Ahead of annual World Play Day on May 28, Abu Dhabi’s Early Childhood Authority (ECA) has partnered with Manchester City Football Schools UAE to deliver the ‘Healthy Lifestyles’ program to primary school students, ages 4-8 years. 

The program, currently in its pilot phase, is part of ECA’s World Early Childhood Development (WED) Movement, a platform launched in 2021 under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Theyab bin Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Chairman of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Court and Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Early Childhood Authority.

WED recognizes the importance of play in the cognitive and physical development of young children, and gathers global experts and innovators who have come together to develop effective strategies and programs to positively impact the development of young children, and further innovate in the early childhood sector in Abu Dhabi and beyond.

Manchester City Football Schools UAE has been offering community football programs for boy and girls, ages 3 to 16 years, for more than a decade, and is built on the philosophy and training program of the Manchester City Academy.

To date, the WED ‘Healthy Lifestyles’ program for young primary school kids has been delivered to approximately 900 students in 11 schools across Abu Dhabi. Based on the success of this pilot program, ECA and Manchester City Football Schools UAE will expand their partnership, aiming to reach more than 2,000 kids, ages 4-8 years old, in the next academic year. 

Delivered by specially-trained Manchester City Football Schools coaches, the Healthy Lifestyle in-school program consists of two fun and interactive lessons – one theory and one practical – that teach children the importance of being active, eating well and leading a healthy lifestyle, all key priorities of the WED Movement.

H.E. Sana Mohamed Suhail, Director General of Abu Dhabi Early Childhood Authority (ECA), said: “The concept of “play” is often overlooked, and is therefore not adequately planned into a child’s routine both at home and at school. Structured and unstructured play with others and active living are key to helping children grow into healthy adults and develop important social skills, such as learning sharing, tolerance and understanding, problem-solving, conflict resolution, and language skills. In line with ECA’s purpose of supporting the holistic development of children in our communities, we ensure that all areas of a child’s life are nurtured for them to grow into well-rounded adults, fit to take our world forward. World Play Day is an excellent reminder of this incredibly important element in a child’s development.”  

Her Excellency continued by saying: “In light of this, supporting the Healthy Lifestyle Program and working alongside Manchester City Football Schools UAE was a natural partnership. With a shared goal of ensuring the best opportunity for children to further their physical and cognitive development, we’re excited to see this roll-out and look forward to further helping parents and teachers hone their skills on how they can support play – in this case, through football.”

Simon Hewitt, Senior Manager, Football Operations MENA – Football Education, City Football Services said: “For more than 10 years, Manchester City Football Schools UAE has been offering young people across Abu Dhabi and Dubai the opportunity to hone their football skills, make friends, stay active and have fun. The Healthy Lifestyles program is very much part of our philosophy, and the power of football encourages children to make smart choices that can last a lifetime.

“We started the Healthy Lifestyles program in the UAE five years ago, reaching thousands of young teens. We are delighted to have the opportunity to adapt the curriculum for a younger age group, and look forward to its continued delivery with the Early Childhood Authority, as part of its important WED movement.”

Young student, Zayed said: It was fantastic, and I would like Manchester City to come to the Pearl Academy again. I like football because it helps me be fit and strong.”

Pearl Academy teacher, Mr. Joey Marcroft said: “We have had a mix of theory and practical sessions with a variety of year groups. The children have benefited immensely from this program, and we are so excited to be part of it. The Healthy Lifestyles program has developed the children’s knowledge on how to eat healthier and drink more water, and how this can positively affect your body. The kids have benefited from the practical session by learning football skills, how to control the ball, passing and moving. They now have more understanding of the game.”

The WED program sits under ECA's World Early Childhood Development (WED) Movement initiative, which was launched in 2021 under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Theyab bin Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Chairman of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Court and Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Early Childhood Authority (ECA). It aims to spur innovation in systems, platforms and programs that help realize ECA’s mandate to provide for the health, wellbeing and protection of Abu Dhabi’s children from pregnancy to age eight. The initiative focuses on parents, children, partners, policymakers, civil societies, research entities, social investment funds and innovation centers, in addition to the private sector through strategic interventions and tailored programs, which promote and develop the early childhood sector locally and globally.