The Rainbow Flower | Video series

In the Rainbow Flower video, our CEO and founder Clare Hanbury, explains the tool and how to use it. Please click the image or this link to watch the video.

For more information on The Rainbow Flower and to download the tool, click here.


The Rainbow Flower is one of the tools that Children for Health uses to help teachers understand at a really deep level what the differences are between a traditional health education approach and a participatory health education approach.

The context for this is not just that schools want to deliver more participatory health education, although I hope they do, but actually there’s a global context for this. There’s the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which has participation as one of its principles, and because of this, you find that the principle of participation and empowerment within a whole range of policy documents, including quite a recent one on global health strategy regarding adolescent health. The cohort of children we aim to reach is between about the ages of 10 and 14, these are children in early adolescence but they’re within the age group that this particular strategy is talking about.

What this tool will do is help people understand how to put this participation and empowerment principle into practice, and that’s often where these strategies and where these principles fall down. How is it that we actually make children and adolescents feel empowered? How do we get them to participate? So, our Rainbow Flower is a tool that we hope that teachers can use to help them to do that.

So, The Rainbow Flower has seven petals and these petals are roles, words, wheels, skills, places, values, and connections.

  1. The roles are about the roles of the children.
  2. The words are a diagnostic way to see whether something is suitable enough to be in this programme.
  3. The wheels are the wheels of a tricycle, but we need all three wheels to be working for the health education approach to be working.
  4. The skills are the things that we need the children to learn so that they become good at their particular roles, the new roles which we want them to have.
  5. The places are where the activities happen.
  6. The values are like the driving energies for this work
  7. The connections are what actually makes this health education deep and deeply embedded within a person, and

Okay, so to give you just a little bit more detail around each of these petals. Now, in training, when we work with this, we actually build activities around learning all of this. It’s not just about explanation. The participants in a workshop will actually do quite a lot of activities and have discussions so they really understand all of these differences, but for the purposes of this, I’m just going to highlight and give an overview of what each one is.


For the roles, we’ve got the learner, the leader, and the activist. So, what we’re doing is we’re getting children changing from sitting in a classroom and just absorbing information to being somebody who passes on information to others and is seen by others to be a leader in that particular piece or cluster of information. We want them to be activists because we want them to be proactive in their homes and communities, sharing this information with others.


The wheels are a wheel of understanding, a wheel of action and a wheel of reflection. If you imagine a tricycle, a tricycle needs all three wheels to be working in order to move forward, and with the children we want them to have a period of time where they’re understanding.

Let’s say it’s about diarrhoea prevention and control. We don’t want them sharing information or doing activities in their families and communities without really understanding what a particular piece of information is all about. For example, the importance of taking oral re-hydration solution or the importance of taking zinc supplementation in order to minimise the duration of diarrhoea, for example.

Now, those aren’t completely straightforward things to understand, so, if you’re getting children to go out into the community to share ideas about a topic they have to understand it. So, this first piece is about understanding, and it’s not just about sitting there passively learning, it’s also got lots of activities built around it. So, that learner, that understanding role, is really important, and then of course what makes it really a Children for Health thing, it’s about taking action. So, taking all of those ideas into the communities. Now, the action isn’t just doing drama or marches or having posters or things like that. It’s also about having discussions in the family. So, we need to wash our hands properly with soap. Why aren’t we washing our hands properly with soap? So, that question and that discussion can also be an action.

Then the next wheel, which is about reflection, is really important because this kind of health education is effective and it is powerful. If you don’t have that period of time where the children can come back and reflect on what they’ve done, you don’t have the opportunity to pick up on things they’ve maybe only half understood or not got quite right. So, that period of reflection is a time for you to really get, do the children understand and is it time for you to move on to something else or do we need to repeat the whole cycle again?

So, those wheels are, understanding, action and reflection, and, of course, that’s very different from giving a lesson and off you go! Incidentally, if I’ve given my lesson on smoking and that leads to you not being a smoker, that’d be a good outcome, but that’s not part of the process of learning. This process is all about the three things being part of learning.


The skills that we want are listening, speaking, and planning. We want the children to be really good listeners. Now, this goes for the teachers as well. Now, we’re all listeners one way or the other, but we want to get the children to really be developing their listening skills so that they can get and absorb information from others. They can have meaningful discussions, so they really hear what people say and then can continue a discussion. So, it’s really deepening their listening skills in this case.

It’s also about speaking and it’s about making yourself heard, making yourself clear to others, which is obviously a really important thing when you’re sharing health information. Planning is another really important skill. Very often people tie these kinds of health education activities into community outreach campaigns and even if it’s not a great big campaign, even if it’s just a simple matter of going out to the home and doing something in the home or community, much better if the children can take a step back and plan with others how to do that well. You can see, also, how all these petals and all these different things connect to each other.


The next petal is about the words. Now, these three words are important, relevant, and fun, and what we tell teachers and children about the activities is they’ve got to be important, and important not just generally, but important to the community and also relevant to the children’s lives. So, we’re wanting to make sure, and we do this, sort of a fist like this, important, like that, so it’s meaningful, it’s not just a superficial health topic that we might be choosing, it’s really something that deserves importance to the community, and relevant, relevant to the children as well. So, it might be that we take a particular health topic, but there are different angles. We must always select the angle on that health topic that is meaningful and relevant to the children’s actual lives.

The third thing, really important that a lot of people find with health education. Everyone gets gloomy, all frowns come out because we’re talking about life and death issues. We’re talking about suffering. We’re talking about illness. But no. One thing that we really get the teachers to think about is how to make their sessions with the children fun. How to make this learning really light and happy, and whenever we work with teachers, whenever we provide information about activities that teachers can do, we provide lots of ideas for songs, for dramas, for quizzes, and to do things like quizzes in an active way, where they’re running about the room, not just sitting there marking on a piece of paper. So, all the time to keep it light, to keep it fun. There’s a lot of theory out there that keeping learning fun makes learning better.


The next petal is about the places where the learning happens. Now, in most health education, you’re going to really have one place and that is … we call it in Children for Health, the learning place. Well, we imagine a classroom, but for not all children, let’s say you’re in a refugee camp, you’re learning on the street, it’s not always a classroom. It could be an informal setting as well, but it’s where the adult who’s facilitating the learning and the children will meet.

But then there are two other important places in a Children for Health type of programme. There’s the learning, there’s the place where the children will share or spread their learning to other children, and that might be in a community or it even might be in a school setting. Like in India, Nigeria, and Mozambique, we’re using a school health club model so the children are moving from the school health club and then they’re sharing the information, the content, and the activities with their peers, with younger children in the school, within the school. So, it goes from the club to the school and then out to the home and community, and when it goes to the home and community, it’s not just the club members doing that, it’s all of the children in the school as well. So, there’s this kind of three steps in terms of the places. The club, the school, and the community or the home and the community.


There are two more petals left. The next petal is about values and these are very important. They really underpin what Children for Health is trying to do. The first one is about community. When the children are sitting in a classroom, a lot of their learning is very much for themselves and it’s perceived like that learning is to make you a better, informed person about health. Well, this learning is about the community directly. It’s about the here and now. It’s not about when you’re an adult, you’ll know this and you’ll be able to use it, it’s about you know this now, you go out to the community. So, community is one of the values that underpins this.

The second one, which links to a previous point about speaking, is about clarity. If we’re going to pass on messages about health, then they’ve got to be clear. We’ve got to be able to communicate those messages so that people understand them. Sometimes, children will be learning in the classroom in Portuguese, let’s say, but their mother tongue, is Chichewa. I’m talking about Mozambique. So, it might be better for the children to work out using their planning and their discussion and their clubs or wherever, to think about how can we make that message really clear in our houses, with our younger siblings, with our neighbours and with our friends, and it might be that they need to start thinking about how they can communicate that message very clearly in the mother tongue, in the local language. So, that would just be one example.

The third thing is that we want to bring in the value of creativity, and this is because every individual that we involve in these kinds of programmes will have a slightly different context from another, and in order for this health education to land really well within a family, there needs to be an element of difference. So, the types of activities I might do here might be slightly changed if I do them there, and if we develop this idea of creativity within the children so that they get the sense and they get the confidence of doing it slightly differently so that their father or their neighbour or their younger brothers and sisters really get what they’re talking about, then that’s going to make the whole thing much more powerful.


Lastly, the last petal is about connections. This is actually one of my favourite ones. What are the connections, you ask. It’s connecting the head, so what we know, with what we do. A lot of health education in traditional health education setting stays in the learners head. Children just learn it and then that’s it, but what we want is for the learning to go into their head and for that learning to move into a physical space. We want the learning to be in their body so that it propels them into action, so that they do something with the learning.

The last connection we want them to make is with the heart, because we know… we’re bombarded every day with health education messages, with public health messages, but very often it just hits our minds, our heads. Sometimes we start changing our behaviour a little bit, but are we really affected emotionally? So, this is about giving the teachers and the children this idea that you have to connect emotionally for health education to be really effective. Once you do that, once you get the connection from the head to the body to the heart, then you’ve got successful participatory child-centred health education which is making an impact in families and that’s what Children for Health is about.