In the autumn term of 2007 Stretch & Play delivered an innovative programme which was funded by the EU Programme for Peace & Reconciliation and piloted in 8 post-primary schools in the Southern Education & Library Area of Northern Ireland. The sessions involved yoga-type stretches, brain gym activities, drama games and exercises designed to encourage approximately 500 pupils to improve their personal health, both physically and emotionally, and to explore the concepts of self-confidence and self-esteem in a safe and supportive environment. The programme was professionally evaluated by Green Hat and the results were very positive, allowing us to be recognised by Invest Northern Ireland as an award-winning Social Entrepreneurship Programme.

We won awards from UnLtd – the Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs to grow the business and offer training to others, which was the genesis for the Stretch & Play Facilitator Training.

In 2008 Stretch & Play were thrilled to be involved with the Ulster Cancer Foundation/ Lidl ‘Fit Factor’ challenge where we created the ‘self-expression’ module of the programme.

After a successful pilot, the Fit Factor was rolled out to over 250 Key Stage One classes and more than 10,000 pupils from across Northern Ireland each year until 2015.

Here are some of the teachers’ comments about the programme:

“Our involvement in this programme improved the self-esteem, made positive behaviour changes, reduced stress, provided opportunities for self-expression and was FUN for the children and me. What more could a PE lesson ask for? There have been so many positive experiences by being involved in this programme.  As a class, we were amazed how effective simple balancing and stretching exercises could be as a way of improving our overall wellbeing.  The children enjoyed learning new information about each other through the stillness and affirmation aspects of the challenge and in combining their ideas for the creative project.  The benefits of living a healthy and active lifestyle became paramount to every child in the class and the enthusiasm this generated was awe inspiring to me as a teacher.  I am so proud of how the children have developed as individuals during the progression of the Lidl Fit Factor, and am confident that the learning that has taken place will be a lifelong enjoyable memory and positive learning experience.” Kyra Watson, Class Teacher, Ballinamallard Primary School – Co. Fermanagh

“When I first embarked on the Lidl Fit Factor challenge, I viewed it as a fun way of introducing the children in my class to the idea of healthy eating and the importance of physical activity. It provided me with a set of good ideas and resources that had already been tried and tested and proven to be useful in educating children about keeping fit and healthy. Throughout the project, I enjoyed each session as much as the children did and it gave me a wider view on how much, as a teacher, I can help children to make the right decisions concerning their health. The children absolutely loved the Lidl Fit Factor challenge and still encourage me to keep up self-expression lessons.” Ciara Heffron, Class Teacher, Round Tower Integrated Primary School – Co. Antrim

“The class’s favourite element was the daily self-expression exercises which they are eager to continue even after the challenge!” Ursula Quinn, Class Teacher, St. Brigid’s  Primary School, Magherafelt – Co. Derry