Active Play

Even in young children, physical activity (sometimes referred to a physically active play for this age group) is shown to be important for their immediate health and in developing a long term pattern of physical activity.

Active Play

Patterns and levels of physical activity among preschool children

Even in young children, physical activity (sometimes referred to a physically active play for this age group) is shown to be important for their immediate health and in developing a long term pattern of physical activity. Evidence suggests physical activity helps support:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Developing motor skills
  • Building strong bones
  • Psychological and social health
  • Cardiovascular disease risk factors
  • Improving cognitive functioning
  • Developing good patterns of physical activity over time



What influences physical activity during the preschool years?

Physical activity can be influenced by a wide range of factors. In the early years, children have little independence and rely on adults to make their decisions. Therefore social and environmental influences that may help or hinder physical activity may be particularly important. Factors which may influence how physically active a child under the age of five years is are outlined below:


Demographic factors

  • Boys are generally more active than girls.
  • In younger children, a child’s age has little influence on the amount of physical activity they participate in.
  • It’s not clear whether a child’s ethnicity or their BMI/ weight may have an impact on physical activity levels.


Social/ cultural factors

  • While parental encouragement does not appear to change physical activity in the early years, parent-child interactions and role modelling appears to encourage higher levels of physical activity in young children.
  • A parent’s weight and physical activity levels have mixed effects on their children’s physical activity levels.
  • Parental/maternal education level has shown mixed influences on their child’s physical activity levels.
  • Socio-economic status is not related to the time a child spends physically active.
  • A child who watches more television (TV) or spends much of their time sitting may have lower overall physical activity levels, but this is still unclear.


Psychological factors

  • Very few studies have looked at psychological factors in this age group. No conclusions on the relationship between these factors and physical activity are available to date.


Environmental factors

  • Children who spend more time playing outdoors have higher levels of physical activity.
  • Settings with fewer children, shorter breaks and more time between breaks were found to have higher levels of physical activity.
  • Children in the same setting often had similar physical activity levels.
  • Weather has been found to have a mixed effect on children’s physical activity levels.


Enough about the hard facts, what can we do to make our children move more!?

In order to help children in the early years increase their physical activity levels, everyone has an important role to play. Below are listed action points for the different groups involved in planning and implementing physical activity programmes in the early years.


Policy makers should:

  • Take action to promote physical activity in the early years through policy measures
  • Review early year curriculums, giving consideration to how structured physical activity sessions can be incorporated into the programme’s requirements
  • Consider the knowledge and expertise of early years staff and provide appropriate training and support to help successfully deliver physical activity programmes
  • Make certain all families are able to use suitable play areas in the local communities.


Practitioners should:

  • Provide children in their care with opportunities to learn and practice new movement patterns and skills
  • Ensure children, on a regular basis, have equal access to lots of small play equipment, everyday objects and props
  • Ensure all play opportunities are available to girls and boys alike
  • Modify break times to encourage shorter more focused sessions of outdoor active play
  • Take advantage of training courses and resources which update their knowledge and understanding of early years physical development
  • Work with parents to help them understand the importance of early movement experiences to the physical and psychological health and well-being of their child.


Parents/carers should:

  • Provide lots of opportunities for their child to be active on a daily basis, especially in a variety of outside environments
  • Work with their child’s early years setting to:- keep up-to-date with the physical activity experiences their child is having- provide similar/new movement opportunities at home

    – send their child suitably dressed to participate in both indoor and outdoor activities, whatever the weather

  • Be an active role model by participating in physical activity both by themselves and with their child
  • Give both boys and girls the same chance to try a variety of active play experiences.
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