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Promoting children's wellbeing

Key points

  • Prioritising wellbeing for learning
  • Liaising with external agencies
  • Promoting dental health

Child watering plants with a hose.

Toru Fetū (three stars) is a Pacific kindergarten which serves the Cook Island, Niue, and Tuvalu communities in Porirua. Toru Fetū’s priority has always been to support “relational agency” – providing children and their families with experiences that engage and empower.

Recognising the importance of working “with others who support the health and wellbeing of young children and their families in their local communities” (Te Whāriki, page 8), the kindergarten appointed a Teaching and Communities Liaison Teacher. The liaison teacher’s role is to network and liaise with external agencies to enable a comprehensive and coordinated approach to supporting the health and well-being of children and their families.

One example of the important role this position fills is in relation to children’s oral health. In 2013, the liaison teacher was approached to work with the Regional Dental Service to engage children and their families in the Bee Healthy initiative. At that time, only low numbers of Pacific children were enrolled with dental health services.

Following consultation with parents, and with the aim of enhancing children’s physical well-being so they are “ready to learn”, Toru Fetū chose to participate in this initiative as part of a coordinated effort, which also includes a “water only” drinks policy and an emphasis on healthy eating.

Engagement with this initiative has involved:

  • dental health technicians working alongside kaiako and whānau to provide “knee to knee” examinations of children up to the age of four in the kindergarten, including the younger siblings of enrolled children (see this Dental Council NZ newsletter for more information and photos showing "knee to knee" examinations)
  • kaiako taking older children to appointments at the nearby dental hub using a “walking bus”, joined by the dental technician team who support appropriate ratios
  • providing evening workshops for parents on the importance of oral health
  • putting up visual displays to ensure parents and children can easily access relevant information.

The “knee to knee” examinations and "walking bus" to the dental hub have made the visits a positive, fun, and social event that children want to engage in again and again. The presence of the kaiako, as trusted adults in the children’s lives, ensures the children are not fearful of this experience.

The children are allowed to watch other children be examined and kaiako take photos of what is happening so children can revisit the experience, often at home with their parents.

Kaiako have also written learning stories of children demonstrating curiosity, perseverance, and other learning dispositions as they develop working theories to make sense of the importance of having strong, healthy teeth.

Since the beginning of this initiative, the kindergarten has experienced significant success in improving the oral health of children in their service. Parents have welcomed this initiative and happily enrol their children. In 2016, the proportion of Pacific children enrolled with dental health services had risen to 87%, including 100% of the children who attend Toru Fetū.

The kindergarten’s influence has also been significant in relation to attendance – in 2016, 100% of all dental appointments were kept. Parents have supported the parent workshops with strong attendance and have changed their practices at home leading to a decline in the number of children being referred for ongoing treatment, with 2018 being the lowest level ever!

In particular, engagement in this initiative is ensuring that children’s Holistic Development is being addressed and that they are experiencing an environment where their health is promoted – meaning they are ready to learn!

This story of practice is from the Deciding what matters here page.