Wellbeing: Time to Join the Dots
Click here to see the published article in Nursery Management Today magazine, November 2019.
Linda Baston-Pitt is CEO of PurpleBee Learning, a practice-based online training platform for Early Years professionals that promotes positive leadership, mentoring and the fully-online PANCo qualification.
Jane Brotchie Director of Crystal Clear Writing, is a learning designer and Professional Development Coach. She has been designing and writing learning materials for education and health professionals for over 20 years.
Bring to mind a time when you experienced a sense of wellbeing. What was happening? What did it look like? Ask ten people this question and you will get ten different answers….
Wellbeing is experienced when we feel good and we feel that our lives are going well so it’s not surprising that we all have a different idea of what it means in practice.
This can lead us into difficulties when we are tasked with introducing ‘wellbeing’ into our setting. Is it providing fruit at staff meetings and yoga classes for children or is it perhaps about flexible parental leave and being kind to each other? The answer is both ‘yes’ and ‘no’. Focussing on single issues is essentially a bolt-on approach that does not create the conditions for the wellbeing of the whole setting. A sustainable approach to wellbeing, on the other hand, is about thinking holistically – bringing together policy, leadership, curriculum, environment, staff wellbeing, partnerships and children’s own voices.
Achieving this whole setting approach requires an understanding of what wellbeing means, why it’s important for staff and children and, crucially, how we can achieve it. Only then can the Early Years sector talk with one voice and really make strides towards ensuring that wellbeing objectives are the norm and inform all our work.
Why we should care about wellbeing
We might choose to improve wellbeing simply because it’s the right thing to do. Who wouldn’t want our children and staff to be happy and flourishing? But the case for improving wellbeing is more urgent than this. Scientific evidence indicates that subjective wellbeing – feeling good – has an objective impact across a broad range of life outcomes. A large body of research shows that high levels of self-reported wellbeing help people to function better and predict future health, mortality, productivity, and income. The case for future positive outcomes is even stronger for early intervention with children under five whose bodies and brains are still developing, as Public Health England recognise in their recent report.
“The foundations of good physical and mental health, healthy relationships and educational achievement are laid in preconception through to pregnancy and the early years of life, which is when many inequalities in health often begin. Investment in the early years has been shown to offer good value for money, delivering significant impacts on social and emotional health and wellbeing and reducing inequalities.”
Public Health England (2019) 
Governments and policy-makers, too, are sitting up and taking notice: in Wales, for example, The Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act (2015) makes health and wellbeing a prerequisite for all other policy. Physical activity and healthy nutrition are embedded in the Early Years curricula across the UK and in Scotland, children’s health and wellbeing is designated as a shared responsibility for all Early Years staff. Ofsted have also positioned health and wellbeing as key indicators of quality Early Years care for both children and staff in the new Education Inspection Framework:
What is wellbeing?
At PurpleBee, we describe wellbeing as ‘feeling good and doing well’
Feeling good is when we have a positive experience of life. We feel engaged, curious and open to new experiences. We are happy and experience pleasure, enjoyment and contentment.
Doing well is how we function in, and engage with, the world; experiencing positive relationships; having a sense of purpose and meaning in what we do; and a sense of control over what happens to us.
A thriving Early Years setting is one where both staff and children feel good and are able to do well – they are flourishing. Flourishing staff know their strengths, are self-aware and resilient. It’s a virtuous circle: flourishing staff teams are linked to better outcomes for children, better career progression, recruitment and retention and a happier environment for everyone.
Research suggeststhat flourishing and engagement go together so if you want to attract and retain staff, your wellbeing strategy should create the conditions for people to flourish as well as providing support for those who are struggling.
At PurpleBee we want to share our knowledge, gleaned from years of experience in the sector, about how to create these conditions for flourishing. Our Positive Leadership Programme enables Early Years educators to create a positive workplace where children and staff teams are encouraged to build on their strengths and to make healthy choices. Early Years educators who opt for our Mentoring Programme learn how to develop others using appreciative feedback, that embeds wellbeing practices and prompts pedagogical conversations around how children are learning about their own health.
Health through a wellbeing lens
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines health as:
“a state of complete physical, social and mental well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” (Source: World Health Organisation)
Seen through this lens, health is not just about treatment, hospitals and health care, important as they are. Health is an optimum state that is about enabling people to feel good and do well in three domains of wellbeing:
- Physical wellbeing
- Social wellbeing
- Mental wellbeing
Wellbeing in the workplace is often associated with just one aspect of wellbeing – typically mental health, which has tended to conflate the idea of wellbeing with mental health, or more often, mental ill-health. At PurpleBee, we are working with Early Years settings to promote a holistic approach to wellbeing that promotes all three domains for staff and children: physical, social and mental wellbeing.
Can we learn to live well?
Each one of us, as our lives unfold, experiences challenges and triumphs that test our physical, mental and social capacities. Imagine it as a see-saw where wellbeing is the balance point between an individual’s personal resources and the external challenges they face.
Wellbeing: Balancing resources and challenges (Dodge et al, 2012)
The good news is that these are teachable skills. We can provide opportunities that teach resilience; we can help children learn to value themselves and to care for others; and we can support children to be active and to eat well. We can also learn from children themselves by asking what they want: given the opportunity, even very young children are clear about what they enjoy and what makes them happy 
Running alongside the work with children, a holistic wellbeing approach also supports staff to develop their own physical, mental and social wellbeing through strengths based professional development.
Health: Whose responsibility?
National guidelines give us the benchmarks for physical activity and nutritional health and we are in a prime position to educate and support children and families. Critical to the success of this work is taking account of the complex factors that influence people’s ability to make changes. Our health, and the health of the children and families we work with, is influenced by a wide range of environmental, social and economic factors: things like housing, poverty, income, education – and of course early childhood development. All these factors can enable individuals and societies to flourish, or not, and they all impact on the individual’s ability to make changes to their health.
Settings that have a Physical Activity and Nutrition Co-ordinator (PANCo) in place have a head start in knowing how to manage this health promoting approach: the online PurpleBee PANCo course equips PANCos with tools and strategies to analyse, plan and reflect and learners also have access to a set of best practice ideas to guide their change initiatives.There are many wonderful examples of best practice within our sector. Portico Nurseries made the decision a number of years ago to have a PANCo in all eight of their nurseries. They are incredibly proactive and have worked hard together to develop a whole setting approach to the health and wellbeing of their children, families and staff team.
As a way of embedding a culture of healthy food and eating, June Sullivan, CEO of LEYF nurseries, developed the new “Food Procurement and Cooking for Early Years” Level 2 accredited by Cache, designed to help chefs cook from a child’s point of view including procuring the right foods, serving the right portions and presenting in the right way. This has now led to the recent launch of their new Chef Academy in London.
The best way to understand the context in which our children and families are living is to forge strong links with our local communities and partnerships with parents. An example of this is in Cumbria where the County Council is launching the ‘Healthy Families Cumbria Pledge’ a joint programme with Public Health and Early Years Education and Care to deliver measurable improvements in young children’s health and wellbeing.
Where to start?
“Rather than being something people just get at the doctor’s or at hospital, health is something that starts in families, schools, communities and workplaces. It can be found in parks and in the air people breathe.” Health Foundation 2018 
Viewing health through the lens of wellbeing frees us up to think about how health can be created in our own environments: in the way that we manage our staff; how we relate to parents and families; and how we design the physical spaces across the setting so that children can have the best possible start in life. Every step you make towards bringing wellbeing into your setting is a step in the right direction, just remember to join the dots!
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 De Neve et al. J-E. De Neve, E. Diener, L. Tay and C. Xuereb (2013). The objective benefits of subjective wellbeing, Centre for Economic Performance Discussion Paper No 1236, LSE and ESRC.
 Public Health England (2019). PHE Strategy 2020-25, PHE.
 Ofsted Inspection Framework atL https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/education-inspection-framework
 CIPD (2012). Managing for sustainable employee engagement: Developing a behavioural framework, CIPD.(accessed at https://www.cipd.co.uk/knowledge/fundamentals/relations/engagement/management-guide )
 The NCB has carried out research and published resources on listening and participation: https://www.ncb.org.uk/listening-and-participation-resources
 The Healthy Cumbria Pledge: https://www.cumbria.gov.uk/publichealth/healthyfamiliescumbriapledge.asp
The Health Foundation (2018). The social determinants of health quick guide, London: The Health Foundation