The Impact of School Eating Environments on the Wellbeing of Children Transitioning from Full-Day Childcare to Full-Day Kindergarten
Bas, Japji Anna
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This study explored the impact of school eating environments on the wellbeing of children in the Full Day Kindergarten (FDK) Early Learning Program in the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) and compared childrens experiences of eating in FDK with those in childcare settings. Drawing on critiques of dominant approaches to evaluation, the study employed a wellbeing model that includes material security, relationship, engagement and meaning and used the Mosaic approach to participatory research with young children. Structured across three phases, the study followed a cohort of children in three childcare centre-school pairings as they transitioned from full day childcare to full day kindergarten. Phase 1 involved full day observations, self-reported wellbeing, semi-structured interviews and drawings in the childcare centre. Phase 2 involved two visits and semi-structured interviews in the after-school care setting in the first months of kindergarten. Phase 3, like phase 1, involved full day observations, self-reported wellbeing and semi-structured interviews in the classroom setting throughout the final six months of junior kindergarten (the first year of schooling in the province of Ontario, for children who turned four by December 31 of the school year). Whereas participants reported overwhelmingly positive feelings about lunch time in the childcare setting, reports in the FDK setting showed greater variation with few positive responses relating to the lunch experience itself. In interviews in the school setting, the child participants described not having enough time to eat their lunches, feeling sad that staff worked to prevent them from talking, and being happy about being able to choose some of the items in their lunches. Both parents and staff expressed concerns regarding the kindergarten eating environment and observations revealed the emergence of safety concerns, declining nutritional quality and confirmed both child and adult concerns. The study signals an opportunity for young children to meaningfully participate in wellbeing analyses of their environments. Furthermore, analysis suggests that the kindergarten eating environment is suboptimal and could be improved through the implementation of regulations and practices present in the childcare setting.