Introduction - Promoting Active Play (Physical Activity) in Early Years Settings

The National Childhood Network (NCN) has worked with DkIT to produce this information booklet on promoting Physical Activity in Early Years’ settings. This resource is a practical guide for Early Years practitioners working with babies, wobblers/toddlers and pre-schoolers.

Importance of Active Play/Physical Activity for Young Children

Physical activity is for everyone. Physical activity is defined as any bodily movement produced by the skeleton that requires energy usage. The benefits of being active for physical and mental health are immense. When you are active this helps release chemicals in your brain (endorphins), which affect your mood, make you feel good about yourself, and majorly benefit your heart, lungs, muscles and bones. Being active is a great way to reduce stress and keep a clear head. Regular physical activity can help you reduce the risk of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and cancer. For both adults and children physical activity helps reduce body fat and helps with maintaining a healthy weight.

Active play is the work of children and consists of activities that encourage children to move and have fun. Active play enhances children’s emotional well-being as many children feel calm and relaxed after being very active. The hormone (serotonin) is released into the body and helps create feelings of happiness, well-being and a heightening of appetite. Physical activity is a major contributor to the holistic development of young children; it contributes to the development of their Social, Language, Emotional, Cognitive and Physical skills.

Physical activity enhances the brain’s metabolism. Studies show that active children have improved memory as a result of better brain function. It also builds confidence, self-esteem and self-control.

Physical activity for young children may be crawling, walking, playing catch, hopping and jumping. If children are introduced to physical activity positively at a young age, this will increase the probability that they will take part in some sort of physical activity when they are adults. The Early Years is a critical time for establishing healthy behaviours and patterns that will carry over into later childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Physical activity can be either structured (when the adult plans the activities) or unstructured (when the children lead the activities).

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