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What the Experts Say

“Stand up tall, abdominals strong!” Renata Martins stands at the front of the class, marching energetically on the spot. In front of her 12 pairs of knees go up and down, not all of them quite in time with the music. In a class like this, it’s not surprising that some of the participants aren’t totally co-ordinated – the oldest one in the room is only  four! DIRECTOR .Stretch-n-Grow is an exercise programme specifically designed for pre-schoolers.It teaches them movement, co-ordination, and, perhaps most importantly, that exercise and healthy eating is fun. Renata, who teaches several classes at the Regent’s Park Nursery, with groups from 18 months to 4, says: “they love doing their exercise. They’ll be the generation that will think it’s not just good for you, but fun. They’re at the age where they learn good and bad habits.” Adri Hartveld, a physiotherapist with 25 years of experience in children’s health, says a programme like Stretch-n-Grow can have mental, and was as physical health benefits. “It’s excellent for many reasons,” he says. “Most obviously, it will improve children’s co-ordination, and will enhance their movement development. The side effects are that it will improve their confidence and their self-esteem, and give them a positive feeling about exercise. It has long-term positive effects on mental and physical health. ” At a time when the issue of childhood obesity is rarely out of the headlines, the lessons learned at Stretch-n-Grow seem more important than ever. If it’s common sense for parents to teach their children ‘pleases’ and ‘thank yous’ in toddlerhood, and the same applies for teaching them healthy habits when it comes to exercise and food. Hartveld says: “if we address these issues now, we won’t have as a many problems as we do now. A scheme like Stretch-n-Grow is very positive. It’s done in a fun way, it’s not just teaching with words, it’s teaching with experience.” Frances Poulastides, who manages the Regent’s Park Nursery, says Stretch-n-Grow is one of the children’s favourite activities. “They look forward to it,” she says. “They know the stories, they know the routine. The toddlers love the songs and movement. And they sleep well in the afternoon, they concentrate better.” Back in the classroom, after 10 minutes of marching and jumping, Renata is showing the class a picture. “What’s this?” she asks. The response comes in a chorus. “Riding a bicycle!” “Well done! And what is the name of the big muscle you use to ride you bicycle?” Renata asks, slapping the back of her thigh. A brief pause, and than a hand shoots up. “Hamstring!” All the children point gleefully to their hamstrings. It’s not just healthy eating and exercise children learn about in Stretch-n-Grow – it’s everything from astronomy to sports science, too