Jyväskylä Human Technology City

Sapere, Introducing children to the varied world of food

 The Sapere method introduces children to varied diets and healthy eating in a hands-on way. In Jyväskylä the method is being applied at the pre-school stage as children develop their taste preferences before they reach school age.

Children are like little detectives, using all five senses to discover new things. The Sapere method, which was developed to reverse the trend towards poor diets and a loss of diversity in food culture, utilises this natural curiosity on the part of children.

The method originates from France and has already been used among school children. Jyväskylä's social innovation has been to introduce Sapere at the pre-school stage, using it in early education among children 1-6 years old.

"Children's food and taste preferences are established at a very early stage. Sapere is based on sensory perceptions that are significant to children and it uses these perceptions in the learning process. Children also enjoy the positive atmosphere and chance to do things together. There was a real need for an enjoyable and practical way of getting the message about varied, healthy food choices across to children," says Nutrition Coordinator Arja Lyytikäinen, who is heading the Sapere project.

The process of adapting the Sapere method for use in day-care centres started with a pilot project at four centres in Jyväskylä. The day-care staff came up with some creative ideas for introducing children to the world of food, including dolls and cards to represent the different senses. They also revived old-fashioned kitchen and shopkeeping games and developed an 'idea box' to encourage the whole family to prepare food together. The children visited farms and market places to see for themselves where their food comes from.

"Linguistic self-expression is an integral part of Sapere. Children are encouraged to describe their own experiences and perceptions. They gradually start to find ways to talk about their food other than just yummy and yuck," Lyytikäinen explains.

Launching Sapere courses

The effective practices developed in Jyväskylä have been collected into a book by Aila Koistinen, a day-care teacher and Sapere coordinator, and Leena Ruhanen, a day-care communications coordinator. The working methods and teaching methodology used in day-care centres in Jyväskylä have attracted a lot of interest within Europe, and so the "Sapere toolbook for early education" will be published in English and Swedish as well as Finnish in early 2010.

Jyväskylä's Sapere experts belong to the Sapere Association, an international network whose members exchange good practices implemented in different countries. Cooperation between European researchers is also being launched. Arja Lyytikäinen has presented the Finnish application of Sapere at the Sapere conference in the Netherlands. In autumn 2009 Aila Koistinen had the opportunity to present the innovations implemented in Jyväskylä during an international exchange visit to the School of Hospitality, Culinary Arts and Meal Science at Örebro University in Sweden.

"People in the international Sapere community are interested in and enthusiastic about the way we've applied the methods among children under school-age in Jyväskylä. Together we've created a comprehensive and multidisciplinary approach to educating children about food and improving their well-being," Koistinen states.

The message about healthy diets for children and the new nutrition and food education method is currently being spread in Finland, too. Arja Lyytikäinen explains that in 2010 Sapere training courses will be arranged for day-care staff in seven new municipalities and towns in the Jyväskylä area.

These will help to introduce the Sapere philosophy into new day-care centres and, via the children's parents, into homes too. "In Jyväskylä we've laid good foundations, and developed and tested the method. Now it's time to get it properly established and expand it," she says.


Sapere, using all fives senses

- The Sapere method was developed by Jacques Puisais, a French chemist and ethnologist, during the 1970s. - "Sapere" is a Latin word and means "to be brave and to taste". - The method is based on sensory training and experiences, and their impact in the processes of discovering new foods and learning eating habits. - The method uses all five senses: smell, taste, sight, hearing and touch. - The aim is to arouse the child's curiosity and interest in foods, where they come from and how they are prepared, and in meals enjoyed together. - The method emphasises the importance of really listening to children and encouraging them to express themselves, which helps to strengthen their self-esteem. - The Sapere method is in use in many European countries, including France, Sweden, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Belgium. In Jyväskylä the method was applied with children aged 1-6 years for the first time.

- For further information: http://sapere.ebaia.com, www.sapere.fi

Photo: At Pupuhuhta day care centre in Jyväskylä the Sapere method is part of the regular routine. Even one-year-olds eat by themselves and get to try baking. Here Elaha Rahimpur, Niclas Remsu ja Topi Leppänen are hard at work under Iliriana Krasniq's guidance.

Words by Pia Tervoja, Photos by Petteri Kivimäki