Limited research has explored young children’s (those aged 4 – 5 years) knowledge and understanding of the consumption of fluids. Prior research1 within this area has only had small sample sizes of children in this very young age phase. In England children start school in the September following their fourth birthday, therefore children are aged 4 and 5 when they start school. The young children follow the Early Years Foundation Stage Curriculum2 within which the children learn about health and self-care with a focus on the importance of: good health; physical exercise; and a healthy diet, the aim of this area is for children to be able to talk about ways to keep healthy. Therefore, it is hypothesised that as the children are following this curriculum, they should be learning about the consumption of fluids within the school setting and will know and understanding fluid intake. As they are being supported as to when to drink by their teacher through the curriculum learning, it is proposed that the teacher will be the main influencer and it is predicted that the young children should be able to articulate their learning of this topic area with the researchers of this study.
Children aged 4 and 5 are recommended to need 1.1 – 1.3 litres of fluid a day to maintain an effective hydration status3. This total amount of 1.1 – 1.3 litres does not include the additional 20 – 30 percent children obtain through food sources, if these are included children require 1.6 – 1.7 litres per day. Most previous research from Europe focuses on 9 – 11 year olds and states that 2 out of 3 children are not drinking enough4 and that children are unable to recognise the early stages of thirst5, resulting in them not exhibiting a desire to drink, there is a lack of research with younger aged children.
It has been previously reported that children find it difficult to understand when and what to drink, as they have an underdeveloped thirst response6, up to potentially there being a 45 minute delay in children showing signs of dehydration and acknowledging the need to consume additional fluids. However, elementary schools and in particular early years’ educational settings such as primary schools within England, are particularly important places for developing habits7 and teaching children when to drink and how their bodies are responding to not drinking. There have also been identified cognitive benefits for children who are hydrated, with a 10% improvement in learning potential when hydrated children are compared to dehydrated peers8. It also only takes 2 minutes for these cognitive benefits to occur once fluids have been taken9. Therefore, it is paramount that teachers encourage children to drink throughout the school day as knowledge of good habits means action into good habits, and will provide young children with lifelong habits10.
This study aims to investigate what primary / elementary school children (aged 4 and 5 year olds) understand and know about fluid intake, when they drink, how much they perceive they drink and who influences them to drink in terms of who tells them to drink and whether or not variations exist between children from different ages, gender and schools.