Hundreds of children from the Municipality Center in Sarajevo are involved in a creatively designed programme for healthy growth and development in preschool institutions, carried out by the Institute for Population and Development (IPD) within the The Regional Programme on Local Democracy in the Western Balkans 2 (ReLOaD 2).
In 2019., IPD has conducted a survey among 127 educators in Sarajevo Canton in order to identify their needs for additional professional support in the implementation of the programme for healthy growth and development. With the support of the Ministry of Education, Science and Youth of Sarajevo Canton, the project “Healthy growth and development in preschool institutions” was launched, offering young children access to personalized and creative activities.
However, IPD has identified the need for continuous work with preschool children. Based on survey results from 2019 and with the support of professionals, they have created an educational package for working with children on the development of their emotional and social skills.
This package was created to meet the needs of parents and educators. In order to educate them on the proper use of the package and in order to adequately respond to the needs of children aged four to six, IPD has designed the project “Healthy growth and development of children in preschool institutions in the Municipality Center in Sarajevo”. This project is implemented within the ReLOaD 2 project financed by the European Union and implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Project coordinator Amer Džekman says that the project includes 19 preschool institutions and 50 educators from the Municipality Center. The educators attended two-day workshops with the aim of improving their skills and proficiency needed for project implementation.
IPD estimates that at least 665 children will directly benefit from the “Healthy growth and development programme”.
Educator Nermina Fočak says that, together with her peers, she initially perceived the need for a comprehensive programme such as “Healthy growth and development” which promotes positive interaction and development of healthy identity among children, understanding social norms and social values, and encourages amicable relationships.
“Children are not immune to negative phenomena, such as various stereotypes and taboos. The youth is often influenced by their families, peers, the wider community and the different media to which they are exposed. They are not immune to peer violence either, or to other kinds of threats to their physical and psychological integrity. Therefore, “Healthy growth and development” programme activities have shown us how to speak with children about safety, about ways in which they can protect themselves, how to empower themselves to confront any kind of harassment and how to react in different situations”, Fočak explained.
Every preschool institution involved in the project received a so-called kindergarten box which includes a set of practical tools that enable educators to work with children. The kindergarten boxes include dolls Hana and Dado which became a mandatory part of children’s everyday life in the Municipality Center.
Džekman explains that these dolls actually help educators to convey useful advice on healthy growth and development to the children in a playful way. He says that through playing, children easily grasp the subject matter of healthy lifestyle. Besides the dolls, the kindergarten boxes include worksheets, posters, picture cards and emotion cards compatible with project activities.
Džekman says that the parent participation was crucial for the project implementation, so they provided them the required support.
We created ”Healthy Growth and development” web platform which enables the parents to attend online training courses and become acquainted with practical lessons they can exercise together with their children. The parents had the opportunity to listen to ten live Podcasts including consultations from psychologists via the Facebook page called IPD – Parent advisors. During the consultations, parents could actively participate in the discussion and ask questions.” says Džekman.
One hundred and fifty parents in total have taken the “Healthy growth and development” online training course, and more than two hundred have accessed consultation and support services within the IPD Facebook platform “Parent advisors”. The IPD says that “Parent advisors” is always available to parents for consultation and support services.
The mother of a boy participating in the “Healthy growth and development” programme, Maja Alihodžić, says that the training helped parents overcome everyday challenges in upbringing their little ones.
“For the first time, I had the impression that the children were treated and spoken to in a different way. The advice we received helped a lot in addressing certain subject matters, while talking and learning together. I feel that we understand each other better, and that now I know how to handle different situations. I hope that similar programmes will be available in elementary schools and that this approach to parent participation and tuition of children will become a standard in all educational institutions”, says Alihodžić.
The IPD claims that there has been an increase in violence, harassment and verbal abuse even in lower grades of elementary school, among boys and girls alike.
“Among boys, physical violence is manifested later on, while among girls, various kinds of verbal violence dominate. Boys who have been subjected to physical violence in their early age are twice more likely to become abusers themselves, to engage in fights, carry weapons and behave violently in relationships. These claims are the reason why programmes that share common goals with “Healthy growth and development” should be implemented during the early age”, says Džekman.
He believes that educating children on healthy lifestyles should be systematically included in all institutions and agencies which are involved in childcare. Quality education and provision of a healthy lifestyle are a part of the Seventeen Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations, supported by the ReLOaD 2 project.