Physical activity should be encouraged from birth, particularly through floor-based play and water-based activities in safe environments. Children of pre-school age who are capable of walking unaided should be physically active daily, spread throughout the day. Physical activity has a number of health benefits for children, such as increasing muscle and bone strength, improved health and fitness, better quality of sleep and achieving a healthy weight. The Department of Health Guidelines advise that children under 5, who are capable of walking, are active for at least 3 hours a day.
Early Years settings play a key role in promoting activity across the day. Physical activity needs to be incorporated from very early on to become part of normal everyday life. Trends show if this happens children are more likely to become physically active adults and to maintain this through adulthood. Be creative and plan exciting activities for the children in your care, the more fun and imaginative the better! The Early Years Foundation Stage Framework sets standards for physical development which involves providing opportunities for young children to be active and interactive; and to develop their co-ordination, control, and movement. Children must also be helped to understand the importance of physical activity, and to make healthy choices in relation to food.
It is important to minimise the amount of time children are sedentary for extended periods (except time spent sleeping). Sedentary behaviours occur whilst sitting or lying down and typically require very low energy expenditure. Children are likely to be sedentary when they are in a buggy or travelling in a car or bus, and in leisure time, which include screen-time. Children in the UK now are less physically fit than past generations, this has implications for their future health. A 2012 study reported that only 9% of boys and 10% of girls aged 2- 4 years are achieving their physical activity recommendations in England. On average children in the UK spend 24 hours a week in front of a TV/Computer. Just switching the TV/Video/Computer off encourages children to be more active.
Encouraging activity in your early years setting
Plan activities across the week and link them to the Early Years Foundation Stage Framework for Physical Development, Understanding the World, Communication and Language and Personal, Social and Emotional Development. It is also important for staff to role model as children learn by watching what you do. Show children you enjoy and value activity by taking part yourself. Praise and encourage children when they are taking part in an activity – particularly if they are learning a new skill and be positive with your feedback. If they enjoy the experience they’ll keep taking part!
Types of activities
Lots of different activities can count, anything where they are moving counts.
- In the garden/outdoor space or in the park by doing some gardening together or collecting objects
- Set up games that involve chasing or include an obstacle course or play ball or play hide and seek
- Energetic play, e.g. climbing frame or riding a bike
- Walking/skipping to a park or to and from nursery/childminders
- Story Books/Rhyme Time where practitioners model the poses for children to copy, give verbal instructions or use pose cards and props for visual clues
- Dress up and play acting
- Older children can help with tasks such as putting toys away or helping to set-up and clear away at mealtimes
- Organise a Sports Day – you can invite parents to part of the day and get staff involved too!
- Make the most of Local Parks and share areas of interest with families. Fit for Sport provide lots of ideas for making the most of your park
- Explore the Change 4 Life website which has lots of ideas for indoor and outdoor activities to do at your setting and also share with families to ensure they continue to be active at home and as a family
- Provide families with information on local activities this will increase the chances of the family accessing them i.e. information on leisure centres or children’s centres
- Ask children what activities they enjoy. Encourage them to follow their interests, and make activity fun.Activity has an number of benefits which are highlighted in a Public Health England infographic. It is important to encourage children to be physical active as well as supporting them to have fun, regardless of their level of ability. Looking for more information and ideas to get children active? Book our online Keeping Active in the Early Years training.