At the Bishopbriggs Childcare Centre, near Glasgow, children are having the opportunity to take part in a new initiative that is, quite literally, ‘hands on’. Harmony Hands is an innovative programme combining massage, yoga and pre-verbal signing, all specially adapted for babies and children under the age of 3.
Launched in September, the activities are part of a wider initiative at Bishopbriggs to encourage a greater awareness in children about the importance of looking after their bodies, and to extend Curriculum for Excellence health and wellbeing outcomes for very young children.
‘For us this is really a great way of focusing on health from the very early stages,’ explains Centre Director Patricia Bradley. ‘The idea is that children are considering the choices they make, the food they eat, and how they exercise their bodies. We were already promoting Curriculum for Excellence health and wellbeing approaches for 3–5-year-olds with our ‘Fit Kids’ sports programme and by encouraging healthy eating, so we thought: How can we promote health and wellbeing approaches and principles for our younger children?’
Children aged between 12 weeks and 2 years now enjoy classes in massage and yoga, while baby sign classes begin at 5 months.
Yoga and massage
The yoga classes are led by trained specialist Amy Ku Redler of the British Wheel of Yoga Foundation and the Traditional Thai Yoga Massage Association. She aims to help support the transition from babyhood to young child and promote strength, flexibility, balance and muscle development, while also improving sleep patterns.
Meanwhile massage classes for babies and children aged under 3, help to enhance the immune system, improve circulation and soothe anxiety, and are taught by the Centre’s own trained practitioners, Laura Beaton and Pauline Scott. Parents are invited to attend classes, in keeping with the emphasis in the Early Years Framework on engaging with and empowering families, and Patricia says the team has been delighted with the feedback.
‘What has really struck us, particularly with the massage, is just how calm the children are,’ she says. ‘It’s wonderful to see how the 2-year-old children enjoy the experience. They are encouraged to relax in a softly lit and scented area. When their half-hour session has ended, they don’t want to get up! We’ve really made an impact on the children’s experiences with this one-to-one, hands-on approach.’
Another important part of the programme is the baby sign classes, which empower very young children to express their needs with their hands before they can verbalise their thoughts and wishes. Staff incorporate the signing into their daily routine as often as possible.
‘I suppose it’s about meeting the children’s needs in partnership with them as they are letting us know how they feel about something. Although staff are always vigilant and attentive to children’s needs, the children, through signing, can also tell us that they have a wet nappy, they are thirsty or want something to eat, and that reduces frustration and boosts their self confidence - as they are being understood and responded to,’ Patricia explains.
The launch was attended by the Minister for Children and Early Years Adam Ingram and East Dunbartonshire Council Provost Eric Gotts, illustrating a recognition of the initiative’s relevance to Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence. ‘By promoting wellbeing for all of our children, we aim to have happy, confident children who are aware of the importance of health and wellbeing principles and practices from an early age,’ says Patricia.