Do you know the traffic light game?

Dr Kate Gazzard

TrafficLight"What does the red light mean?" I ask, holding up a large red paper circle.

"STOP!!!" a roomful of culturally and linguistically diverse children yell back at me.

"What does the green light mean?" A leading question, yes, but I'm rather enjoying my time in the limelight.

"GOOOOOO!!!" they yell excitedly, wriggling in their seats with anticipation.

"And the orange?" I enquire, waving the paper orange circle in front of their eager beaming faces.

"StoSLOWwaitMpghHgoCAUTIONsshmm...?" An inaudible mumbling of indiscernible words drowning each other out, until one voice clearly shouts "DRIVE REALLY FAST SO YOU GET THROUGH BEFORE IT'S RED".

Wow. This one is perceptive. I'm not sure I can teach him much more.

We're playing the traffic-light-food-game. Green light means healthy, eat-every-day foods. Orange means eat-in-moderation. Red means only-eat-sometimes.

I'm getting concerned, as I teach these bright young children about what foods they should be eating, at the alarming amount of only-eat-sometimes foods I have in my own diet. I'm almost persuaded by one child's suggestion that "ice-cream is made of 'ice' and 'cream'. Dairy is good for you", hovering my empty ice-cream container prop over green, then orange, before shamefully placing it on the red circle. I resolve to only eat vegetables from now on.

I'm at the Western English Language School at Footscray City Primary School. The children here spend at least six months improving their English before they are integrated into the mainstream school. I was expecting a class full of timid primary schoolers with limited English. What I got were 34 boisterous, energetic little people who speak remarkably well, and whose enthusiasm I am unable to control. I gaze helplessly toward the teachers as tiny bodies lunge towards me; I'm feeling a little out of my league. Luckily the WELS teachers are excellent at their jobs and can reign in the eagerness to a manageable level.

"Ok," I continue, handing out plastic fruits and vegetables and empty food containers. "Which colour will each of these be?"

These kids know their stuff. They put the vegetables in the green group, dairy, bread, meats in the orange group, and chocolate, pizza and chips in the red group.

We hit a snag with the Preps, whose excitement gets the better of them at times. They seem to be focused on who can gather the most food props.

"You don't get to eat them," their teacher informs them.

"And they are made of plastic" I add, "which we all know is a sometimes food." Their blank stares remind me that some of them are only 5 years old, and my bad jokes might actually teach them bad habits.

"I mean, no plastic. We don't eat plastic."

I direct this comment at a young girl who is eyeing off the fake vegetable I have placed in her hands.

"Now, which colour group does this carrot go in?" I ask.

"ORANGE," they vehemently reply.

Well, they've got me there. I'm starting to confuse myself as I direct them to the green circle which is now piled high with vegetables.

I look over at the two other Water Well Project volunteers - Phuong Pham and Adam Gascoigne. When we met before the session they both insisted that they did not know what to do with kids. I suspect that they lied. Phuong speaks softly but with a sense of authority I will never manage; the kids are engaged and attentive as she teaches them about about hygiene and staying healthy. Adam, although slightly less motherly than Phuong, has an equally captive audience of children learning about the sugar content of different foods.

At the end of the session we all group back together and the kids eat their morning snacks. We go around the room and ask what they are eating. I'm impressed to see all the fruit, a few sandwiches, salad, chicken, rice, sushi. One child has a three course meal of rice, broccoli and fish. It seems that Claire Kelly and the other WELS teachers have already drilled healthy eating into them - we just got to come in and play games. I loved every minute of it.

This feels great. I've resolved to eat more vegetables and to participate in more Water Well sessions, because both are good for me.

I might even eat a chocolate egg when I get home to reward myself! After all, everything in moderation.