welcome recommendations
JEONG HONGBIN Today Online 24 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE — Concerned that her three-year-old son might be spending too much time playing games on the iPad, Ms Evelyn Chua, 33, occasionally takes him out on weekends to spend some time outdoors.

As such, the NurtureSG Taskforce recommendation for pre-schools to offer at least an hour of physical activity daily — with 30 minutes spent outdoors — was welcomed by Ms Chua, who believes it could make up for the time her son spends indoors using electronic devices.

Other parents TODAY interviewed agreed, even those who already set aside time for sports and the outdoors for their children on weekends.

Ms Karen Teo, a mother of a four-year-old and two-year-old, makes sure they spend at least two hours on weekends outdoors playing football, swimming or going to the playground. But on weekdays, she has less oversight of her four-year-old’s time in pre-school. “If they go outdoors for at least 30 minutes a day, they will behave better,” she said.

Another parent, Mr Edwin Cheng, 35, spends almost every weekend cycling at parks or taking walks with his son. He welcomed having an extra hour of physical activity each day for his son, but noted that this may not be feasible for children who only attend pre-school for short hours.

The NurtureSG Taskforce, set up to study how young Singaporeans can be encouraged to adopt healthy habits, released a set of recommendations yesterday, which has been accepted by the Government. Apart from requiring increased physical activity, pre-schools will also have to meet nutritional requirements, such as not serving sugary drinks or deep-fried food to children.

Among the pre-schools, bigger players such as EtonHouse and NTUC’s My First Skool are confident that they will be able to meet the new requirements, pointing out that they already offer physical activity in their curriculum, while unhealthy foods have been axed from their menus.

EtonHouse said that it dedicates 45 minutes to two hours a day to outdoor and physical play for pre-schoolers, such as yoga. My First Skool, which runs 120 pre-schools islandwide, noted that it is already accredited under the Health Promotion Board’s Healthy Meals in Childcare Centre Programme, under which it encourages children to eat fruits and vegetables daily, and incorporates health facts and information into their daily learning.

Star Learners, a pre-school in the Thomson area, said it was worried that setting aside more time for physical activities might affect the time needed for other activities.

Principal Jerrica Lok said, “Some curriculum may need to be sacrificed ... It could be achievable if the hour can be split between the morning ... and at the end of the day.”

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