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With four and a half years and almost 600 workshops under her belt, the Rainbow Fairy (otherwise known as Natasha Gavin, founder of I Know Why It’s Yum, Mum!) can make teachers’ and parents’ jaws drop as they witness the fussiest of little eaters trying fruit and vegetables that they’ve never eaten before.
Natasha Gavin founded her social enterprise following her then three-year-old son calling down the stairs: “Mum, I need to have porridge for breakfast and broccoli for dinner, I can’t poo!”
She says that while she does not remember exactly what she said, she must have explained to him the benefits that certain foods have for the body.
This was her ‘Eureka’ moment – children are happy to eat healthy foods when they understand exactly why it is important and how they help their bodies.
Driven by the ever-growing issue of childhood obesity, she went on to start up I Know Why It’s Yum, Mum! in December 2010 with her two close friends, which culminated in their first show at a primary school in January 2012 and the creation of the Rainbow Workshops for two- to five-year-olds just a few months later.
Explaining why bananas can make us happy
Dressing as a “kooky” Rainbow Fairy with no wings, just a rainbow fascinator, rainbow shoes and brightly patterned cardigans – “I have two sons so I was very conscious about appealing to boys and girls” – Mrs Gavin goes into nurseries to help children get to love fruit and vegetables.
She explains there are three methods involved in the workshops: “To enchant, to captivate and to brainwash.”
Introducing children to the idea of a rainbow diet and five-a-day, Mrs Gavin’s catchy songs and clever concepts and methods encourage children to develop an interest in fruit and vegetables by explaining their benefits and taking away the fear of healthy eating.
She says: “The focus is on fruit and vegetables. I don’t tell them not to eat sweets, chocolate, crisps, and this is what parents like.
“It’s not preaching to them about what they should and shouldn’t eat, it’s telling them why peas are good for their muscles or why a banana can make them happy and getting them to eat more fruit and veg.
“Then hopefully they just don’t have much room left for things like sweets and bread, empty calories!”
As the Rainbow Fairy, Mrs Gavin has ways of encouraging even the fussiest of eaters to try new foods.
She explains that desensitisation is key to turning these children towards fruit and vegetables.
This is where the fun part – playing with food – comes in.
“I’ll throw a pomegranate to two or three children, roll a cabbage towards them. And the carrots I take in still have their tops on so I tickle some of the children with this – all ways of desensitising them,” she says.
“This helps me see which children might be a bit reticent and then I can focus more on them. I also ask nursery staff to just subtly let me know which children have the major issues or food phobias so I can spend more one-to-one time with them.”
Children at Buttercups Homefields Nursery recently got to meet the Rainbow Fairy and have some fun with fruit and vegetables in this way, surprising parents by eating things they hadn’t before.
Staff at the nursery told daynurseries.co.uk: “The children all gathered around touching food and having fun with some vegetables to encourage some fussy eaters.
“They had pretend fights with cucumber swords, they were carrot snakes with snake tongues (peelings), they burst pomegranate jewels on their tongues and turned grumpy faces into happy faces after eating a slice of banana.”
The pomegranate ‘jewels’, which one child enthusiastically described as “tasty”, are a big hit with children, likely due to Mrs Gavin’s simple yet clever technique of limiting the amount available for the children.
She explains: “If I have a box of pomegranate seeds and there’s only enough for one each, everyone wants to have one. But if I had lots of seeds the children wouldn’t be interested.”
This, coupled with peer pressure from other children and the Rainbow Fairy’s remarks of “big boys and girls like their vegetables, don’t they?” tends to be enough to encourage reluctant children to try something new.
Unenthusiastic staff the biggest problem for the Rainbow Fairy
But while the nursery staff at Homefields enjoyed the Rainbow Fairy’s visit just as much as the children at the nursery did, Mrs Gavin explains that sometimes staff can be a little reluctant and unenthusiastic, which can be an issue when it comes to engaging the children as staff are looked to as role models.
Although this only happens around 10 per cent of the time, Mrs Gavin tries to avoid it happening at all by constantly bringing them in and actively engaging them in the workshop.
She says: “If I can see a teacher is not engaged I’ll draw them in by saying their name and getting them involved.”
“Shall we have a quick check in Mrs Smith’s ear to see if her brain is big,” the Rainbow Fairy asks the children. “And whether she eats up her pumpkin and sunflower seeds which help her remember things?”
She adds that if a member of staff refuses to eat something the Rainbow Fairy offers them, she makes it clear to the next member of staff that they should for the benefit of the children, just as she does: “Everything I get the children to do I do first.”
Top Trumps, European tours and mythicism
With rainbows, stickers, bubbles and songs, there is something for everyone in Natasha Gavin’s Rainbow Workshops, and her success extends far beyond the nursery classroom.
Since starting her social enterprise, Mrs Gavin has published her own set of I Know Why It’s Yum, Mum! Top Trumps, produced a CD of the songs she sings in the workshops (including her original, copyrighted Rainbow Diet Song complete with actions), and she has even been on international tours in Paris, Warsaw and Madrid.
But she says that some of the best things about being the Rainbow Fairy are watching children do things most adults would believe impossible, helping children overcome their fears, and receiving feedback from parents years after their children attended a workshop.
She explains: “I get feedback from parents sometimes years after their children have been to my workshops telling me I changed their child’s eating habits, or that their children still quote back what I taught them, and they’ve continued the learning at home with our Top Trumps cards and my CD.”
Some parents, she says, have even turned her into something of a mythical creature by writing letters to their children from the Rainbow Fairy to encourage them to eat more fruit and vegetables.
For fussy eaters, Mrs Gavin offers a range of information, advice and tips, including:
1. Get the children to grow their own fruit and veg
2. Have fun with food through play and song
3. Explain why they should eat a rainbow of fruit and veg
5. Reward small steps
To find out more about Natasha Gavin and her work with schools, nurseries and families, visit: www.iknowwhyitsyummum.com