With obesity on the rise and children spending more time inside on screens and less time outdoors, a nursery in Greater Manchester is “changing mindsets” by getting its children to run a mile every day.
The Daily Mile initiative has been embraced by many primary schools in the UK and abroad but the number of nurseries doing it is still small. In the six years since it began, the Daily Mile has been adopted by half of Scottish primary schools and a quarter of English and Welsh ones.
One nursery leading the way is St Vincent’s Nursery in Altrincham which has been doing a mile every day for the last six months.
Chloe Chester, pre-school room lead said: “We went to a sports conference in Greater Manchester and Elaine Wylie, who started it in Scotland, did a talk on the Daily Mile.
“It sounded such a good idea. We are based in the school grounds so we do it on the school field. We run for 15 minutes every morning at 9am. There are over 40 children in the pre-school and they all do it.
“We are very boy heavy this year and we have some really energetic ones and this has been really good for them.
“Sometimes we walk and run – it depends how the children are feeling that day.”
The nursery has found “the children are much more focused after doing the run and much calmer. We also noticed a lot more friendships developing as a result as they will do it together and chat as they run.”
The Daily Mile has been promoted largely as a school initiative which could explain why there has been a low take up from nurseries. There is also the issue of smaller, independent nurseries not having that big, outside space to run in.
St Vincent’s Nursery encourages the children to keep going by giving out certificates for being the most improved runner of the week and the runner of the week. “We look at their fitness levels and how hard they have tried. Some of them are really out of breath when they first start doing the Daily Mile but now they have got quite fit from doing it.
“Some children are quite unwilling when they first start doing it but after a couple of times they love it," says Ms Chester.
The staff at the nursery were “a bit apprehensive at first at how we would fit it into the day and the parents were worried that the children would be forced to run even if they didn’t want to. But we told them the children can walk it if they like".
Ms Chester revealed: “Some children can find it hard at the beginning especially if they are not very outdoorsy and some are a bit reluctant when it is cold and wet as we do it in all weathers. But we have managed to change their mindsets.
“It is our motto to be happier and healthier. We encourage them after the run to feel their hearts pumping and we talk about the impact exercise has on our bodies.”
As well as improving the children’s fitness levels, the staff have also benefited, with Ms Chester admitting that when she first started doing it "I was out of breath but now I can run it easily".
Ivana Beckett, nursery manager, added: “From day one, the daily mile has become firmly embedded within our daily routine and the children know that they go and do their mile first thing in the morning, they have been well educated of the benefits of this and the effect that it has not only on their bodies but also their focus and behaviour.
“It has been amazing to watch the children progress and improve day by day over the last six weeks, especially listen to how their whole attitude to running and fitness in general has changed. When asked about the daily mile they have made comments such as ‘I ran around like 20 times, I wanted to do more’ or ‘My heart was moving and pumping the blood, it feels like it’s jumping!’
“What’s even more incredible is that whilst we started off the daily mile with pre-school children only, the other age groups have now joined in too, including our youngest residents of 15-18 months of age. The effort, stamina and sheer determination all the children have shown has been truly astonishing.”
The Daily Mile initiative was invented by Elaine Wyllie, former head of St Ninian's Primary in Stirling. Recent research carried out by scientists from the Universities of Edinburgh and the Highlands and Islands found its ‘simplicity, flexibility and adaptability’ is key to its success.
Dr Gemma Ryde, lecturer in physical activity at Stirling, said: “This is the first study to explore why The Daily Mile might have been so successfully implemented.
“Our research suggests that this success can be attributed to the simple core intervention components – allowing the children to walk, jog or run; flexible delivery that supports teacher autonomy; and adaptability that suits the specific primary school context.”