How teachers can support students to create healthier communities

How teachers can support students to create healthier communities

PhD candidate

When it comes to local community spaces, kids are experts. But how can children be more involved in building a healthier future?

Monash University researchers have created a new website for teachers and local councils to co-design healthier spaces with kids. The project is supported by VicHealth.

Kids live, learn and play in the places that councils look after — like parks, pools, walking trails, shared recreation places and shops. But these places don’t always enable healthy lifestyles for children.

Evidence tells us that we need healthy environments to support children’s health and their futures: the World Health Organisation (WHO) says both physical and social aspects of our local environments are core determinants of good health.

Check out this helpful animation that explains how environments impact on healthy eating and being active.

So, how can we get our public spaces right for kids?

The answer lies in getting the kids involved in designing healthy places.

Young children are not only the future citizens of our society, but they already are active participants. The United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child states:

Children have the right to express their views in all matters affecting them.

Seeking and designing solutions to the issues that affect their health and wellbeing must involve children in the process.

Monash’s new VicHealth-funded project, Kids co-designing sustainable and healthy environments, has created a toolkit to support local council staff to connect with teachers and work alongside children. Using co-design, together they evaluate their local community spaces with a focus on elements of our neighbourhoods that impact healthy eating and physical activity.

Co-design provides an exciting and innovative approach to involve children and young people in the consultation process. It provides rich opportunities for learning, draws on children and young people’s experience and ideas, and gets them directly involved in designing the spaces they use.

It’s the very definition of a win-win.

A toolkit for teachers and councils

Kids Co-designing Healthy Places is a website  developed by Monash researchers to support teachers and councils in engaging kids to co-design healthier places.

Website's front page

For teachers: Kids Co-designing Healthy Places provides a toolkit for children to work with their teachers to assess and give feedback about their community. This toolkit is mapped to a number of different learning areas across the Victorian Curriculum, and connects to the Personal and Social Capability.

The sequence applies the main tenets of the health-promoting schools framework or whole-school approach as described in the Healthy Schools Achievement Program. It encourages educators to connect classroom learning to the community and emphasises the role that physical and social environments have in shaping health and wellbeing.

For councils: The resource is part of a suite of resources designed to support councils who are part of VicHealth’s Local Government Partnership. The new website provides a model and the tools councils can use to engage children and young people in auditing their community and then engage in a workshop with their councils to co-design solutions to create healthier places. The solutions that emerge from the workshops can be included in local council Municipal Public Health and Wellbeing Plans.

How co-design requires us to rethink who the ‘experts’ are

Co-design, also known as participatory design or cooperative design, treats everyday users as experts in the design of processes, services or objects that affect them.

In education, co-design fosters cooperation between young people, teachers, school leadership teams and external agencies.

The approach has been successfully applied in Australian and international schools to develop better learning environments, and to create new and more responsive curricula.

The key principle of co-design is to deliver effective, user-oriented service through collaboration, which aligns with core educational policy and practices. Well-facilitated co-design empowers kids and ensures they have a voice in decisions.

It also connects with a number of teaching approaches used in schools, including inquiry-based learning, collaborative learning approaches, student voice, and critical and participatory pedagogies.

Co-design offers additional benefits for schools and early childhood settings:

  • Allows students to experience greater buy-in and ownership, in their learning and towards the school environment.
  • Increases students’ motivation to learn.
  • Enables a greater range of ideas to be explored, which often leads to innovative designs and problem solving.
  • Helps teachers and other adults understand the key issues affecting young people and how they interpret and understand these issues.
  • Provides teachers with insights into young children’s lived experiences to inform decision making.
  • Builds on children’s natural strengths and curiosity.
  • Enhances teachers’ creative thinking and innovation.
  • Shifts power balances between teachers, children and external agencies.

Where curriculum fits in

Kids co-designing healthy places is an integrated project that draws on health and physical education (HPE) curriculum, Civics and Citizenship, Digital Technologies and more to provide a valuable learning opportunity that supports students’ learning about how physical and social environments impact on health.

It uses critical inquiry and co-design as the main teaching approach for a range of health literacies. And both the resource and the teaching and learning sequence draw on contemporary thinking in health and education. Kids are provided with an authentic sequence of learning that culminates with them co-designing an action plan with their local councils.

Ultimately, students will engage in a social action project that will bring about healthy changes in their local neighbourhoods. Plus there are many opportunities for teachers to draw connections between participation in the project and their schools’ existing goals and priorities.

How teachers could use this model

The co-design model is made up of three phases of activities for kids:

  1. Kids learning about healthy places,
  2. Kids auditing everyday places around their neighbourhood, and
  3. Kids workshoping their ideas and co-designing solutions for creating healthier places.

A 3-stage model for involving kids in co-designing healthy places

Teachers can use the model and resources to teach about health as part of their everyday curriculum.

But the real value of this model is that it enables you to connect your classroom to real-life learning opportunities. The work that your students complete will feed into council decision making about ways to improve local environments so that they are more supportive of health. The three-phased learning sequence ensures students develop the key health literacies they require to complete the project, are supported to complete their audit and then have an opportunity to participate in a workshop where they can review the audit data and co-design solutions to enhance their local environment.

References

Kids co-designing sustainable and healthy environments research project (Monash Education, 2020 – 2021)

Convention on the rights of the child (United Nations, 1989)

Social determinants of health (World Health Organisation, 2020)

Healthy Schools Achievement Program (Victorian Government)