Scott Warrington suggests using stories and imaginative themes to create stimulating physical activities for your children…
Every parent, carer, teacher and early years practitioner understands the importance of developing young children’s literacy and numeracy, but what’s sometimes overlooked is the importance of physical activity and the early development of their fundamental movement skills. We know it’s vital to introduce reading, writing and numbers as early as possible in a child’s life, but do we afford children the same opportunities when it comes to their physical ABCs (agility, balance and coordination)?
There’s much evidence from bodies such as the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and the Youth Sport Trust that recommends that young children should be physically active and start to develop their fundamental movement skills at the earliest possible age. Highly regarded sports scientist Istvan Balyi’s Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) model suggests that up to the ages of eight or nine years old, children should experience a range of skills and movements rather than sport-specific activities. This is to ensure children develop a ‘broad-base’ of skills, helping to set them up for an active lifestyle in their later years.
Unfortunately, many sport and physical activity programmes are not appropriate for younger children, leading to them either taking part in activities designed for older children (which can lead to some children not engaging with the activities), or which are sport-specific, meaning the children taking part are only developing a certain set of skills and movements. In England in particular, the sporting landscape is dominated by football and other ‘traditional’ sports, and whilst these activities have lots to offer children, it’s up to those responsible for their care and development to offer a variety of opportunities to engage in physical activity and develop a range of skills and movements.
Stories are a fantastic way to stimulate the imaginations of children and subtly introduce learning points and activities. We all know how much children love Peppa Pig, Thomas the Tank Engine, etc. and the basis of character/story themes can be used to similarly engage young children in their learning. Thinking creatively can lead to some really exciting and inspiring activities that can help develop children’s physical skills – below are a few pointers to help get you started.
Whether it’s pirates, princesses, monkeys or magicians, you’ll know just what your children enjoy drawing, painting or dressing-up as. Create a simple story using these themes and characters, and use basic equipment as props to get the children active and involved. The imagination of young children is a fantastic tool for professionals to build upon when it comes to engaging them and introducing new skills, especially when it comes to physical activities.
Example: Marvin the Monkey has lost his favourite banana and is travelling around the jungle trying to find it.
Think about how you can incorporate multi-skill development and physical activity into the story you’ve created. Think creatively and use the equipment available to you in your setting. It might be cones that children can run in and out of, bean bags they can throw and catch, or balance beams they can travel across. Link the activities to the story so the children think and feel like the characters you’ve created.
Example: Children pretend to be Marvin the Monkey by 1) running as fast as they can around the hall to try and find their banana, and 2) throwing and catching a yellow ball or bean bag which is the lost banana they’ve finally found.
Though it’s vital that children are given the freedom to play as they wish and explore their own abilities and environments, it’s also important to encourage correct movements and techniques when it comes to physical activity, even at this early age. These teaching points should be highlighted before the children undertake the activities – verbally or via a demonstration of the activity – and reinforced at the end to emphasise how to perform them successfully.
Example: When running children must keep their head up so they can see what’s around them and travel lightly on their tiptoes to help develop their speed and agility. When throwing and catching children must keep their eyes on the ball/bean bag, bring their hands together and gather it into their chest to stop if from spilling out.
As with all educational activities, positive reinforcement is a key factor to delivering successful physical activity programmes. Children enjoy the feeling of achievement and success, and it’s vital in these early experiences of sport and physical activity that they’re exposed to this as much as possible. Good effort and correct behaviour are what deliverers should focus their positive feedback on, so that children will feel good about what they’ve been part of and look forward to taking part in the activities next time. Simple aspects of sportsmanship can also be introduced such as following rules and instructions, respect for others and being part of a team.
Example: All the children give each other a round of applause at the end of the activity, each child gives the deliverer a high-five as they finish the activities, or says “well done” to one other child in the group.
The Department of Health provides physical activity guidelines for the under-fives…
Before they’re walking: Physical activity should be encouraged from birth, particularly through floor-based play and water-based activities.
After they’re walking: Children of preschool age who are capable of walking unaided should be physically active daily for at least 180 minutes, spread throughout the day. (Based on current averages, this equates to an extra 30–60 minutes per day.)
All under-fives should minimise the amount of time spent being sedentary (being restrained or sitting) for extended periods (except time spent sleeping). Downloadable fact sheets explaining these guidelines are available here.
Scott Warrington is a sports degree graduate of both the University of Central Lancashire and the University of Bolton. He is the founder of School Lettings Solutions.