Early Childhood Education / Early Years

Debra Laxton and Marilyn Leask with inputs from the MESH Early Years Editorial Board | View as single page | Feedback/Impact
Early Childhood Education / Early Years
Effective learning
Activities and Types of Play
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Physical development

Element Knowledge/ Experiences/ Strategies/ (Evidence)
Background/ theory
  • Sensori-motor stage (0-2 years) Babies use physical motor skills and senses to explore objects and the world around them and develop cognition (Piaget, 1936).

  • Schemas: Through movement children begin to make sense of themselves, properties of objects, shape and space OR Linking thought through action. (Piaget, 1936; Athey, 2007).

  • Margaret & Rachel MacMillan (1911) - early years pioneers who believed that a healthy body leads to healthy mind; good nutrition was vital for positive cognitive and physical growth; open air nurseries were key to supporting deprived families; school meals were necessary and health and learning went hand in hand.

  • Physical Development is not a discrete area of learning it permeates everything the child does.

  • Two processes determine physical development – cephalocaudal (movement from head to toe) and proximodistal (from inner to outer).

  • In the UK EYFS framework Physical Development has 2 aspects – moving and handling and health and self-care (DfE, 2017; Early Education, 2012).

Being physically active
  • Use the outside environment and community space for learning and going for walks “Children of pre-school age who are capable of walking unaided should be physically active daily for at least 180 minutes” (BHF, 2015)

  • Obstacle courses to raise body awareness

  • Tree and climbing

  • Tunnel crawling

  • Parachute games

  • Engaging in sports e.g. running races, egg and spoon race

  • Engaging in hand eye/ foot eye coordination activity e.g. football, throwing, catching, hitting a ball, object in a bucket

  • Balancing opportunities e.g. logs, benches, tree stumps, on a chalk line

  • Dancing

  • Body percussion

  • Music and movement sessions

  • Body movement action songs e.g. head and shoulders, jelly on a plate, row the boat

  • Floor based play time for babies to use different muscles and movements

  • Outdoor imaginative play

  • Opportunities to make up their own active play

  • Provide a variety of climbing equipment and play spaces

  • Ribbon waving and movements – ribbons on sticks and dancing scarves

  • Reduce time children spend on sedentary activities e.g. sitting (DoH, 2011)

  • Adults to be active role models with positive attitudes to physical activity

  • See Bridgend (2008#0 document for further ideas that could be adapted

Developing fine motor skills
  • All the above as children need to engage in sufficient gross motor activity before fine motor skills can fully develop (O’Connor, 2016)

  • Opportunities during floor time for young babies to reach out and grasp out of reach objects

  • Handle a variety of tools, objects and materials in different contexts inside and outside

  • Woodwork

  • Construction play e.g. den building

  • Threading and weaving activities

  • Provide drawing and writing media

  • Cooking

  • Small loose parts play for manipulating (Casey & Robertson, 2016)

  • Dancing finger songs e.g. two little dickie birds

  • Routines e.g. dressing (buttons, zips)

Health and self-care
  • Provide time and opportunity for children to manage their own toileting and dressing needs

  • Allow children to be involved in the preparation of meals and snacks where appropriate

  • Be a positive role model – early eating and active habits are reflected in later childhood and adulthood (DoH, 2011)

  • Children need a ‘balanced rhythm to the day’ with time to make choices, be physically active, reflect, relax, sleep

  • Provide risk and challenge in a safe environment so that children learn how to keep themselves safe and make well considered decisions