Early Years Education

Physical Activity in the Early Years: new research results and recommendations

There is little doubt that physical activity (PA) is essential in early childhood health and development. The officially recommended level of PA for most children is 180 minutes, distributed throughout the day. But the majority of children do not reach this level and, in some cases, the actual activity during the day amounts to much less than this. We are acutely aware of this at Alphablocks Nursery School, and we have always taken a pragmatic approach. In particular, various activities throughout the day are geared towards increasing PA, going beyond the usual sports and physical education sessions – such as Music & Movement, Yoga, Drama, ‘Daily Mile‘ activities, and of course our Forest School sessions. Our approach has now been validated by a new analysis of what can contribute to children’s PA.

A recent paper published in the Journal of Early Childhood Research (Woodfield et al., 2021) has looked at the predictors of PA in Early Years Foundation Stage settings in England. Here are some key takeaways of this project, as reported by the paper’s authors:

1. The strongest predictors of vigorous PA (VPA) are the learning contexts of ‘role play’, ‘physical’, ‘construction’ and being ‘outside’.

2. Adult interaction had a negative association with moderate to vigorous PA (MVPA), and girls have 16.36% lower odds of engaging in VPA and 19.4% higher odds of engaging in stationary behaviour than boys.

3. In order to support children’s learning and development, teaching strategies and the organisation of the EYFS environment should be adapted to increase children’s, especially girls’, active learning and to reduce sedentary time.

Woodfield L, Tatton A, Myers T, Powell E. Predictors of children’s physical activity in the early years foundation stage. Journal of Early Childhood Research. October 2021. doi:10.1177/1476718X211052797

The correlations uncovered in this study further support the need for increased playtime in Primary education as well. Alphablocks Nursery School supports the Time to Play campaign by the British Psychological Society.